Industrial cultivation of oil palm has "wreaked havoc" on rainforests and forest peoples in Southeast Asia and now threatens to do the same in the Congo Basin, a report from the Rainforest Foundation UK warned on Thursday.
Research commissioned by the forest protection group found that half a million hectares of new palm oil projects are getting underway in the Congo Basin rainforest, which will result in a fivefold increase in the area of large-scale palm plantations in the region.
"This is a stark new threat to the second largest contiguous rainforest in the world," the report said.Around 1.6 million hectares of new developments have been announced in the central African region since 2009, and palm oil companies are actively searching for bigger areas, the report said. Some 115 million hectares, or two thirds of the total Congo Basin forest area, is believed to have suitable soil and climate for growing oil palms, it noted.
Simon Counsell, the Rainforest Foundation UK's executive director, said African governments are handing out large tracts of rainforest for palm oil development with little or no attention to the likely impacts on the environment or the people who depend on the forest.
"There is a need for regional agreement to ensure that best practices are mandatory for any new oil palm development, including avoiding high conservation-value forests and ensuring the rights of existing forest dwellers are respected,” he urged.
The report provides case studies of three large palm oil developments in the Republic of Congo, Gabon and Cameroon.