Thursday, January 29, 2015

Conservationists Caution African Governments on the threats from Industrial Oil Palm Expansion to Equatorial Forests.

By Kimbowa Richard, Uganda Coalition for Sustainable Development

The Society for Conservation Biology (SCB) – Africa Section has issued a statement on the Threat from Industrial Oil Palm Expansion to Equatorial Forests in Africa. The purpose of this SCB position statement is to build on these efforts and highlight the rapid and unsustainable destruction of forests due to industrial oil palm expansion in West and Central Africa, and the role of oil palm expansion in the attrition of biodiversity including flagship species such as apes, as well as associated human health and economic implications. This is a call on African governments, policy makers and societies to formulate effective policies that support ecological sustainability of African equatorial forests.

SCB notes that Africa contains about 675 million hectares of forests, corresponding to 17 percent of the world total. These forests support an estimated 1.5 million plant and animal species that in turn support local communities in terms of food, shelter, clothing, and medicinal needs.

However, it is estimated that Africa lost 3.4 million hectares of forests between 2000 and 2010 of which 572,000 hectares was primary forest. The decline has resulted mainly from the rising demand for agricultural lands, commercial harvesting of timber, urbanization, and industrialization

The statement notes that recent significant investments in African agriculture in the oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) industry are likely to lead to biodiversity losses similar to those in Southeast Asia. Indonesia is projected to lose most of its natural rainforest by 2022. Oil palm production not only drives natural forest cover loss, but can also lead to direct mortality of endangered species, such as orang-utans (Rainforest Rescue, undated). Oil palm has become one of the most rapidly expanding equatorial crops in the world. The global extent of oil palm cultivation increased from 3.6 million ha in 1961 to 13.2 million ha in 2006

The SCB statement points out that many threatened and endangered species will be affected by oil palm expansion in Africa. ‘Africa’s apes, which include the gorilla and its sub‐species, the common chimpanzee and its sub‐species, and the bonobo, will be affected. Current great ape distribution in Africa substantially overlaps with current oil palm concessions (by 58.7%) and areas suitable for oil palm production (by 42.3%); 39.9% of the distribution of great apes species on protected lands overlaps with suitable oil palm areas’, the statement emphasizes.

‘There is a growing appreciation of the links between ecosystem alteration and human health. A critical example is a model of infectious disease demonstrating that recent epidemics – AIDS, Ebola, West Nile, SARS, Lyme disease and others – are due to alteration of ecosystems. Sixty per cent of emerging infectious diseases that affect humans are zoonotic (from animals) and more than two thirds of those originate in wildlife’ the Statement adds.

The statement further notes that Industrial oil palm expansion at unregulated and unsustainable rates is a threat to forests and biodiversity in equatorial Africa and urges African Governments and societies to put into place robust policies and laws to protect the remaining forests in the region.

The SCB statement recommends that African governments should play a proactive role by granting concessions only to companies that are part of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Furthermore, Government could stimulate the development of oil palm plantations on ‘degraded lands’ by providing incentives (e.g. tax breaks) to make this option more attractive to companies.

In addition, producers must be given access to information that will help them to locate new plantations in areas where they will cause the least ecological damage.

The SCB statement also urges African Governments that before expanding plantations over primary forests, an investment in high‐yield oil palm plantations, through better seed quality and best management practices could be investigated first in order to achieve higher production of crude palm oil in a less environmentally damaging way.

The Statement also calls on Financial institutions, buyers and consumers assist by continuing to demand detailed evidence that producers are doing all they can to minimise the negative impacts of palm oil production, and by denying finance and markets to those that are not.

The Society for Conservation Biology is an international professional organization whose mission is to advance the science and practice of conserving the Earth’s biological diversity, support dissemination of conservation science, and increase the application of science to management and policy. The Society’s 5,000 members include resource managers, educators, students, government and private conservation workers in over 140 countries.

Read the full SCB Africa Section Statement from here: Position Statement on the Threat from Industrial Oil Palm Expansion to Equatorial Forests in Africa