Cheap Vegetable Oil Exacts High Toll on Local Communities

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  • Aktivitas bongkar muat minyak sawit mentah atau crude palm oil (CPO) di Pelabuhan Tanjung Priok, Jakarta. TEMPO/Aditia Noviansyah

    Aktivitas bongkar muat minyak sawit mentah atau crude palm oil (CPO) di Pelabuhan Tanjung Priok, Jakarta. TEMPO/Aditia Noviansyah

    TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - Local communities across the globe are paying high prices as multinational companies resort to land grabs and exploit rural workers to meet international demands for cheap palm oil, according to a report by GRAIN, a Barcelona-based non-governmental organization (NGO) that works to support small farmers and their communities.

    The report was released following an extensive study by the non-profit organisation that began in 2000, which found that as the global trade intensifies, multinational corporations are increasingly moving towards a monoculture, industrial plantation model. Large swathes of rural areas in Malaysia, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea have been converted into massive plantations that are geared towards the production of a single commodity - in this case, palm oil.

    As rural communities often depend on their land for subsistence farming, the land acquisition efforts of these multinational corporations are often met with resistance from local residents - pushing major palm oil producers to resort to harassment and intimidation to achieve their ends.

    "The new wave of land grabs is seeing local communities around the world lose access to vital land and water resources," says Devlin Kuyek, a GRAIN researcher.

    As lands in Indonesia and Malaysia are increasingly becoming more difficult to acquire, major palm oil producers are shifting their attention elsewhere, namely, the poor, rural regions in West Africa. “Communities in Liberia resisting oil palm plantation on their land have been harassed, coerced and intimidated; but many are standing firm,” says Silas Siakor, of SDI Liberia.

    The dangers posed by the expansion of these multinational companies are not simply about the loss of access to land, because the issue of land ownership is often directly interwoven with the culture and the underlying socio-economic fabric of affected local communities - many of whom are built with their lands as the focal point.

    "In Guinea, the oil palm sector is still a source of stable employment, and helps stem the exodus from rural areas and develop the local economic fabric," says one of the contributors to the report, Alphonse Yombouno of the NGO ADAPE-Guinée. (*)

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