1. Agriculture World

Government’s Palm Oil Mission; A Recipe for Ecological Disaster?

Sugandh Bhatnagar
Sugandh Bhatnagar
Oil Palm

Recently, Union cabinet authorized, the National Mission on Edible Oils - Oil Palm (NMEO-OP) with a budget of Rs 11,040 crore to boost local oil palm production over the next five years.

While this can be seen as an important step to decrease the country's reliance on imported edible oils, it is also important to look at how sustainable is going to be for our country.

Concerns:

Palm oil is a perennial crop which yields more than any other oil crop but it also requires three times the water. There fore it must be grown in areas that receive good rainfall and area that government is eyeing to establish palm oil plantations is the north Eastern India and the Andaman & Nicobar Islands which are undoubtedly country’s most biodiversity rich regions.

The scheme seeks to bring additional 0.65 million hectare under oil palm by 2025-26 to reach a targeted 1 million hectare, that too in ecologically sensitive zones like north East India. These plantations will replace the tropical forest cover.

Palm oil plantations tend to replace natural tropical forests which can prove not only to be environmentally perelious as compared to oilseed crops but also impact the local communities who depend on forests for their lives and livelihoods.

The current initiative also contradicts the government’s Commitments under the National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture.

Although the government has insisted it is already proceeding on the basis of cautious scientific analysis.

Possible way out:

There is a hope that palm oil can be sustainably cultivated in the country. A careful analysis of the policy initiative that can potentially change the rural agrarian landscape of the north east needs to be undertaken. We should learn from Indonesia and Malaysia, they have seen a major loss of forest cover mainly due to palm oil plantations. To preserve environment, Indonesia has already started putting restrictions on palm oil tree plantation. These outcomes cannot be ruled out in India.

If the oil palm is to be sustainably cultivated, it is particularly important that conversion of the land used for plantations does not impact adversely on the environment and to minimize its effect on the environment, it is imperative to ensure that the oil palms should be grown on fallow and agriculturally usable land without clearing of tropical rain forests.

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