Sunday, 30 November 2014

Saving the rainforests....... indigenous communities' and palm oil corporations' commitment to "zero-deforestation"

This blog has looked at the issue of palm oil in our food:
Futures Forum: Eco-imperialism, zero-deforestation and palm oil
Futures Forum: Singapore smog and palm oil

It has also looked at the position of indigenous peoples - when their livelihoods collide with other issues and interests:
Futures Forum: Climate change: the great carbon offsetting scam
Futures Forum: On the Transition: "Future Primitive"

The Independent newspaper ran several stories on the issue of palm oil five years ago, including:
The guilty secrets of palm oil: Are you unwittingly contributing to the devastation of the rain forests? - Environment - The Independent
Palm oil deal 'a threat to the rainforest' - Nature - Environment - The Independent

This and other campaigning since then seems to have had an effect:
Online protest drives Nestlé to environmentally friendly palm oil - Green Living - Environment - The Independent
Unilever drops major palm-oil producer - Nature - Environment - The Independent

With the result that 'big food' companies might be 'the answer' to saving the rainforest:

Rainforests ‘out of danger’ thanks to global giants


Thursday 06 November 2014

The battle to save the rainforest is finally being won, according to a leading conservationist previously known for his pessimism.

The dramatically improved prospects for the rainforests have been triggered by a switch in land use from slash-and-burn subsistence farming to the production of commodities such as soy, palm oil, cattle and wood pulp, according to Rhett Butler, founder of the influential Mongabay.com website that tracks the world’s tropical forests.

These commodities industries are dominated by a handful of global giants, which are more responsive to pressure from environmentally conscious Western consumers than the local farmers who were formerly responsible for much of the deforestation.

The rainforests’ cause is further helped by new technological developments such as drones and satellites which make it easier to spot illegal loggers, Mr Butler said.

Writing on Yale’s Environment website, Mr Butler said: “For a decade-and-a-half, I have devoted tens of thousands of hours to the cause of protecting forests. I’ve witnessed incredible destruction, and there has been reason for despair. But lately – for the first time, really – I’ve started seeing cause for optimism about the future of forests.”

He added: “I’m no Pollyanna. My new view isn’t blind optimism – it’s informed optimism, because there are emerging trends that should give us hope that forests can be preserved.”

Sally Uren, chief executive of the sustainable development charity Forum for the Future, told The Indpendent that she too was starting to feel more positive about the rainforests’ outlook.

“The issue has definitely risen up the agenda of big corporations in the past two years. They increasingly realise that there is a strong rationale for preserving these landscapes because they are very reliant on commodities from those regions,” she said.

In pictures: Biggest threats to the rainforests

“There is a much greater sense of shared responsibility and I am feeling reassured by the seriousness with which many big multinationals are taking this responsibility,” she added, pointing to the consumer goods giant Unilever and the Sky broadcasting company as examples of businesses getting tough on deforestation.

Mr Butler pointed to several positive developments in the last few weeks, with dozens of the world’s largest buyers and sellers of soy, palm oil, cattle and wood pulp establishing policies committing them to “excluding” deforestation from their supply chains.

The biggest coup, he says, came in September when Cargill, which sells £85bn-worth of commodities around the world a year, committed to “zero deforestation” across all its supply chains. In September, politicians from around the world pledged in New York to halve the rate of destruction of rainforests by 2020 and to halt it altogether by 2030.

The plight of the rainforests has come a long way since Sting brought the situation to the world’s attention in the early 1990s. At that point about 11.3 million hectares of rainforest was lost each year, falling slightly to about 9.3 million hectares a year by 2012, still stubbornly high. The rate of loss looks set to tumble in the coming years, Mr Butler says.

Rainforests ‘out of danger’ thanks to global giants - Environment - The Independent

See also:
Surprising reasons to be optimistic about saving forests
Amazon deforestation moratorium extended 18 months
APP boosting timber productivity to support zero deforestation policy
Amazon deforestation in Brazil drops 18% in 2013/2014

The problem, however, is that the discredited 'slash-and-burn' method of gaining a livelihood from the rainforest is associated with those who have always lived in the forests:

Indigenous Peoples in Indonesia Scapegoats for Forest Fires

Posted on July 30, 2013Share Button
In June, 2013,  burning Sumatran forests produced a haze that darkened Southeast Asian skies for hundreds of miles. The haze billowed and drifted from its origin point in Riau Province, Indonesia, and made air unbreathable in cities and towns of several countries, including Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, and Thailand. The province itself was severely affected as fires raged in the Riau peatlands, smoldering from a depth of four meters below surface level in some areas. According to the Center for International Forestry Research, much of the damaged area was natural forest cover. Palm and acacia plantations in the region often employ burning techniques to clear land of old growth, but the fires frequently get out of control. This is believed to have been the case this year in Riau.
The fire was suspected to have been started June 9th on land intended for palm oil production in the Bengkalis Regency. Though the origins of the fire are unknown, allegations of illegal slash-and-burn clearing have surfaced against both local farmers and multinational corporations operating in the province.
The affected areas are home to Indonesia’s Indigenous Melayu peoples, descendants of the great Melayu kingdoms that once covered large areas of Kalimantan (Borneo), Sumatra, and the entire Malay peninsula.  Contract laborers from other regions in Indonesia (including other Melayu ethnic sub-groups from North Sumatra and eastern Kalimantan) also maintain residence in affected areas as workers for the industries involved in resource extraction.
These local residents were and continue to be disproportionately affected by the fires, yet most national and international media coverage has focused on the effects of the haze in the wealthy city-state of Singapore, located less than 150 miles (240 kilometers) from Riau across the Strait of Malacca. A major concern for local residents and activist organizations has been smoke inhalation; some families are too impoverished to purchase face masks. Homes and villages have also burned. Transporting water to the fire sites to fight the flames has also been a challenge in the most rural areas of Riau, though local firefighters have been praised for their efforts.
In late June, Indonesian police began arresting local farmers they believed to be responsible for the blazes. At least eight local farmers were arrested by June 25, and ten more were in custody as of June 28. A police spokesman stated that the farmers were not connected to any of the dozens of concession holders (inter- or multinational corporations) working in the region. On June 30, the Asian Peasant Coalition (APC) and the Indonesian Aliansi Gerakan Reforma Agraria (the Alliance of Agrarian Reform Movement, AGRA) released a statement claiming that the farmers were “sacrificial lambs” arrested by the provincial police in order to protect the palm oil companies. According to the official APC-AGRA statement, the immediate and unconditional release of the eighteen farmers as well as “genuine agrarian reform” for the nation are necessary next steps. The organizations represent Indigenous peoples and agricultural workers in various Asian countries and support agrarian reforms which grant land ownership to the tillers, among other initiatives.
First Peoples Worldwide » Indigenous Peoples in Indonesia Scapegoats for Forest Fires

Nevertheless, as Rhett Butler of Mangabay points out in the original article:

Surprising reasons to be optimistic about saving forests

Rhett A. Butler, mongabay.com
November 14, 2014

Indigenous communities in the Amazon have stewarded the region's forests and biodiversity for generations, yet until recently, then were often excluded from conservation initiatives. 

Even more locally, there is growing recognition of the role communities play in maintaining forest cover. Research published earlier this year by World Resources Institute and the Rights and Resources Initiative concluded that community-managed forests experienced an average deforestation rate that is 11 times lower than land outside their borders. Legally-recognized community-managed forest amounts to 513 million hectares or an eighth of the world’s forests. 

And that area may be about to expand. Last year Indonesia's Constitutional Court invalidated the Indonesian government's claim to millions of hectares of forest land, ruling that indigenous and local communities have the right to manage their customary forests. The decision is significant because the central government currently controls the country's forest estate, enabling it to grant large logging and plantation concessions even in forests that have been managed—and kept standing—by local people for generations. 

Some indigenous groups are even looking at new business models that would allow them to earn livelihoods while doing what they always did—preserve forests—through nascent payments for ecosystem services or taking over management of conservation areas. 

Surprising reasons to be optimistic about saving forests

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