Africa’s forests ‘threatened by palm oil rush’


    Africa’s tropical forests are threatened by a palm oil bonanza that has already razed millions of old-growth hectares in south-east Asia.

    For this reason, Greanpeace has called on European palm and rubber plantation giant Socfin, which controls vast tracts of tropical land in more than half-a-dozen African nations, to join other multinationals in adopting so-called “zero deforestation” policies.

    Dozens of global companies – GAR, Cargill, and Agropalma among commodity producers, and Nestle, Unilever and L’Oreal among makers of consumer products – have made pledges, though some are more stringent than others.

    So far, Socfin – majority controlled by Belgian businessman Hubert Fabri, with French billionaire Vincent Bollore holding 38.8% of the company’s shares – have failed to make similar commitments, Greenpeace said.

    The stakes are high: palm oil, soy, paper pulp, and beef drive nearly three-quarters of deforestation in tropical areas, according to studies.

    Deforestation from all sources is responsible for 12% of the greenhouse gases driving global warming.

    Indonesia and Malaysia account for more than 90% of palm oil production today.

    Clear-cutting and burning to make way for palm oil plantations causes health-wrecking air pollution, exacerbates climate change, and destroys some of the planet’s richest “hotspots” for biodiversity.

    Due to the rapid expansion of palm plantations and logging, Indonesia has become the sixth largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world.

    Zero deforestation includes guarantees that local populations are fairly compensated for lost land, and not otherwise adversely affected.

    Socfin currently has 50,000 hectares (124,000 acres) in rubber plantations, and 80,000 hectares (198,000 acres) in palm oil trees in Africa.

    The forests in the Congo basin cover some 200m hectares (500m acres) across six countries, and are home to more than 500 species of mammals, 400 reptiles and thousands of plants.

    Between 1990 and 2010, at least 3.5m hectares of natural forests were converted into palm oil plantations, mainly in south-east Asia.