Friday, May 9, 2014

Carrots, Sticks and Palm Oil: the RSPO and the myth of sustainability

Michael Bachelard’s great article (with video!) on the continued destruction of Aceh’s protected forests by palm oil barons and mining companies was followed here by a further exploration of the post-conflict “boom” in the corporate and government-sponsored assault on the Leuser ecosystem by Bobby Anderson. To round out this ghastly trinity of economic and environmental doom I’d like to reprint a 2013 article by Philip Jacobson from the Indonesian magazine Tempo, which provides and update on my posts a few months ago regarding the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).  This entity, established with international donor funding including grants from the World Bank, has gone on to become a parody of itself.  Its extensive branding campaign has touted palm oil as “sustainable” and “green,” while it completely disregards its own regulations requiring regular monitoring for environmental protection, worker conditions, and community concerns.  I was going to say “community development,” but the administration of Aceh has now made this their new buzz phrase for unlimited deforestation and extraction, profiting government officials and the corporate heads and plantation owners. 
I am very excited that I have learned to embed entire documents into this blog so you can read the whole thing below.  I’d like to draw your attention, however, to interview with Tim Benton at the end of the article.  Dr Benton was the keynote speaker at the RSPO 2013 convention and is employed by the United Kingdom “to coordinate thinking on food security challenges over the next decades.”  He says in part: “I think the danger is thinking you can convert the whole of Malaysia or Indonesia into a plantation forest and for it to be sustainable with one or two little blips, small little remnants of forest where you put the orangutans.  You can’t ignore the large-scale problems. If you convert the whole of Indonesia into that same thing then it becomes unsustainable on a spatial scale. Then you’ve got the temporal scale: what looks good over a five-year period or a 10-year period, over a 50 or 100 period looks like shite.” 

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