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Uganda: What is the Impact of Palm Oil?
13 January 2010
opinionKampala — Many food and cosmetics companies, including Unilever, Nestle, Kraft and Burger King, are driving the demand for palm oil supplies, because of the need for products that contain non-hydrogenated solid vegetable fats.
Consumers now prefer fewer hydrogenated oils in food products. Friends of the earth have also concluded that the increase in demand comes from biofuel, with producers now looking at palm as a source of energy.
On the other hand, the Greenpeace organisation asserts that the deforestation caused in a bid to make way for oil palm plantations is far more damaging to the climate than the benefits gained by switching to biofuel.
Many of the major companies participating in the talks on sustainable palm oil have committed to use only palm oil which is certified as sustainable.
They will ensure the large companies and smallholders that supply it, convert to sustainable production by 2015.
Sustainable production means taking into account environmental consideration. The question is, does BIDCO subscribe to sustainable production and if so, why then pressurise the Government for land gazetted as forests?
I read with dismay The New Vision story of January 12 which spells out the intentions of BIDCO to acquire additional forest reserve land in Kalangala. This is madness.
What I have discovered during the time we have spent on the issue of BIDCO versus forests in Kalangala is, we have failed to come up with a comprehensive strategy to halt BIDCO's unrealistic demands.
I thought we had gone over this three years ago. Are we going to spend resources from time to time to educate BIDCO about the environmental values of the grasslands? This is moral denudation. It is only in this country and maybe a few others, where political and corrupted decisions defy professional advice.
It is embarrassing to see that the Minister of Agriculture continues to perpetuate BIDCO's demand and put pressure on the environment ministry to degazette these grasslands. It is time Ugandans learnt to say 'no'. To keep trying to pressurise the Ministry of Environment and the National Forest Authority is to waste the tax payers' money and BIDCO's.
It is unrealistic for Hope Mwesigye to warn that failure to meet the land requirements for the BIDCO project will have legal implications for the Government and may lead to the loss of the socio-economic benefits expected from the project.
The public should know that it is also illegal to mow down forest reserve land, replacing it with another land use. Whereas Mwesigye fears that BIDCO will drag the Government to court, she needs to know that the public can also drag the Government to court for environmental abuse.
What socio-economic benefits are we talking about in this BIDCO project? In Indonesia, over 1.5 million farmers benefit from palm oil and about 500,000 people are employed in the sector and benefit from spin offs. What are the figures in Uganda's case? Is this not a raw deal?
As the Government continues to look for a solution, Ugandans need to know the environmental impact of palm oil summarised as follows:
Tropical forests are being cleared and many will remain severely degraded.
- Illegal logging translates into distortion of the forest.
- Establishment of a monoculture denudes biodiversity.
- Cutting down the trees leads to emission of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and hence climate change.
- Habitat destruction - animals migrate and endangered species get depleted.
- Forests are key in rain formation. Oil palm does not contribute to society's welfare as much as natural forests do.
- Opening up of the land increases surface run-off and siltation of our lakes.