The major issue of land tenure underlies the problem of oil palm schemes in Indonesia and elsewhere. Occupying large tracts of community land where food and cash crops used to be grown and medicines and building materials were harvested, monoculture oil palm plantations erode the rights and livelihoods of local communities.
Through promises, bribes, and cheating combined with the unawareness of local communities of their rights, companies move in leading to the large-scale privatisation of land and natural resources.
Palm oil, a vegetable oil already used extensively for food production, cosmetics and animal feed, is increasingly in demand as an agrofuel. In response to this growing market, large-scale oil palm plantations are being developed in Latin America, West Africa and South East Asia. Indonesia, the world’s largest producer of crude palm oil, has already increased its palm estates to 7.3 million hectares, and is planning to expand the area under plantation by a further 20 million hectares – an area the size of England, the Netherlands and Switzerland combined.
The recent report “Losing Ground. The human rights impacts of oil palm plantation expansion in Indonesia” [http://www.wrm.org.uy/countries/Indonesia/losingground.pdf] by Friends of the Earth, LifeMosaic and Sawit Watch, reveals how Indonesian government policies and palm oil industry practices are harming the rights of local communities and indigenous peoples and argues that in the face of such evidence targets to increase agrofuel use in the United Kingdom and the rest of the European Union are misguided, risking environmental damage and human rights abuses on an even bigger scale.