The facts: Ad­dress­ing the cam­paign to stop the plant­ing of oil palm trees in the Philip­pines

Agriculture - - News -

THE OIL PALM tree pro­duces palm oil or veg­etable oil, which is now a ma­jor com­po­nent of the Filipino diet, pro­vid­ing nu­tri­tion and high en­ergy. In re­cent years, there has been a huge in­crease in the per­cent­age of oil con­sump­tion among Filipinos. The World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WHO) rec­om­mends that 30% of the to­tal en­ergy in­take should come from oils (2015).

The per capita con­sump­tion of the coun­try is be­low that but is in­creas­ing. Housewives, restau­rant chefs, and food pro­ces­sors dis­cov­ered that palm oil is a cheap, nu­tri­tious, healthy, and ver­sa­tile veg­etable oil cheaper than other veg­etable oils. In the past, co­conut oil ful­filled this role. Lately, a larger por­tion of our co­conut oil pro­duc­tion is ex­ported at much higher prices than when used do­mes­ti­cally as veg­etable oils, and this ben­e­fits our co­conut farm­ers. Con­se­quently, the coun­try has to im­port palm oil to meet do­mes­tic needs.

In 2012, the coun­try im­ported US$ 454,000 of palm oil. This in­creased to US$ 968,000 in 2016 and is pro­jected to zoom up to over US$ 1.5 bil­lion by 2020. The coun­try has only 89,000 hectares (ha) of oil palm trees whose pro­duc­tion meets less than 10% of the do­mes­tic re­quire­ment. Palm oil sup­plies al­most 80% of do­mes­tic veg­etable oil re­quire­ments; the rest is sup­plied by co­conut, soy­bean canola, and other oils. There is a need to ex­pand palm oil plant­ing to an­other 400,000 ha to meet our do­mes­tic re­quire­ments.

The planned ex­pan­sion is, how­ever, meet­ing re­sis­tance from cam­paign­ers who ad­vo­cate the stop­ping of the plant­ing of oil palm trees. The cam­paign­ers fo­cus on con­vinc­ing pol­icy mak­ers, agri­cul­tural pro­gram plan­ners, and im­ple­men­tors, LGUs, farm­ers, and rebel groups us­ing half-truths and lies with­out sci­en­tific ba­sis to cre­ate a neg­a­tive im­pres­sion of the oil palm tree. They hide the truth about the many pos­i­tive ben­e­fits of oil palm farm­ing and the use of palm oil.

They al­lege that plant­ing oil palm trees (a) cre­ates en­vi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion lead­ing to rapid cli­mate change; (b) causes rapid soil ero­sion and loss of soil fer­til­ity; (c) re­quires the heavy use of fer­til­izer, which pol­lutes the land and wa­ter; (d) re­quires heavy wa­ter con­sump­tion, lead­ing to re­duced avail­abil­ity of ground wa­ter; and (e) causes the loss of diver­sity in the farm­ing com­mu­ni­ties. In this ar­ti­cle, sci­en­tific ev­i­dence is used to present a more fac­tual pic­ture of oil palm trees and oil palm farm­ing. With these, the right de­ci­sions can be made in the di­rec­tion of the ex­pan­sion of the oil palm cul­ti­va­tion in the coun­try.

REFUTING THE IS­SUES A. Oil palm helps mit­i­gate cli­mate change. Cli­mate change is brought about by the in­crease in green­house gas (GHG) or the high con­cen­tra­tion of car­bon in the at­mos­phere. The so­lu­tion is to bind the car­bon to re­duce the con­cen­tra­tion of CO2 in the at­mos­phere. The for­est serves as a car­bon sink, and oil palm has been found to be a bet­ter car­bon sink than nat­u­ral for­est trees be­cause it cap­tures a higher amount of car­bon/unit area. It also stores car­bon bet­ter than nat­u­rally grown for­est trees. Sci­en­tific stud­ies re­veal that the biomass of nat­u­rally grown for­est trees trap 25.6 tons/ha of car­bon over their life­time, while oil palm traps 45.2 tons/ha (Ta­ble 1). This shows that oil palm is bet­ter than nat­u­ral for­est trees in pro­mot­ing cli­mate change mit­i­ga­tion. Plants

1. Oil palm 2. Nat­u­ral for­est In­crease In Biomass Amount Of “Trapped” In 25 Years/Ha Car­bon/Ha

104.5 53.2

45.2 25.6

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