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Sustainable monocultures? No thanks

Sustainable monocultures? No thanks


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By GRAIN

The term "sustainable development" has always been a chameleon concept, easily used to confuse environmental destruction. Today, these corporate projects are popping up in all parts of the world.

Unmasking agribusiness makeup strategies

The term "sustainable development" has always been a chameleon concept, easily used to confuse environmental destruction. Today, these corporate projects are emerging all over the world, ranging from "sustainable oil palm plantations" to "sustainable salmon farms." This, however, is what one would expect from agribusiness. However, what is even more worrying is the fact that NGOs and farmer groups are also participating in these corporate projects. This is a critical look at some of these projects and the new masks, new actors and new language they use to achieve the unchanged historical goal of turning our food and biodiversity into global commodities.

Sustainable oil palm? The oil palm is the most productive and versatile of all the oil crops.


One hectare of the crop can produce five tons of crude palm oil (CPA), oil that is mostly used in food manufacturing and in the pharmaceutical, chemical and cosmetic industries. At the price of USD 43 per barrel, it is the cheapest vegetable oil on the international market. With the growth in demand for palm oil, the area of ​​land devoted to oil palm plantations has increased dramatically in recent years. In Malaysia and Indonesia, the world's largest palm oil producers, the area cultivated with oil palm plantations has increased by about 40% since the early 1990s. 1

This cheap oil carries costs that are hidden. For the most part, palm oil comes from industrial monoculture oil palm plantations that are notorious for their use of pesticides and poor working conditions. Additionally, new oil palm plantations are generally developed in tropical forests. In Malaysia alone, this palm plantations were responsible for 87 percent of deforestation between 1985-2000. 3

The conversion of forests to monoculture plantations leads to an irreplaceable loss of biodiversity and, in Malaysia, various species of mammals, reptiles and birds have been completely lost due to the growth of oil palm. But the clearing of forests has not only interfered with the habitat of the animal kingdom. As the expansion of oil palm plantations encroaches on native land, indigenous communities are regularly displaced and deprived of their livelihoods, based on the forest, endangering their identity and very survival as peoples.

Faced with growing international criticism, the Round Table on Sustainable Oil Palm (RSPO, for its acronym in English) was founded, supposedly, to set a new course for the industry: the "sustainable". 4 Its objective is to define a series of principles and criteria that address the social and environmental issues related to palm oil. But local groups and coalitions are wary, especially with the participation of NGOs that, they believe, are mere make-ups of foreign industries.

Turning industry green or industrializing "green"?

The history of the Round Table dates back to 2001, when the WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature) appointed a Dutch consultant to assess the possibilities for informal cooperation between players in the palm oil industry to respond to the concerns of civil society about oil palm plantations. The first meeting was attended by Aarhus United UK Ltd, Golden Hope Plantations Berhad, Migros, Malaysian Palm Oil Association, Sainsbury’s, Unilever Y WWF, in 2002. 5

Since then, new organizations have joined the Mesa and, in November 2005, now made up of approximately one hundred members, it held its third meeting, where it presented the Principles and Criteria for the Sustainable Production of Oil Palm of the RSPO. Some elements of the Principles and Criteria include: I.- certification: that the supply chain uses only palm oil from sustainable / responsible sources II.-prior informed consent: that local communities are consulted about the project and that consent granted by them is not paid III.-care for the environment: that no burning is carried out in the areas that are cleared based on the plantations The intention of this Table is to attract interested parties - farmers, millers, manufacturers, financiers, and representatives of social and environmental NGOs - to generate a demand for “sustainable oil palm”. The promoters say that by redirecting demand, supply will be improved.

But in the context of the sustainability debate, there is no way for RSPO to evade its inherent contradiction. The problem with industrial palm oil production is that it depends on large-scale oil palm plantations that can hardly be considered sustainable. An oil palm plantation is an intensive monoculture that relies heavily on inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides. It requires vast swaths of land, which it tends to draw from natural and native forests. And, as it rapidly depletes soil fertility, it must constantly expand or move to other areas. Oil palm plantations are so damaging that they are often abandoned after 25 years.

This constant expansion of oil palm plantations is the basis of conflicts between the industry and local communities. In the Malaysian state of Sarawak, for example, most of the 130 ongoing land dispute cases relate to the conversion of native-use land by Malaysian palm oil companies. 6 But the main point for RSPO member companies is that they will not pass any measure that jeopardizes their palm oil sources. It is not surprising then that the RSPO Principles and Criteria do not mention the possibility of halting the expansion of oil palm plantations or the global reduction in palm oil consumption. The RSPO will simply not hamper the continued expansion of oil palm plantations on biodiverse forests and indigenous peoples' lands, even if this makes a mockery of their intentions to promote “sustainable” palm oil.

The current RSPO priority is for palm oil sustainability to sustain unsustainable oil palm production. It happily sits idly by proclaiming Principles and Criteria or advocating for “best management practices,” but when it comes to growing sustainable oil palm crops, RSPO leaves producers with the miraculous task of figuring out how to turn water into wine. .

Dangerous relationships

Why then are some NGOs seeking membership in the RSPO? Some Indonesian NGOs see this relationship as a strategy to influence Indonesian government sectors positioned for investment. There are also those who believe that NGOs can become the voices of the community and be the bridge to the oil palm industry. One NGO claims that some local communities are now better positioned to be heard by the oil palm industry due precisely to the involvement of NGOs in the RSPO. Some NGOs hope to obtain benefits on specific issues, such as improving conditions for workers on plantations.

But there are those who consider this to be a dangerous bond; indigenous communities in particular. They claim that there are very few groups representing the interests of many affected people. While each member has the right to one vote - as long as they pay the annual membership fee equivalent to USD 2,600 - of the total of 103 RSPO members, not a single one of them is representative of local communities or indigenous peoples. There are 11 NGOs forming part of the Mesa, but the vast majority of the remaining 92 members represent various sectors of the industry.

There is, additionally, an even more important concern around the RSPO. Some sectors see it as an industry strategy to weaken opposition to the expansion of oil palm production. In Papua New Guinea, where a preferential trade agreement with the European Union attracts oil palm development interests from foreign investors, a coalition of local groups and communities has demanded that the RSPO withdraw from the country. The coalition issued a statement when RSPO representatives visited the country in 2005. 7 The statement criticized the RSPO for diverting public attention from the social and environmental damage caused by oil palm and for weakening community members and communities. local organizations. According to the experience of the coalition, and that of other groups in neighboring Malaysia and Indonesia, oil palm “inevitably causes social conflict and environmental pollution, and deprives local communities of the right to use their lands for their own. economic and social development ”.

Sustainable soy, responsible soy - More soy


The expansion of soy in Latin America represents a recent and powerful threat to the biodiversity of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia and Uruguay. Transgenic soybeans are much more environmentally damaging than other crops because, in addition to the direct effects derived from production methods, mainly from the copious use of herbicides and genetic contamination, it requires infrastructure projects and massive transportation (waterways, highways, railways and ports. ) that impact on ecosystems and facilitate the opening of huge extensions of territories to degrading economic practices and extractive activities. The production of herbicide resistant soybeans also leads to environmental problems such as deforestation, soil degradation, pollution with severe concentration of land and income, expulsion of the rural population to the Amazonian border or urban areas, promoting the concentration of the poor in the cities. The soybean expansion also distracts public funds that could have been earmarked for education, health or research into alternative agro-ecological methods of production. " 8

The Round table on Sustainable Soy held its first meeting in Foz do Iguazú, Brazil, on March 17 and 18, 2005, bringing together a series of NGOs and corporations. As in the RSPO, to whose model it responded, the main players were WWF and companies like Unilever. Also present on the organizing committee were the André Maggi Group from Brazil, the Swiss supermarket chain COOP, the German development agency Cordaid and the Federation of Small Farmers Associations of southern Brazil (Fetraf-Sul / CUT).

The initiative immediately ran into widespread criticism from civil society and peasant organizations, who organized a parallel counter-meeting, in which the foundations of the proposal were questioned and where the "business catpardism" was denounced under the slogan "No to Sustainable Soy ”. In this Encounter, the participating organizations stated in the final document that "we say NO to the lie of the sustainability of soy, officially affirmed at the round table on sustainable soy in Foz de Iguazú, based on the interests of the countries of the North. and from agribusiness entrepreneurs, with the scandalous support of large NGOs, which call themselves environmentalists, national and international. Where there are monocultures there cannot be sustainability, where there are agribusinesses there cannot be peasants ". In the document, the peasants also establish the denunciation of "agribusiness as responsible for the commodification of life and land. We denounce the governments of Latin America for the exclusion of agrarian reform from State policies. We resist as indigenous peoples and peasants in defense of cultures, territories and traditional economies. We build an indispensable unity in the struggles with urban social movements "This popular resistance forced the industry to stop working on the" Sustainable Soy "project for a few months and even temporarily block the project's website. However, shortly after, the project was resurrected with a new name, “Responsible Soy”, and a second meeting is already scheduled for August 2006, in Asunción, Paraguay. 9

Meanwhile, other NGO-corporate initiatives are still active. The “Soya Articulation”, in central Brazil, promotes “soy production with low social and environmental impact”, and proposes a series of “criteria for the social responsibility of companies that buy soy”. Cargill and The Nature Conservancy, an NGO based in the United States, also has its own “demonstration project of 'responsible external supplier service' for soy that aims to be a stimulus for the protection of valuable environmental resources in the surroundings of the Santarém region”. The ultimate objective of this project is "to define and develop acceptable strategies in the task of assisting all farmers in the region to fully comply with the environmental legislation of Brazil." Cargill's initiative was widely rejected by the FBOMS ( Brazilian Forum of NGOs and Social Movements), which met during the COP8 edition of the Convention on Biological Diversity in Curitiba, Brazil, during March 2006.

Industrial monocultures are not sustainable

The sustainability it is nonsense if it does not arise from basic respect for the lives of communities and their means. The mercantile production of industrial monocultures completely lacks such respect. Consequently, we see that sustainable monoculture projects are always conceived and defined by those who hold the economic power. Therefore, they are always adapted to the agro-industrial production of commodities for export, which inevitably replaces local food production by industrial or animal feed, which have little to do with the needs of the community. In this way, the projects contribute to breaking the solidarity, exchange and autonomous control of the social fabric, fundamental axes of local food production systems, forcing communities to depend on the “market” to supply themselves with food. Within these industrial agriculture projects, there is no place for peasants and their agricultural systems. Monocultures, by definition, threaten diversity - another critical element of sustainability. No matter how much they try to self-regulate or "improve", they will always have irreparable impacts on communities, ecosystems and the soil. On a global scale, this shrinking of the world's food supply to a few monocultures - a supply that rests on an extremely narrow genetic platform of proprietary and genetically modified seeds - poses enormous and unpredictable risks to the global food system, and to the world's poor in particular.

Of course, such fundamental questions are not raised in the existing "alliances" between corporations, NGOs and farmers to promote sustainable monoculture projects. There are no ecosystem visions, only fragmented points of view. Nor is there any genuine interest in going further. Affected communities that could attest to their fundamental issues are generally not adequately informed, advised and included about and in these projects. Rather, the projects generally attempt to persuade local organizations through perks. When money enters the picture, certainly, the agreed "consensus" only benefits a few. The objective of sustainability thus becomes little more than an exercise in improving the social image of the industry.
Local organizations are demonstrating against agribusiness' attempts to use “sustainability” as a smokescreen for the continued exploitation, looting and destruction of their lands. They have made it clear that unless the starting point of any project is the full and active participation of local communities, so that there is respect for their own forms of organization, it is completely absurd to imagine a “sustainable” outcome.

In these times of global struggles we must not forget that it is in each community and in each local space where agriculture was developed. And it will be there, with its own peculiarities, from the land and from the soul of the peasant women and men who still continue to dialogue with it, where the answers we are looking for will be developed.

References

1 The oil palm industry, RSPO website, http://www.sustainable-palmoil.org/background.htm2 Argentina Sustentable, http://www.pas.org.ar/que_es_AS.htm3 Palm Oil, the survival of the orang-utan and UK company law reform, Friends of the Earth, May 2006, www.foe.co.uk/resource/briefings/palm_oil_company_law.pdf4 See "Energy and Oil Palm", The Ram's Horn # 235, February 2006: http://www.ramshorn.ca /archive2006/235.html#meltdown5RSPO, "History of RSPO": http://www.sustainable-palmoil.org/background.htm6 Hillary Chiew, "Disappearing haven," Malaysian Star, December 27, 2005. http: // apanquer .notlong.com7 “Palm Oil Not welcome in PNG”, joint press release, April 18, 2005, malrouai.notlong.com8 M. Altieri and W. Pengue, "GM soy in Latin America: a hunger machine, deforestation and socio-ecological devastation ", Journal of Biodiversity, sustento yculturas Nº 47, January 2006, http://www.grain.org/biodiversidad/?id=3079 Round Table on Responsible Soy website http://www.responsiblesoy.org

Unwillingly August 2006- GRAIN: www.grain.org


Video: Rethinking agriculture: From annual monocultures to perennial polycultures. (July 2022).


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