Green groups blame palm plantations

Forest clearings to produce palm oil seen cause of Mindanao flooding


FLOODS like this in Davao City on Jan. 20 have been uncommon in Mindanao in the past. Environmentalists are pointing to a growing list of factors, including the massive expansion of palm oil plantations in Mindanao’s vast land. DENNIS JAY SANTOS/INQUIRER MINDANAO

DAVAO CITY—Palm oil plantations in Mindanao have been added to a growing list of factors to blame for some of the worst cases of flooding that struck the island and for disasters of magnitudes unknown to the island in the past, like the storms “Sendong” and “Pablo.”

On Saturday, environmental groups said palm oil plantations—along with illegal logging, expansion of banana plantations and real estate development— are among the main causes of the worst flooding brought by bad weather conditions that have recently hit Mindanao.

Armand Pacudan, Mindanao unit manager of  Foundation for the Philippine Environment (FPE), said the clearing of  Mindanao’s forests had worsened because of the entry of palm oil plantations in recent years.

The denudation, he said, was the main reason flooding had become worse, constantly keeping many communities under water.

“We are all now paying the price for burning our forest covers to set up  palm oil plantations, subdivisions and golf courses,” Pacudan said during a meeting with reporters here.

“We have changed the environmental landscape of Mindanao. Climate change has set in, we now have killer typhoons and deadly floods,” he added.

He said even the Liguasan Marsh—Asia’s largest wetland and home to more than 200 rare local and migratory birds— had not been spared from the influx of palm oil investors.

Oil derived from African oil palm trees (Elaeis guineensis), the main variety being planted in Mindanao, is popular in homes in many countries because of its highly saturated vegetable fat.

“There are now patches of oil (palm) farms in the Sultan Kudarat area of the Liguasan Marsh,” said Pacudan, whose group maintains a biodiversity conservation and sustainable development project at the Liguasan Marsh.

He said studies showed that there was a strong correlation between the mad rush to clear the forests for palm oil farms in the 1970s and 1980s in Mindanao to the killer floods brought by Sendong and Pablo.

The palm oil industry remains a cash machine for producing countries.

Malaysia and Indonesia alone, according to financial reports, made a combined total of $40 billion from palm oil in 2012. The two countries are considered the world’s top two palm oil producers.

Recently, Malaysian investors seeking to expand their plantations visited Mindanao in December and committed to invest P23 billion to develop areas in the Liguasan Marsh.

Currently, the total area planted to palm in the country is 54,448 hectares, according to data provided by the Philippine Palm Oil Development Council.

Grace Magdamo-Teoxon, coordinator of the Davao City-based Mindanao Environment Forum Inc. (Mefi), said the entry of Indonesian and Malaysian palm companies would further harm Mindanao’s ecological balance.

Mefi is opposing a proposal to convert a million hectares of land in Mindanao into “palm oil estates,” Teoxon said.

Dr. Phares Parayno, head of Miriam College’s Department of Environment, cited the case of a palm oil company—A. Brown Co. Inc., which has an

11,350-ha plantation in Opol, Misamis Oriental.

He said the company was being criticized by Higaonon communities there.

“The expansion of oil palm farms affects not only the ecosystem but also the lumad and Muslim people living in the [plantation] areas,” he said.

Greenpeace said aside from leading to forest denudation, the clearing and burning of forests for palm oil plantations are one of the major causes of air pollution in Southeast Asia. Germelina Lacorte, Inquirer Mindanao



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  • Todd

    Palm oil and coconut oil are high in saturated fat which is bad for your heart and arteries.I don’t see how these types of oils are gaining in popularity. Use canola oil if possible.  

    • batangpaslit

      coconut oil is natural oil. canola oil is chemically induced.

      • ricomambo

        ah ok. i always thought that canola oil is way better than palm oil. thanks for the info.

      • Joseph Burke

        Don’t listen to Todd. He does not know what he is talking about. Tropical oils were always healthier than the alternatives we use today.

      • Todd

        Canola oil is made from crushed rapeseeds.

      • rein1188

         canola oil from canada..cocnut oil is better than canola oil.

      • Joseph Burke

        Who cares. It’s not as good for you.

    • manuelcdiaz

      The study that reported Palm oil and coconut oil to be high in saturated fat was funded by the soy bean oil cartel of the United States.Coconut oil and palm oil are as good as olive oil. 

      • Todd

        Canola oil is still lower in saturated fat than soybean oil.

      • Joseph Burke

        Saturated fat does not hurt you. Millions of healthy Asians and Pacific islanders who use fats and oils high in saturated fat are proof of that. 

    • Joseph Burke

      Sorry, Todd, but before we started using all those other oils and fats we primarily used palm and coconut oil for cooking and the incidence of heart disease was much lower then than it is now. It was only the interruption of supplies in the world wars that allowed the producers of other fats and oils to gain a foothold in the marketplace. In SouthEast Asia and the Pacific islands they have a much lower instance of heart and artery disease than we have in spite of the fact they consume a diet higher in saturated fat and for the most part, they are also thinner than we are. Palm oil and coconut oil have been wrongly vilified by the producers of other fats and oils (many of which incidentally contained trans fats which are now known to be even more dangerous than tropical oils). Oh, and as for your precious canola oil, did you know there was a time when it’s only approved use was for oiling machine parts? The producers paid off governments to get it approved for food use so they would sell more of it and make more money. Don’t be a tool of the other oil industries, use tropical oils instead. You will be healthier because of it. 

  • batangpaslit

    i thought, Palm Trees, aids in the greening of the environment

    • David Garcia

      Palm tree plantations are green yet their effect on reducing discharge is quite lesser compared to that of forests, which are thicker and covers more ground in between the trees.

  • anak ng sultan

    mabuti nga at may mga investor ng dumating, dati ang mga lupa jan sa MAGUINDANAO nakatiwang2 lang walang produkto pinagtataguan lang ng mga magnanakaw at rebelde, ngayung tinaniman na ng palm oil REKLAMO parin tong mga ENVIRONMENTALIST kuno na to… MGA BWISIT.. mag imbestiga kayo jan sa DATU PAGLAS, 20 years ago kung anung itsura ng pagkalawak na lupa jan, ngayun kahit papanu may trabaho na ang ilan.. mga bwisit kayo…

  • BIGButo

    They need to work on cleaning up the rivers and streams to. Pollution in the Philippine waterway’s is very bad

  • aaawy

    To The author of this article: Please make sure you are not making a wrong misconception to blame the development of oil palm plantation in Mindanao as the source of all this flooding .  . For your information , a small portion only is planted in Davao province as mostly banana is being developed there.Oil palm plantation developemnt in theMindanao had focus on land that is mostly denuded that are mostly done by illegal logging. Have you not ask the DENR on how many % of rainforest had been left to protect the environment? Is planting an oil palm tree can destroy environment? As per DENR AO No.2005-25 dated NOV. 17, 2005. states that oil palm planting is considered to enhance forest cover of forest land. For your information please read below on write ups of Dr. Pamplona for your reference. We are NOT cutting tress , instead we are planting tree, is it a crime?



    P. Pamplona, Ph.D.





              Oil palm is a new crop in the
    Philippines which is not well-understood and is facing some negative misconceptions.  Common among these misconceptions are that oil
    palm faming (OPF)  (a) aggravates climate
    change, (b) involves delicate post-harvest handling which smallholders may not
    be able to handle, (c) promotes monocropping and reduces crop diversification,
    (d) is not economically viable for small landholders, (e) reduces the
    availability of ground water, (f) and is generally a private sector and not a
    government involvement.  These
    misconceptions are dragging the growth of OPF which has a great potential of improving
    the lives of the small landholders in the rural communities in Southern
    Philippines in particularly, and the country in general.  There is a need to correct these
    misconceptions to bring about a shift towards a massive and intensive national
    support for the growth of the OPF.  Here
    are the corrections to these misconceptions. 


    mitigates and not aggravates climate change.  Some argues that the destruction of forests
    in Indonesia and the alleged pollution of rivers and waterways in Malaysia caused
    by the disposal of palmoil wastes from milling mitigate climate change.  It’s true that trees in the forests of
    Indonesia are being cut to give way to oil palm plantations.  This reduces biodiversity, threatens the
    survival of the orangutans, and possibly aggravates climate change.   However, in Southern Philippines, the forests
    are there but without the trees, only largely cogonal fields.  This is evident as one looks down from the
    plane from Cagayan de Oro to General Santos City.  There are limited forests left surrounding
    Mt. Kitanglad in Bukidnon, Mt. Apo, and Mt. Matutum further south.  These forests should be preserved and expanded
    by planting forest trees, rubber and oil palm trees.  In many highlands, trees have long been cut
    and in place is cogon grass which can’t hold water thereby creating massive
    soil erosion and flooding during rainy days. 
    To overcome this catastrophe, foreign investors and local partners should
    be encouraged to convert such fields to oil palm forest for income, rural employment,
    reduction of soil erosion, prevention of flood, and as sink of CO2
    to mitigate climate change.


              The issue of pollution brought about
    by the disposal of palmoil milling by-products is a thing of the past.  Most, if not all, oil palm farming in Thailand
    and Malaysia are now largely on zero waste management.  The waste produced as a result of milling of
    the FFB become precious raw materials for the production of large quantities of
    organic fertilizers, biogas and electricity. 
    Part of the milling by-product is also being used to provide fuel for
    the milling plant in the process of milling. 
    This significantly reduces the dependence of these two countries on the
    Arab countries for petroleum oil.  Indonesia
    is fast following the steps of Malaysia and Thailand in zero waste
    management.  The use of renewable organic
    fertilizers and renewable energy from palm oil wastes helps mitigate climate
    change.  The same should be adopted in
    the Philippines.


              On the issue that the high rate of fertilizer
    application in OPF pollutes and makes the soil barren, there is no evidence for
    this.  The fertilizer requirement of oil
    palm for optimum yield is 18 bags/ha per year, much lower than the 24 bags
    needed for hybrid corn production of two crops a year and 36 to 40 bags/ha per
    year being commercially used in Cavendish and lakatan banana production in
    Mindanao.  Yet banana fields for decade
    in Southern Philippines remain highly fertile and among the most productive
    soils of the country producing 40 to 60 tons/ha per year of bananas for export.


    fresh fruit bunches (FFB) of oil palm are easy to handle.  There is that misconception that if a farmer
    does not deliver the FFB within 24 hours of harvest, he loss the fruits and
    income.  This is not true.  The fact is, maximum weight and high quality
    oil is obtained when the FFB is delivered within 24 hours of harvest.  Delaying the delivery reduces the weight and
    the oil quality of FFB but are still accepted and paid by the millers even when
    the delivery is delayed for 48 hours after harvest.  The FFB of oil palm is similar to but not the
    same with copra in coconut.  Quality
    coconut oil is produced in copra dried in the “tapahan” within 24 hours of
    coconut meat extraction.  If dried under
    the sun, delay in drying for two to four days or even more during rainy days, reduces
    the quality and the weight of the copra. 
    Hence premium price is paid for copra dried in the “tapahan” within 24
    hours of extraction.  Likewise, premium
    price is paid for FFB delivered to the mills within 48 hours of harvest.  Delayed in delivery is subject to price
    reduction or rejection after five days. 
    To reduce the delay in delivery, the government should improve farm to
    market roads in emerging OPF communities.


    is highly profitable among small landholders.  OPF brings economic prosperity to thousands
    of smallholders with less than three ha of land in Malaysia, Indonesia and
    Southern Thailand.  In these countries, OPF
    provides small landholders with higher and more stable income than farming of other
    crops like corn, rice, banana, coconut, fruit trees, etc. for cash.  Approximately 48% of the 7.5 million ha of
    Indonesia is in the hands of small landholders; 40% of the 625,000 ha in
    Thailand and a good portion of the 4.5 million ha in Malaysia.  Malaysia had provided the model to insure the
    success of the smallholders in OPF through the Federal Land Development
    Authority.  Such should be adopted by the
    Philippine Government with modifications. 
    OPF gives farmers four times the income from coconut farming more than
    twice the income in the best rice and corn farming and higher income than the
    farming of most fruit trees in the Philippines. 
    OPF is the best if not one of the best crops for small landholders in
    Southern Philippines to earn cash, and acquire high and regular income to buy
    variety of food, household appliances and their other needs, and for rural
    investment to make them entrepreneurs.  Hence,
    OPF should be integrated as part of the farming system of small landholders in
    Southern Philippines.


    among small landholders diversifies farming activities.  This is because OPF provide the farmers with extra
    time and available cash through high income in OPF to involve in other farming
    activities thereby promoting crop diversification instead of monocropping.  This is the opposite of the large estate
    plantations where monocropping of oil palm is generally practiced to simplify
    operation and reduce labor requirement which crop diversification requires.  That is why in the expansion of the palmoil in
    Southern Philippines should be a balance between large estate plantation and
    small landholders farming.  Moreover, the
    environment under the oil palm trees promotes the integration of other income
    generating farming enterprises.  These
    include production of various field crops, native chicken, broiler, turkey, ducks,
    and small ruminants like sheeps and goats and cattle.  Likewise, vermiculture for organic fertilizer
    production and mushroom production for cash can be carried out under such


    innovations in Malaysia suggest that the spatial arrangement, spacing and
    density of oil palm trees at the time of planting can be designed to allow the
    integration of field crops like corn, upland rice, and vegetables even when the
    oil palm trees are already mature.  Among
    the crops which are successfully integrated to oil palm-based farming systems in
    Malaysia are banana, corn, peanut, pineapple, vegetables, upland rice, sugar
    cane, tongkat ali and pigeonpeas. 

    above premise assumes that the small landholders stay in their farms.  Many small landholders in some communities in
    Mindanao, however, are reluctant to stay in their farms during the night due to
    poor peace and order situation. 
    Moreover, these small landholders are reluctant to plant crops which are
    prone to stealing or pilferage particularly fruits.  Hence many small but fertile farms in
    Mindanao remain idle.  In addition there
    are many farms in flood flash prone areas along big rivers and lakes which are
    risky for the planting of field crops like rice and corn.  Under such situation the best crop to grow is
    oil palm as this is not prone to stealing, does not need much time for the
    production management and that oil palm trees are tolerance to flash floods of
    24 to 48 hours.

    increases the availability of ground water and rainfall.  There is an argument, that since oil palm
    needs high amount of water, it depletes soil water reducing the supply for
    human needs and other crops.  There is no
    evidence to support this misconception. 
    Malaysia has been in a large-scale commercial OPF since the 1960s with
    63% of its agricultural crop devoted to OPF and no such phenomenon was reported
    to support this misconceptions.  A recent
    study by the author on the planting of over 5,000 ha of oil palm trees in Bohol
    shows that the rainfall in the vicinity where oil palm trees were grown
    increased from 1400 to 1500 mm/year.  This
    increase brings benefits to the rice farmers of the island who need more water
    for their rice fields.  One should take
    note however, that oil palm trees are responsive to irrigation.  In many experiments carried out in Southern
    Thailand, India, and other countries with low rainfall, irrigated oil palm
    trees yield fresh fruit bunches ten tons higher than the non-irrigated plants.  The beneficial effect of irrigation is
    particularly more prominent in places where the annual rainfall is below 1800
    and where there is pronounced dry period of more than two months.

    initiative and active involvement is needed for the growth of the national oil
    palm industry.  The
    prevailing argument among many national leaders based in Metro Manila for not
    actively supporting the oil palm industry is that the private sector, partly
    foreign investors have the financial resources, technologies, and expertise to
    engage in OPF.  That’s partly correct!  But, how about the thousands of small
    landholders who can benefits from the opportunity of OPF but can’t do so
    because they don’t have the financial resources, technologies, and expertise
    attune to their natural resources?  How
    can the benefits from the opportunities that OPF can bring in overcoming poverty,
    enjoying economic prosperity currently being experienced in rural communities
    of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Southern Thailand.

              Active government role for the last 10
    to 15 years expanded the national palm oil industry of our backdoor neighbors,
    Indonesia  and Malaysia and sidedoor
    neighbor Thailand to 7.5, 4.5 and 0.675 million ha respectively.  In contrast, the Philippine government inept
    attitude to OPF in the country was left behind with only 48,250 ha despite the
    fact that the Philippines has more idle lands suitable areas for OPF than Thailand.  The three leading countries have special
    program for small landholders thereby moving ahead of the Philippines in the United
    Nation’s Millennium Development Plan of overcoming poverty.  In fact the Philippine is missing the MDP

              It is hoped that our national leaders
    should see these realities and provide massive support to OFP, at a level
    similar to what is done in adjacent countries. 
    In doing so, OPF shall become a major farming activity of the country,
    to bring about rural prosperity to Southern Philippine in particular and the
    country in general.  To start with maybe
    the government should provide support similar to the support in giving to
    coffee, abaca, mango, banana, sugar cane, etc. 
    Then it should provide support approximate to
    what is given to rice and
    corn considering that palmoil is food with large import and with strategic
    importance as biofuel to counteract the ever increasing petroleum oil in the
    Middle East.  

    Hope you can also published  some of the good contribution of oil palm farming in the Philippines, or please interview the right person who knows the oil palm industry. Please visit our website or visit . Let us not compared the Phil. oil palm development to that of Malaysian & Indonesian oil development since 57,000hectares is not comparable to 6 to 7 million hectares they had planted.


  • manuelcdiaz

    The palm oil plantation encourage by A Brown are cogonal areas logged over long time ago so why blame A Brown for the Flood? Have you been to these areas in Cagayan de Oro and Bukidnon? This is another unfounded claims of environmental idiots.

  • manuelcdiaz

    Greenpeace another of those Environmental idiots. How can you blame palm oil plantation for pollution? This radical organization condemns oil but what is their Rainbow Warrior yacht using diesel fuel to fuel their engines. Hypocrites.

  • manuelcdiaz

    The floods of Mindanao is due to climate shift, typhoons now are occurring further south read the history of Mindanao the reason why the Tuasog tribe abandoned Butuan was because of flooding of the Butuan this occurred before the Spanish came into the picture. This is cyclical climate change.

  • Pitbulldog

    Bare and  denuded mountains are the reasons why floods are common nowadays.  So why blame these palm plantations which are mostly in lowlands?  They even help in job allevaition programs.  Mali nga yata research nyo.

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