8M ha eyed for oil palm plantations
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines—Environment Secretary Ramon Paje on Wednesday proposed the conversion of some 8 million hectares of idle, denuded and unproductive lands across the country into oil palm plantations.
Paje, who attended the launching of the Mindanao Barangay StraTreegic Forest Project (BSFP) here, said the country was losing P800 billion each year in production opportunities because of lands that are left idle.
He said the prospects of generating more cash out of these idle lands could be gleaned from the Indonesian example.
Indonesia, which has only 6 million ha of land planted with palm, makes $50 billion each year from the oil palm industry.
“That is almost the same as our national budget,” Paje said.
Paje said that if the plans pushed through, the country would earn more than Indonesia out of oil palm plantations.
But Paje’s proposal was met with opposition here.
For Orlando Ravanera, Cooperative Development Authority regional director and environmentalist, food security and ecological integrity should be the government’s focus.
Ravanera said converting idle and denuded lands into palm plantations was not consistent with programs on food security and ecological integrity that the BSFP is aiming for.
“Land should be used for food security, not for biofuel,” Ravanera said.
Ravanera said the government should make sure that the people have sufficient food and, to achieve this, land use is essential.
Cagayan de Oro Bishop Melmar Labuntog, of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines and chair of the group Panalipdan Mindanao (Defend Mindanao), said that if there were idle lands, these should not be used for palm but for crops that can feed the country.
Labuntog said that instead of planting oil palm on denuded forests, for example, reforestation should be undertaken to ensure ecological balance that would help farmers yield more harvests.
Ravanera said one factor in decreasing food production levels was the failure of logging companies to replant as agreed upon and the continued operation of illegal loggers.
He urged Paje to strictly implement environmental laws and said reforestation is a must.
“The DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) should reforest the land and not plant palm. That is the mandate of the DENR,” Ravanera said.
Oil palm is considered to have the highest oil content among oil-producing plants, including coconut and olive. Its high yield drives the development of oil palm industries worldwide. Palm oil is used in several food products, such as cookies, crackers and pastries.
Indonesia and Malaysia are considered the world’s top producers of palm oil.—Bobby Lagsa, Inquirer Mindanao, and Rafael Antonio, Inquirer Research
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