The Centre’s recently approved oil palm mission, which proposes large-scale cultivation in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the northeast, has been battered by the All India Peoples’ Science Network (AIPSN).
Members described the plan as poorly thought out due to its environmentally harmful nature. Madurai-based AIPSN General Secretary P. Rajamanickam said that such a large-scale expansion plan requires research and evidence-based site-specific information before it can be implemented in environmentally sensitive areas. “The government is pushing for a political decision instead of being guided by scientific opinions,” he said.
The mission aims to reduce edible oil imports and boost domestic production, which allegedly benefits farmers and manufacturing industries by placing an additional 6.5 lakh hectares (ha) under palm oil by 2025-26. This should increase the production of raw palm oil to 1.12 million tons by 2025-26 and to 2.8 million tons by 2029-30.
However, the scientific community has indicated that oil palm plantations are the primary cause of biodiversity loss and damage to endangered and endangered species. It reminded the government of the earlier oil palm plantation in the Andaman Islands in the mid-1970s that drove many of India’s last isolated, vulnerable, and indigenous tribes such as the Jarawa and Onge.
While government spokesmen in NE claim that plantations will only take place on designated agricultural land, Rajamanickam said past experience shows that given the lack of arable land, fresh plantations would inevitably lead to deforestation or conversion of forest edge areas. As previously observed, this means penetration into forest areas and subsequent deforestation.
There are also several other effects of extensive palm oil cultivation in tropical forest areas. These include greenhouse gas emissions related to deforestation or land use change, negative impacts on groundwater and water quality, invasive species related to oil palm and pest spillage effects. Because of this, the AIPSN has called for a redefinition and rethinking of domestic oil production goals by focusing on other oilseeds such as peanuts, soybeans and mustard.