14 Jun 2011: Analysis

In Brazil, Palm Oil Plantations
Could Help Preserve Amazon

In recent years, palm oil development in Malaysia and Indonesia has devastated tropical forests there. With Brazil on the verge of its own palm oil boom, can sustainable cultivation of the crop actually help save the rainforest, rather than hastening its destruction?

by rhett butler

The rapid expansion of palm oil plantations across Malaysia and Indonesia has left a wide swath of destruction through some of the planet’s most extensive and important rainforests. Now, with Brazil announcing plans to dramatically scale-up palm oil production in the Amazon, could the same fate befall Earth’s largest tropical forest?

The stakes are enormous, as the Brazilian Amazon contains an estimated 850,000 square miles suitable for palm oil plantations — an area four times the size of France. By comparison, Indonesia and Malaysia, which account for nearly 90 percent of global palm oil production, have less than 50,000 square miles of oil palm under cultivation.

Yet even as Brazilian and international firms gear up for a major expansion of palm oil cultivation in the Amazon, there is a conspicuous lack of hand wringing by environmentalists. The reason: done right, oil palm could emerge as a key component in the effort to save the Amazon rainforest. Responsible production there could even force changes in
Done right, oil palm could emerge as a key component in the effort to save the Amazon rainforest.
Indonesia and Malaysia, both of which have been widely criticized for their poor records on protecting tropical forests.

Palm oil could ultimately benefit the Amazon for a number of reasons. Planted on the degraded pasture land that abounds in the Brazilian Amazon, oil palm could generate more jobs and higher incomes for locals than the dominant form of land use in the region: low intensity cattle ranching. Rather than destroying more rainforest for still-more cattle pasture, local farmers could go into the oil palm business and benefit from its higher returns.

“At current prices, it can provide a Brazilian smallholder a ticket to the middle class,” said Tim Killeen, a senior research fellow and Amazon expert at Conservation International. “Anybody can do the math: 200 kilos of meat per hectare versus 4 tons of oil per hectare. Plantations create jobs, but a smallholder model creates a middle class.”

Replacing cattle pasture with palm oil plantations also offers significant environmental benefits, as palm trees — though not nearly as valuable ecologically as rainforest — at least sequester carbon and evapotranspirate moisture, which is important to the hydrological cycle of rainforests.

Oil palm expansion in Brazil also could put pressure on Indonesia and Malaysia to clean up their acts. Brazil’s stricter environmental laws mean that, should the country begin to produce large amounts of sustainably produced palm oil, it would place Southeast Asian producers at a disadvantage if they hope to sell to European and American corporations, which are increasingly concerned about buying palm oil associated with forest destruction.



Oil palm is among the most productive and profitable tropical crops. A 25-acre plantation can yield palm oil worth more than $7,000 a year for a planter, far in excess of ranching or farming. But its profitability has spurred unbridled expansion in Indonesia and Malaysia, where more than half of oil palm expansion since 1990 has occurred at the expense of tropical forests. Asian production also has fouled rivers and released billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Producers there have at times run roughshod over traditional forest users, resulting in social conflict. Accordingly, the industry is increasingly battered by criticism from human rights groups and environmentalists.

So why would palm oil in the Amazon be different?

View photos
Cattle Ranching Brazil

Rhett Butler / Copyright Mongabay.com
In Indonesia, more than half of oil palm expansion since 1990 has occurred at the expense of tropical forests.
Little oil palm is now grown in Brazil — only 350 square miles. In the Brazilian Amazon today, cattle ranching is the big driver of deforestation. Cattle pasture occupies more than 70 percent of deforested land in the Amazon, obliterating forest and resulting in a near-complete loss of stored carbon and a loss of wildlife. The loss of vegetation reduces transpiration, affecting local rainfall. Where large areas of rainforest have been converted for cattle pasture, it becomes drier and more susceptible to drought and fires, which sometimes spread into adjacent forest areas.

Cattle themselves cause problems, compacting the soil, damaging local waterways, and worsening erosion. Meanwhile processing their hides pollutes rivers and streams with toxic chemicals. In short, cattle ranching, as traditionally produced in the Amazon, is often a menace to the environment.

Palm oil is a much different agricultural product. First and foremost, the oil palm is a tree, meaning that it absorbs carbon dioxide and releases water vapor as it grows. The result is that oil palm stores six to seven times the amount of carbon as cattle pasture. Daniel Nepstad, a scientist who co-founded the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM), said that large-scale expansion of oil palm plantations into pasture “would help mitigate regional climate change, exemplified by the severe droughts of 2010 and 2005, by re-establishing year-round evapotranspiration in an important region of the eastern Amazon.”

Oil palm looks even better from an economic standpoint, generating significantly more employment than ranching, mechanized soy farming, or logging. Agropalma, currently Brazil’s largest palm oil producer, employs one worker per 20 acres of plantation. By comparison, an industrial soy farm typically has one worker per 500 acres, while a cattle ranch often has only one worker for every 1,000 or more acres.

With palm oil prices hovering around $1,000 a metric ton and the Brazilian government planning an aggressive expansion of the crop, a frenzy of activity is taking place. Archer Daniels Midland, mining giant Vale, and the state-run oil company Petrobras Biofuels have announced major Amazon palm oil deals in the past 18 months. Several other major companies are looking to expand production in the region.

But the Brazilian government’s target of having 19,000 square miles (5 million hectares) under palm oil cultivation may be too high — Agropalma thinks it unlikely that Brazil will be able to plant more than ten percent of that by 2020 because of constraints on seed and labor. Seasonal flooding also would limit palm oil plantations in parts of the Amazon.

Oil palm expansion in the Amazon faces other challenges, yet these constraints may make Brazil’s palm oil industry considerably less damaging
Brazilian production could reduce the incentive to expand in Malaysia and Indonesia.
than its counterpart in Indonesia and Malaysia. Brazil’s current Forest Code requires landowners in the Amazon to keep 80 percent of their land forested, which means that a company cannot only buy a block of pasture in the Amazon, it must also secure — or pay the cost of — a forest reserve several times the size of the palm plantation. (Brazil’s agricultural lobby is now working to pass a law that would substantially reduce the legal reserve requirement.)

This and other challenges — such as Brazil’s arcane land ownership laws — mean that oil palm in the Brazilian Amazon probably won’t take the scorched Earth approach that has come to represent some palm oil growers in Southeast Asia and the Amazon cattle ranchers. The Brazilian government has also enacted policies to promote more sustainable palm oil production, which limit where oil palm can be grown and prohibit individuals or companies seeking to clear primary forest from receiving low-interest government loans. For all these reasons, Agropalma estimates costs of palm oil production in Brazil to be at least twice those of Indonesia.

All of this suggests that palm oil alone will not be a panacea for the Amazon, but it could help generate income and livelihoods in already deforested areas while stabilizing forest cover and serving as a bulkhead against fire. But Roberto Smeraldi, director of the environmental group Amigos da Terra — Brazilian Amazonia, said that optimism for palm oil will only be justified if the state and federal governments enforce the country’s tougher environmental laws. “There are reasons for concern due to the lack of governance that might make palm oil expansion a risk factor once developed in the region,” he says.

The goal of many Brazilian growers would be to out-compete Indonesian and Malaysian growers on issues of sustainability, which could make Brazilian palm oil more attractive to international food and consumer products companies, such as Unilever. Brazilian producers might even exceed the requirements of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), whose seal of sustainability — bestowed upon dozen of firms in Indonesia and Malaysia — has been given to some undeserving companies, according to critics.

“We’re not going to be a competitor in markets that don’t care about sustainability,” says Marcello Brito, commercial director of Agropalma. “We believe Brazil will be a good producer, but not a big producer.”

Sustainable Palm Oil:
Rainforest Savior or Fig Leaf?

Sustainable Palm Oil: Rainforest Savior or Fig Leaf?
The push to promote sustainable palm oil is turning into a test case for green consumerism, Fred Pearce writes. The outcome could help determine the future of the rainforests of Asia and Africa — and whether consumer pressure can really sway corporate giants.
READ MORE
Even if Brazil’s palm oil production misses the government’s ambitious targets, it could pressure producers in Southeast Asia and Africa, where oil palm development is fast-increasing. Should Brazil produce just half of its 2020 target of 5 million hectares, the amount of palm oil produced would represent 10 to15 percent of global production, potentially having a commensurate impact on the price of palm oil and reducing the incentive to expand in places such as Malaysia and Indonesia. More importantly, it would send a signal to other producers that being the lowest-cost producer isn’t necessarily the only path for agricultural development.

“Amazon oil palm plantations could mitigate climate change at the global level by depressing the price of palm oil, competing with Southeast Asian firms and potentially suppressing expansion into peat forests,” says Nepstad.

And provided expansion occurs on degraded, non-forest lands, oil palm could help buffer the Amazon rainforest from further destruction.

“If we start a new plantation using RSPO guidelines and following Brazilian laws, we can be part of the sustainable solution to the Amazon,” says Brito. “But a business as usual approach could destroy the Amazon.”

POSTED ON 14 Jun 2011 IN Biodiversity Forests Policy & Politics Science & Technology Sustainability Sustainability Central & South America 

COMMENTS


Thanks to Rhett for this report on palm oil prospects for Brazil. Yes, the promise is great. And, the container of idealism also holds a lot of worms.

Historically, illegal deforestation, logging, cattle ranching, land-grabbing and speculation have been an interwoven constellation of destruction in Amazônia. These forces are not going to just fold up because the more lucrative approach of palm oil plantations is being introduced. Indeed, it will increase the likelihood of land-grabbing moving into more remote and more pristine areas in a now-familiar process called "leakage."

As more valuable agricultural uses enter a biome, land in general gains value and and so does the incentive to acquire it legally or illegally. The boundary or limit is set by law and enforcement has been very weak in Brazil. Amazônia being the size of Western Europe or the Continental US west of the Mississippi, is not easy to police, nor is it easy to get local officials to embrace high-minded ideals.

Thus, we are thrust back to the two core issues facing Brazil -- revision of its national Forest Code and local enforcement of laws promulgated in Brasilia. And these challenges remain as intense as ever.

I've recently written that, "achieving the dream of 'progress without destruction' will be like trying to get a bull to balance on a ball."



http://lougold.blogspot.com/2011/06/cows-and-climate-finding-balance.html

Further, I'm persuaded along with Tom Friedman, Paul Gilding and others, that nothing fundamental is likely to change until "crisis shock" changes EVERYTHING. And, by then and if there's time for a response, the dreams of tweaking the market to give incentive to conservation will be an obsolete relic of late 20th Century optimism about "best-case" globalization.

http://lougold.blogspot.com/2011/06/is-earth-full-paul-gilding-saysyes.html

Check it out, ponder it and please share what you think.

Best to all,

lou

Posted by Lou Gold on 14 Jun 2011


I would like to clarify that there are a number of responsible producers in the Indonesian and Malaysian palm oil industries. Unfortunately the actions of a limited number of bad actors tarnishes the image of palm oil as a whole.

Posted by Rhett Butler (author) on 14 Jun 2011


The promise is indeed great. Some of this degraded and underused land could be used for food and tree crop production without cutting down another square inch of standing forest. In order to make this possible, governments and development agencies need to invest in more careful planning, incentives, investment and controls. Special care is needed to ensure that local communities that may be using parts of the land are respected and fully involved in decisions to intensify use or to restore forest.

Development agencies, charities, national governments and business should transfer some of their attention to the opportunity of restoring already cleared and degraded land to more productive use. This needs to be done equitably and should be driven by the local communities, who have the most to gain from the long-term potential of these efforts to contribute to enhanced food production, ecosystem services and poverty reduction.

Posted by mutual on 15 Jun 2011


An additional note -- the global "can of biofuel worms" is incredibly complex. The World Bank, WTO and others are now urging that support for bio-fuels be scrapped in order to hold down food prices.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/06/10/us-biofuels-g-idUSTRE7593ZB20110610

In addition to idealists and visionaries, there are lots nefarious characters lurking in the shadows of bio-fuel plantations as well as among the bundlers of derivatives trading in the banks.

Clearly, food,fuel and climate policies must be integrated. Piecemeal and incremental muddling through is no longer a workable approach and this is an emerging contradiction everywhere. Here is a recent study highlighting the challenge for REDD+.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2011-06/bc-rsl060611.php

Beware!

Posted by Lou Gold on 15 Jun 2011


A provocative analysis. It's nice to see a different perspective on the palm oil issue. Something that departs from the rhetoric of the monkey-huggers and the palm oil companies. If Brazil can actually execute on its plan, things could get very interesting.

Posted by Charles on 15 Jun 2011


The article by Rhett totally disregards permaculture (sustainable practices) in FAVOR of monocrops.

Monocrops are always associated with profit seeking wealth. Monocrops destroy the biodiversity. Monocrops exploit the natural resources that took many thousands of years to establish that monocrops will reduce into depleting the soil (microorganisms) leaving desertification as a result.

This notion of transforming the rain forest into palm oil is the same like Chevron, Exxon and BP who harvest natural resources claiming the pollution left behind wasn't passed on to everyone.

By growing monocrops, it insures the highest risk to disease, the largest plight of insects, they feed on that monocrop and the whole ecology becomes unbalanced.

Who is thinking about the rain forest, and who is thinking about financial gain?


Posted by Lucus Fernando on 15 Jun 2011


A fairly well balanced article, except for the wild and unsubstantiated claims that "The rapid expansion of palm oil plantations across Malaysia and Indonesia has left a wide swath of destruction through some of the planet’s most extensive and important rainforests."

The fact that palm oil is only planted on 0.22% of the world's agricultural land and yet produce 30% of the world's supply of edible oil should clue the reader in that something doesn't jive with all the palm oil deforestation hype!

Rhett and his site Mongabay.com, unfortunately ranks amongst a whole cabal of green loonies ranging from the Rainforest Action Network to Climate Advisers to Greenpeace to Friends of the Earth who have been guilty of contributing to the hype.

RAN, for instance was forced to quietly remove from their website their wild allegation that palm oil cultivation would lead to the extinction of the orang utan by 2011. Well 2011 is now upon us and the orang utan population in the wild has grown instead of going extinct when new tribes of more than 2000 wild apes were found in the East Kalimantan province of Indonesia, as reported by National Geographic. With roughly 50,000 orangutans thought to remain in the wild, the new find could add 5 percent to the world's known orangutan numbers, said Erik Meijaard, senior ecologist for the Nature Conservancy in Indonesia.

At the risk of sounding facetious, for Climate Advisers to forecast that "98 percent of the rainforests in Indonesia and Malaysia will disappear" within 15 years due to palm oil cultivation reduces Climate Advisers to the level of those religious loons like Harold Camping and his Oakland based Family Radio who predicted that the world would end on 21st May 2011!

Malaysia has erstwhile been the world's largest producer of palm oil for more than a century. Yet, after planting palm oil for more than a hundred years, Malaysia still retains forest cover of more than 52%, many times higher than the forest cover of the countries from which these loons hail!

Indonesia has elected to preserve 20% of its forests which is the current prevailing forest cover in the EU. If 20% forest cover is acceptable to the EU, why should Indonesia be condemned for establishing similar targets, especially considering that Indonesia is a developing country with a population in excess of 300 million with poverty eradication remaining an urgent national priority for years to come?

It is ironical that Rhett now adopts a position and uses the same arguments that the Palm Oil Truth Foundation has espoused for some time now. Indeed, he could now serve as a worthy staff writer for the palmoiltruthfoundation.com.

Finally, the fact that many are making these scary predictions against palm oil DO NOT make them true. It is a sad indictment on journalistic standards when nuts and loonies are quoted by the media with gay abandon and without a closer investigation of their wild allegations instead of the application of a rigorous, sound and detailed examination of the facts. For this, the world's media stands indicted!

Posted by The Palm Oil Truth Foundation on 15 Jun 2011


Lucus: This article does not promote the idea of converting of rainforest into monocrops. It raises the question of whether oil palm planted in place of cattle pasture could be better for people, climate, and biodiversity than cattle pasture alone. As Marcelo Brito states in the article, converting Amazon rainforest for oil palm would be a disaster.

I am aware of other approaches like permaculture/agroforestry which use a diverse array of crops to produce food, fiber, and fuel. But this relatively short article wasn't about general agricultural options in the Amazon, it is specifically about palm oil. If you would like an analysis of permaculture and other options in the Amazon, you may be interested in checking out mongabay.com, which has many articles on these issues.

Posted by Rhett Butler on 16 Jun 2011


The key assumption: "provided expansion occurs on degraded, non-forest lands, oil palm could help buffer the Amazon rainforest from further destruction."

Note that the law "Brazil’s agricultural lobby is now working to pass ... that would substantially reduce the [80/20] legal reserve requirement" has been passed. Why would farmers get rid of their cattle and plant a risky new investment of palm oil when they could *keep* their cattle and cut down more forest to plant palm oil?

I would have to see some very strong evidence about small-holder decision-making before I believed that palm oil could actually be positive for the amazon ecosystem. As for large landholders, why would more profit per hectare slow down their push to clear more forest? I would think just the opposite: greater profits lead to more capital, and hence more capacity to lobby the government and to buy equipment for forest clearing.

Posted by Alexander Shenkin on 16 Jun 2011


The Palm Oil Truth Foundation is a marketing web financed by elements of the Malaysian palm oil industry. It makes some curious claims about palm oil. Definitely check it out if you are interested in seeing some of the more extreme views pushed by the palm oil lobby. You might note that the points it makes are very similar to those used by other known lobby groups like World Growth International and the Malaysian Palm Oil Council.

Posted by Rhett Butler on 16 Jun 2011


(meu companheiro de amigos brasileiros)

Is saving the rain forest important?

I you believe that to be true, then please explain how any short term exploitation of the rain forest that leads to devastation and desertification would insure the rain forest in the long term?

Once the rainforest is destroyed by the short term foreign capitalist seeking exploitation of our natural resources, what will we have left, except a huge big toxic basin of chemical residuals polluting everything downstream?

Haven't we seen the harmful effects by the big oil industry to realize the results?

If anything thinks life is difficult now, imagine what it would be like to be without a rain forest! Brazil's climate will make polluted Linfen city of China look like paradise in comparison.

Without a rain forest, the world will accelerate it's global warming, leaving all of humanity struggling to cope and deal with a much greater consequence.

The truth of the matter is that the rain forest does fine on it's own, it doesn't need saving, except from the effects of humanity upon it.

So I want to ask whom are we saving the Rain Forest for? Would that be for our future generations or just money in the pockets of a few foreign investors who don't even live here?

The support of public policies that are mutually exclusive, or contrary to the country’s long-term interests should NOT be implemented for short term profits!

Posted by Gabriel Gustavo on 16 Jun 2011


Open Letter from Amanda D. Isabela of the Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro

What is the difference between palm oil and crude oil? As both are an enormous global business. In fact, both cause the destruction of the environment; be deforestation that releases carbon emissions, by the desertification and destruction of the soil through evaporation and UV penetration, the destabilization of maintaining biodiversity and so on.

The "Rain Forest", is an equilibrium, a balance of living systems participating in relationships. By disturbing the homeostasis (balance) of the rain forest you NOT only effect the disposition metabolically, but also the socially and psychological affects upon it's inhabitants. Let's be honest, deforestation causes extinction, changes to climatic conditions, desertification, and displacement of populations including human beings.

In addition, there are atmospheric, hydrological and ecological consequences to be concerned about. Example; when part of a forest is removed, the trees no longer evaporate away water, resulting in a much drier climate with greater erosion, flooding and loss of ground water (aquifers) and transpire precipitation. As a result, the presence or absence of trees can change the quantity of water on the surface, in the soil or groundwater, or in the atmosphere.

The rain forest is one of the greatest living treasures of this planet. We shouldn't convert it over into dollars, euros, or yuans for trees are the caregivers of our world, trapping carbon, regulating water, producing oxygen and cleaning the air. It's an amazing miracle if you think about the importance of how a forest of trees preserves the environment in so many ways.

We have a responsibility for our future to not ruin a good thing going here. No amount of money will replace the rain forest. Wisdom consists of the anticipation of consequences, right? What do you think will happen once the rain forest becomes extinct? Must we press our luck to tempt fate like that? Russian Roulette?

Posted by Amanda D. Isabela on 17 Jun 2011


Europe’s Palm Oil Devastation – Scorched Earth To Save The Planet

http://notrickszone.com/2011/02/13/europes-palm-oil-devastation-scorched-earth-to-save-the-planet/

It’s the destruction of the rainforest in the name of climate protection. Clearing the land to make way for palm oil plantations. Prof. Jürgen Schmid of the Fraunhofer IWES Institute: "We have recommended the German government to completely stop its support of bio-fuels."

Posted by Anke Bollmann on 17 Jun 2011


I think Rhett article suggest one bad choice over another. Rather than a good choice regarding the Brazilian rain forest.

It seems the decision is in the hands of the wealthy to make that decision for all of us. Certainly, the wealthy would point out the amount of wealth to be extracted that benefits them the most. However, it is the "civic duty" of every human being as shareholders of this world, to look after the interest of this world, right?

We owe it to ourselves, to develop our "conscience".

So in reflection, Rhett article really shows the great need of making moral choices in this present age of our development. After all, humanity is now effecting the world, by the amount of human activity on such a large scale, we MUST take responsibility for our actions.

We the people of this world need a conscience economy, that is sustainable, ecological and ethical.

Every country, nation and State should send forth a representative, to form a global organization. wWhere we implement and acknowledge the most needed actions to preserve the environment of this world for all people.

Humanity simply cannot AFFORD irresponsible negligent actions based upon momentary values. It has to include ethical and moral choices, our conscience!

Otherwise, human development will certainly peak and then regress, decline and dwindle all because our development failed to consider any sustainable practices because lobbyist, lawyers and politicians cannot regulate in terms of mothers, monks and priest who look beyond the momentary value.

We should be asking ourselves, just because we can do it, should we be doing it? That requires a conscience, which this article clearly has shown a lack of concern about.

It's time to stand up for what is right from wrong. If we don't who will?

Posted by Paulo Carlos on 17 Jun 2011


Rhett Butler has been studying palm oil long enough to admit that it is indeed the best agricultural practice compared to other agro-based economic activities.

Compared to others;

- Palm oil gives the best return, thus helps alleviate poverty.
- It causes possibly the least damage to the environment, thus minimises environmental
degradation.
- It is used mostly as food, thus supplying the world population with constant and cheap form of nutrition.

Therefore it perplexes me that Mr. Butler still see it fit to apply different standards for small eastern countries like Malaysia and Indonesia and a big western country like Brazil. What do you suggest then? plant oil palm only in Brazil, let the Brazilians reap the economic rewards and enforce that Malaysia and Indonesia maintains their puny rainforest so that Malaysians and Indonesians live under a tree, eat tree bark and drink from a puddle?

Every country has a right to develop its land for the benefit of its citizen. Malaysia pledged and maintains 50% of her land as permanent forest. The rest for development. Indonesia, saddled with enormous population, unfortunately only pledged and maintains 20% of her land as permanent forest. 80% for development.

Those tree-huggers and ape-huggers never manage to present a better alternative to palm oil for proper development of the two small countries. Can you imagine if the two countries chose other agricultural activities instead? what do you reckon they should do? plant soybean? rear chicken? cattle?

Posted by Ed Faisaly on 21 Jun 2011


Ed: Perhaps you need to read the article a little more carefully -- I am certainly not applying different standards to Brazil, Malaysia, and Indonesia. The article does not propose expanding oil palm plantations onto forest lands in Brazil, nor does it propose limiting oil palm expansion on non-forest lands in Indonesia or Malaysia. As I--and many others--have argued elsewhere, there are huge opportunities for Malaysia and Indonesia to expand palm oil production without destroying natural forests.

Posted by Rhett Butler on 27 Jun 2011


People like Ed, tend to justify their thinking by pointing out that if they dont do x they will live like peasants and wont develop their economy and similar rubbish. He hasn't asked nor knows what the local people of these countries want! Theres no reason why these countries cant diversify away from monocrops. Again its powerful interests developing short-term solutions to problems that will cause many new problems.

Posted by bobster on 29 Jun 2011


Mr. Butler,

I understand that you oppose deforestation. For Malaysia, we pledged 50 percent of our land as permanent forest (which we did in Rio, in 1992). Even as we develop our palm oil industry, we have maintained that ratio ever since and we will continue to do just that.

Would you care to comment on that?

Mr. Bobster,

Rather than jumping on the anti-palm-oil-bandwagon, would you care to present a better alternative to palm oil, for small developing countries like Malaysia and Indonesia? Please do your research thoroughly. While I doubt that you will find one, I strongly suggest that you have a go. Then, present your case.

Any Tom, Dick and Harry can criticise. The real challenge is to find a solution.

Posted by Ed Faisaly on 30 Jun 2011


Ed is a voice of reason in a cacophony of extremist viewpoints that seeks to condemn without suggesting solutions. Rhett fortunately, is a recent convert to rational thinking.

Yes, it is reasonable for Ed to ask for alternatives. If Indonesia and Malaysia were to switch to planting soy, rapeseed or sunflower on its palm oil lands. There's no doubt that in that event, 10 times more land would have to be cleared just to produce the current quantity of palm oil, given palm oil's staggering yield advantage over the alternative crops. Then we would really have a rolling leviathan of rainforest destruction in Asia, Africa and South America!

Posted by Palmhugger on 08 Jul 2011


Ed: I think it is admirable that Malaysia made this commitment and I especially hope that Malaysia's remaining primary forests continue to be maintained.

Palmhugger: I'm not sure what you mean by a "recent convert to rational thinking" but maybe someday you'll have the courage to reveal your actual identity. The Palm Oil Truth Foundation's personal smear campaign against me back in 2008 was memorable. I was especially amused when you accused me of being an agent for big oil and a "false environmentalist." So thank you.

Posted by Rhett Butler on 22 Aug 2011


I agree with the overall analysis of Rhett. One of the limitations not explored sufficiently by most commentators on the future of the oil palm in Brazil relates to the condition of known as Oil Palm Bud Rot. I would like to hear more on what Brazilians think of this problem. I have a website in Spanish on the issues related to OPBR if anyone is interested see:


Posted by Douglas Laing on 06 Sep 2011


How about a paragraph explaining what is likely to happen to the indigenous inhabitants within the suitable 850,000 square miles which one day could be or more likely will be cultivated?Extinction of culture and tradition, extinction of a community, extinction of a way of life, need I say more.

Posted by jim on 25 Oct 2011


Interesting article on agriculture development in Brazil, but, as some commentators pointed out,
absolutely out of the issue mentioned in the title: why should then deforestation decrease? Increased land value for agriculture would speed up deforestation. This is not my opinion. It is stated in basic economic laws confirmed by actual situations all around the world. When market mechanism make natural resource exploitable only legal prohibition and enforcement can stop the trend.

Posted by Carlo Castellani on 15 Apr 2012


Comments have been closed on this feature.
rhett butlerABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rhett Butler is the founder and editor of Mongabay.com, one of the leading sites on the Web covering tropical forests and biodiversity. In previous articles for Yale Environment 360, he has written about how a cattle ranching boom threatens the Brazilian Amazon and how activists are targeting corporations in the fight to save tropical forests.
MORE BY THIS AUTHOR

 
 

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Why Wave Power Has Lagged
Far Behind as Energy Source

by dave levitan
Researchers have long contended that power from ocean waves could make a major contribution as a renewable energy source. But a host of challenges, including the difficulty of designing a device to capture the energy of waves, have stymied efforts to generate electricity from the sea.
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UN Panel Looks to Renewables
As the Key to Stabilizing Climate

by fred pearce
In its latest report, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change makes a strong case for a sharp increase in low-carbon energy production, especially solar and wind, and provides hope that this transformation can occur in time to hold off the worst impacts of global warming.
READ MORE

Will Increased Food Production
Devour Tropical Forest Lands?

by william laurance
As global population soars, efforts to boost food production will inevitably be focused on the world’s tropical regions. Can this agricultural transformation be achieved without destroying the remaining tropical forests of Africa, South America, and Asia?
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