Palm oil production for food and agrofuels is resulting in widespread human rights abuses in Indonesia according to a report released by a coalition of international environmental groups. Losing Ground exposes the huge social problems being fuelled by EU targets to increase the use of agrofuels (often called biofuels) in transport. The report follows new research released last week which revealed that converting peatlands for palm oil in Indonesia releases 423 times more carbon than the annual savings from replacing fossil fuels. According to Adrian Bebb, Friends of the Earth Europe agrofuels campaigner the report shows that as well as being bad for the environment, fuels from palm oil are a disaster for people. “MEPs should listen to the evidence and reject the proposed 10% target at the forthcoming debate on this in the European Parliament. Instead of introducing targets for more agrofuels the EU should insist that all new cars are designed to be much more efficient. Governments must also take a strong position against the target and do their bit to reduce transport emissions by improving public transport and making it easier for people to walk and cycle."
The report by Friends of the Earth, Sawit Watch, and LifeMosaic reveals that oil palm companies often use violent tactics to grab land from indigenous communities with the collusion of the police and authorities. Previously self-reliant families, who were able to meet their own needs from the forest around them, complain of being tricked into giving up their land with the promise of jobs and new developments. Instead they end up locked into debt and poorly paid work, while the bounty of the rainforest is replaced with monotonous oil palm plantations. Pollution from pesticides, fertilisers and the pressing process is also leaving some villages without clean water.
The European Commission has recently proposed a target for 10% of road transport fuel to come from agrofuels by 2020 in an attempt to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, despite mounting evidence that agrofuels fail to deliver such reductions. These targets will fuel a huge expansion in the amount of land used to grow oil palm. Since 2005, Friends of the Earth, Sawit Watch and LifeMosaic have worked closely together on a project aimed at bringing impartial information to communities affected by oil palm plantations in Indonesia, enabling them to make informed decisions about their land and their futures.