While reducing import dependence and ensuring edible oil security is crucial, scientific evidence and mounting vulnerability to climate change clearly demonstrates that the the northeast region must not be a target area for expanding oil palm cultivation in India, Assam MP Pradyut Bordoloi has demanded.
He contested the Centre’s claim that oil palm will not be promoted by destroying forest cover, noting plantations have already replaced natural and semi-natural forest areas in the NE, especially Mizoram. “Does the government intend to enact any regulations or take other steps to ensure forests are not converted to oil palm plantations?” he wrote in a letter to Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar.
Bordoloi’s letter comes days after his intervention in the Lok Sabha seeking reconsideration of oil palm cultivation in the northeast. The ICAR – Indian Institute of Oil Palm Research responded to his intervention but, he did not buy their argument.
He attached with it a letter signed by over 100 scientists and conservationists urging the government “to incorporate a scientific plan for the expansion of oil palm in India” and tap agriculture land instead of biodiversity rich areas for the same.
The Union Cabinet had in August 2021 approved the National Mission on Edible Oils – Oil Palm (NMEO-OP) as a new centrally sponsored scheme with a financial outlay of Rs 11,040 crore. The scheme proposes to cover an additional area of 6.5 lakh hectare (ha) for oil palm till 2025-26, thereby reaching the target of 10 lakh ha ultimately. NE region and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands were targeted in this renewed scheme for expansion in oil palm plantations.
Soon after the announcement in August, Meghalaya MP Agatha Sangma had shot off a protest letter then.
Bordoloi, a Congress MP, also referred to one of the provisions of the proposed amendments to the Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980 where the government plans to exempt plantations of native species of palm and oil-bearing trees from the definition of ‘non-forest purpose’ which, he said, “will effectively exempt such oil palm plantations from government clearancea and “will be dangerous proposition” for the northeast.
He also hit out at the government’s claim that it intends to carry out oil palm expansion through inter-cropping, instead of monoculture farming, and said that precedent from across the globe and also from Indian states such as Nagaland point to cultivation of oil palm through monocultures “to maximise economic gains at the expense of adversely altering the natural ecosystem”.