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An Oil Palm Plantation in Thailand

While the Experts and Environmentalists Warn Against Large-Scale Oil Palm Cultivation the State Government Pushes GOI’s Oil Palm Project in Manipur

While the experts and environmentalists the world over are against the large-scale plantation of oil palms for commercial production, Government of Manipur pushes the Government of India (GOI)’s Oil Palm Project in Manipur anyhow. It is apparent from what Manipur Chief Minister said during a one-day national workshop on Promotion of Oil Palm in Manipur and Manipur Government’s Consultant of Oil Palm Mission Manipur propagated through media recently.

Manipur Chief Minister Nongthombam Biren during the one-day national workshop on Promotion of Oil Palm in Manipur held on June 14 at Hotel Classic Grande in Imphal East  organised by the Department of Agriculture, Government of Manipur under Centrally Sponsored Scheme (CSS) of National Mission on Edible Oils and Oil Palm (NMEO-OP) said that Manipur’s Oil Palm Project was inaugurated on November 12, 2020 and a potential area of 66,652 hectares has been identified in six districts and started the plantation, but there has been a delay in expansion of projects due to public concern raised about the adverse effect of oil palm plantation.

Further the Chief Minister said that the workshop was organised to discuss and make people aware of the scientifically proven facts that no harm has been caused by oil palm plantation and crops like pineapple, coffee, etc. could also be grown successfully within the premise of oil palm plantation areas.

Moreover, Manipur Government’s Consultant of Oil Palm Mission Manipur M S Khaidem insisted through media panel discussions recently that there is no detrimental impact of oil palm plantation on the environment and paddy fields of Manipur. He argued that oil palms are not new in Manipur and few hundred of oil palms are already grown in Manipur as ornamental or decorative plants and no one objects to it.

Whether he ponders on plantation of few hundred as decorative or ornamental plants and plantation in large-scale for commercial production is same or not is not known. There is also no scientific study to prove that the oil palm cultivation in Manipur will not have any detrimental impact on the environment.

Even if the oil palm cultivation in Manipur will be on rain-fed, one apprehension and concern of Manipur’s environment activists and groups besides rational individuals is that oil palm cultivation will leave the areas after 25-30 years as dried barren lands as an oil palm tree is said to consume 300 litres of water a day. When there is no enough rainfall the oil palm trees will suck-up the ground water from the already drying-up land where natural springs and streams are dying due to deforestation by vested interests including poppy plantation.

However, M S Khaidem continued to argue that there will be no deforestation and affect on paddy fields since the oil palm plantation in Manipur has to be carried out in the abandoned jhum-lands, foothills and fallow lands. The apprehension that oil palm plantation in Manipur will affect the environment is misconception and false propaganda. The deforestation and environmental degradation in Malaysia and Indonesia is due to the oil palm plantation by international and multinational companies but for Manipur it will be cultivated by the farmers and the farmers will be benefitted, he propagated.

Reports said India’s Union Cabinet on August 18, 2021 had approved the launch of National Mission on Edible Oils – Oil Palm (NMEO-OP) as a new centrally sponsored scheme with an outlay of Rs 11,040 crore for a five-year period. Out of Rs 11,040 crore outlays, Rs 8,844 crore will be the share of central government and Rs 2,196 crore will be the share of the states. The focus of the program will be to increase area and productivity of oilseeds and Palm oil.

In a written reply by the Union Minister of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare Narendra Singh Tomar in Lok Sabha on November 30, 2021 said the Government of India has identified 66,652 hectares in six districts of Manipur as potential areas for oil palm cultivation. The six districts are Imphal West (14,516 hectares), Thoubal (18,475 hectares), Bishnupur (10,389 hectares), Churachandpur (11,662 hectares), Chandel (6,803 hectares) and Ukhrul (4,808 hectares).

However, instead of taking up the project in the identified potential areas, the State Level Standing Committee has identified another 7,715 hectares for plantation in Jiribam District of Manipur where Areca nut and Coconuts which belong to the same family of Oil Palm are already cultivated commercially by the farmers of the district, the state consultant M S Khaidem said.  Cultivation of oil palm on trial has been started in Jiribam. Manipur will be the 22nd State in India to implement the Oil Palm Project, he added.

He also said that Oil Palm Mission Manipur under the Department of Agriculture, Manipur with the adoption of Good Agricultural Practices will target to cultivate Oil Palm in foothills, intercropping in the existing Jhum areas & abandoned Jhums and fallow agricultural land without disturbing the forest.

For palm oil production fresh oil palm fruits have to be processed with 24 hours of harvest. Since most of the Jhums or abandoned Jhums are located in the interiors beyond motorable roads, it will be difficult for the farmers to deliver their harvest to the processing factory or collection centres. This has been one of the bitter experiences in Mizoram where oil palm cultivators have to bear extra cost for transportation and cannot deliver to reach the processing factory of Godrej Agrovet Ltd in Kolasib district.

As of now oil palm cultivation is focussed in Jiribam due to land ownership issue in the hill areas of Manipur besides the fresh crops can be delivered to the Godrej Agrovet Ltd’s processing factory in Kolasib district of Mizoram so that it can be processed within 24 hours.

M S Khaidem even went to the extent that even if the oil palms are cultivable in Kwatha and Moreh areas, it cannot be cultivated until and unless there is no a processing factory in the nearby.

On the apprehension and concern of the environment activists and groups about detrimental impacts on the environment being faced by major palm oil producing countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, African Countries etc, M S Khaidem argued private companies were taking up Oil Palm cultivation by destroying the forest and no intercropping was practiced in those countries. Learning from their experience, the GOI has included four years support for providing inputs assistance for intercropping, creation of water harvesting structures, vermin composting, custom hiring centres etc, he added.

However, intercropping in the oil palm plantation for longer-term is not scientifically and sufficiently proved yet while there are many research and reports of detrimental impacts of large-scale oil palm cultivation not only on the environment but also socially.

The usual oil palm planting practices of burning an area after felling forests or draining peat swamps cause massive loss of forests and biodiversity. Whether burnt, dried or simply left to rot, dead trees and vegetation release greenhouse gases. Several countries, including Malaysia, Indonesia and Colombia, have witnessed large-scale negative impact of oil palm plantation.

Several experts have warned that oil palm cultivation should not be encouraged in biodiversity hotspots. However, the Northeast Region where the GOI’s Oil Palm Project has landed to meet India’s need of edible oils falls under the Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspot which ranks sixth among the 25 biodiversity hotspots of the world. Most of the Northeastern states have over 60 per cent of areas under forest cover. The biodiversity of the Northeast Region is a genetic treasure of various forms of plants and animals.

Not to cause further damage in the forest, environment and ecology of Manipur, the Government should not be blind to the need of an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment Report, a requirement set by United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Just propagating that the oil palm cultivation in Manipur is different from Malaysia, Indonesia and Sri Lanka; and it will not have detrimental impact on environment and intercropping can be done without sufficient scientific studies and proven records is not enough to let the Oil Palm Project go ahead in Manipur.

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