Originally written by Jayashree Nandi for TNN.

NEW DELHI: Palm oil may be the largest source of vegetable oil; it is also the leading cause behind losing precious primary forests in South East Asia. Palm oil companies are allegedly violating forest rights of tribals, polluting water bodies and grabbing too much of virgin forest land in different parts of Asia and Africa, according to a statement issued by Forest Peoples Program and SawitWatch, an NGO in Indonesia.

The latest violation case is by Indonesia’s largest palm oil company that allegedly ran in to trouble when tribal communities in Liberia complained about the acquisition of about 33,000 ha. Alfred Brownell, a lawyer from Green Advocates representing the Kru tribes impacted by the project who was attending the 10th Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RT10) being held in Singapore said: “the company is in clear violation of the RSPO’s new planting procedure as it has not advertised its plans to clear and plant oil palms and carry out and publicize a high conservation value assessment in advance of expanding its operations. Under the RSPO procedure, the company should now cease clearance until due process is followed. The villagers are concerned that their lands are being taken without their free consent.

Last year, a subsidiary of Malaysia’s palm oil consortium, was also in news for expanding its operations without respecting local peoples’ rights. The company was in the early stages of developing a 220,000 ha. operation but was halted because of complaints by communities.

Two large palm oil operations in Cameroon are going to start soon. One of them is by a subsidiary company of a large India based palm oil corporation. It is allegedly marking out its planned operations without consultation on the lands of the Bagyeli ‘Pygmies’ in western Cameroon. Messe Venant, Project Coordinator of the community-based indigenous NGO Okani complained that “the affected Bagyeli communities have told us, the forest is their memory. If they lose it, they lose their past, their present and their future. They will no longer be Bagyeli. To destroy the forest is to reduce them to nothingness.” India is the largest market for Indonesian palm oil.

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