In 2005, a palm oil company approached the villagers of Kiungkang in West-Kalimantan, Indonesia, with offers to convert their farms to oil palm smallholdings. Many farmers agreed to the proposal because of the high monthly incomes promised by the company that they could earn from the oil palms. Unfortunately, the palm oil dream turned out to be an illusion.
The World Bank has agreed to suspend all new investments in the palm oil industry by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) - an independent body within the World Bank focused on the private sector - with immediate effect. In a letter to Both ENDS' partner Forest Peoples Programme, Robert Zoellick, President of the World Bank, writes that all existing investments will be re-examined, pending a number of guarantees that must limit damage to humans and the environment.
Palm oil production is widely associated with land grabs, human rights violations, large scale monoculture and severe environmental damage. Positive examples in the palm oil sector are rarely highlighted, but fortunately they do exist. Companies like Musim Mas and Bumitama in Indonesia are leading a much needed shift to a more environmentally and socially responsible way of palm oil production. Recently, Ms. Lim Sian Choo, Head of Corporate Secretarial Services and of Corporate Social Responsibility of Bumitama was in the Netherlands for an informal meeting organised by AidEnvironment and Both ENDS. Representatives from the private sector, NGOs and government were also present to discuss concrete steps taken by Bumitama to achieve sustainability in real time.
The work of the partners of Both ENDS can be dangerous. The story of Odey Oyama, director of the Rainforest Resource Development Centre in Calabar, Cross River State in Nigeria, gives proof to this. Since a few weeks he is hiding. Just in time he heard – indirectly – that he is wanted, and three weeks ago the police suddenly invaded his house. Odey is afraid to return to his family. It seems that his work has engendered too much resistance. He writes to us: "Absolutely without any warrant whatsoever, men and officers of the police forced their way into my residence on Sunday January 27th, 2013, through one of my bedrooms. Previously I had actually reported to the police that I was in need of protection by reason of some of the things I heard and perceived around. "
We pushed the canoe through the turf and climbing on board he suggested I take the helm while he would hoist the sail. Being aboard this fast sailing lightweight canoe, carried by the swell of the blue sea, brought back images so vividly described in Hemingway's book The old man and the sea. After leaving the coast, going further onto the sea we eventually changed track and went north. I learned from the fisherman that the daily catch of fish was very meagre. Fishermen had to leave home early morning, around 4 AM, and had to venture out far off the coast to find fish. When I spotted my hotel near the beach we set course for the coast. When we had reached the shore again, I paid the fisherman and we parted amicably, in good spirit.