Forests and Globalization: Challenges and Opportunities for Sustainable Development

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Rubio, Rojas and the CIFOR researchers who are seeking ways to increase the benefits families receive from their mosaics of forests and farms are betting that their efforts will lead to both healthier forests and a better life for the people who live in them. SDG focus areas document released — with great opportunities for forestry.

Nine suggested SDG indicators for forestry and landscapes. Event Coverage. Sustainable Development Goals and forestry: Lessons from Peru. From fish to granola, healthy forests provide a host of benefits to local communities. Share Tweet 0 Engagements. Collaborating for the Commons. Tackling emissions from logging. Make food a priority in land reforms.

Read also What sustainable development means in the tropics. Read also Sustainable Development: Romance, rhetoric and realities. This means you are free to redistribute our material for non-commercial purposes. All we ask is that you give Forests News appropriate credit and link to the original Forests News content, indicate if changes were made, and distribute your contributions under the same Creative Commons license.

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What are you looking for? Press Enter Predictive Search. Close panel Close panel Close panel. Shareholders and investors. BBVA in the World. BBVA Results. Financial calendar. Latest news. BBVA Podcast. Sustainable Development Goals 28 Aug Therefore, successfully achieving one goal requires defining strategies that follow a global approach , not only from the point of view of States, but also of businesses and companies, just as companies such as BBVA are proving : End poverty in all its forms, everywhere; for example, by promoting financial inclusion through activities and education centers that focus on initiatives such as microfinance.

End hunger , achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture; by, among other measures, supporting small farmers, offering them financial support. Ensure a healthy life and promoting well-being for all at all ages; this goal can be achieved, for example, by financing biomedicine and health research projects , through scholarships and grants. Ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education , and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.

In this sense, BBVA grants scholarships to people who would otherwise not have access to education and collaborates with academic entities. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls; by tearing down the barriers that prevent greater diversity in positions of responsibility or providing employee training to raise awareness about unconscious biases. Other indirect environmental impacts of oil palm include greenhouse gas emissions related to deforestation and peat decomposition and the additional influences of land-cover change on local climates and hydrology, the use of fire in land clearing and resulting smoke-haze, fertilizer, and pesticide usage and runoff, downstream water quality and freshwater species diversity, spill over effects e.

When compared to similar areas of old growth rain forests, all these impacts from oil palm plantings on the environment and biodiversity at local scales can be summed up as negative.

The Sustainable Development Goals and the role of forests

In terms of global outcomes, however, it needs to be assessed to what extent the negative impacts can be reduced or avoided, for example by planting in areas already deforested something that has long been more common than is widely recognised, see, e. A more complete accounting should consider not just the environmental aspects but the influence on poverty, hunger, and all the factors considered under the 17 UN-Sustainable Development Goals SDGs United Nations, Evaluating and weighing these factors is challenging.

Limited information, context dependence and the complexity of trade-offs in time and space as well as locally prevent simple summary generalisations. There is considerable variation in circumstances and we cannot assume that what may generally hold for traditional palm oil producers in mixed cropping systems would hold for large, industrial-scale companies operating in monocultures and vice-versa. There is much at stake and the often polarised views offer little scope for flexibility. According to some commentators, oil palm is a gift from god, a way to bring development and the benefits of the modern world to communities that would otherwise struggle with poverty.

According to others oil palm is a scourge on the earth and a crime against humanity—and those buying palm oil have blood on their hands. How then can oil palm developments be judged? If we choose to set foot in this moral minefield are there principles that can help us? Below we explore ethical considerations and value differences in the context of oil palm development. We recognise that democratic processes, while not a panacea, are necessary regarding choices concerning land-use, including oil palm developments. These processes play out at global, national and regional levels, and ethical framing depends on perspective, time-depth e.

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Political decisions need to consider which concerns and values to prioritize, and, because this is subjective and difficult, these processes are often imperfect and unlikely to be universally viewed as optimal. For example, how do we consider future generations or global stakeholders who are absent in decision-making? And how do we account for decision makers who lack key information, and are subject to misinformation? In this article we focus on what those decisions on oil palm development should weigh and how different framings matter.

Our goal is to identify some of the ethical issues regarding the cultivation and management of oil palm and the production and use of palm oil. There are topics we don't address. For example, we avoid the debate around palm oil and health these issues appear well-documented, see, e. Furthermore, we are not philosophers—we will not examine the theory or axiology of moral judgement—however it is worth highlighting that philosophers generally concede that there is no one theory or framework that can guide or resolve every ethical situation satisfactorily.

In this sense then moral dilemmas and disagreements are inevitable. In addition, acceptance that issues can be viewed legitimately from multiple perspectives can reduce polarisation. Our goal is not to advocate particular answers but to present dilemmas and contexts, and to indicate some pitfalls in certain framings or generalisations.

After briefly reviewing the ethical and human context of oil palm and the extent to which oil palm differs from other crops, we focus on: 1 the socio-economic impact of oil palm development in forest-frontier areas; 2 the global context of oil palm in relation to other oil crops; 3 the discussion around biofuel and food security; and 4 issues over oversight, governance, and transparency.

We further indicate where misconceptions regarding the ethical considerations could result in policies and decisions that have perverse outcomes. As guides in a moral minefield we have our own limitations and we realise we are unlikely to please everyone, especially those with strong views. Where we present opposing arguments, we do not mean to suggest that each side has equal merit, or indeed that either one is correct or incorrect. We encourage the reader to judge. The ethical context of palm oil plays out in various ways Table 1. Why do ethics matter? In our experience, talking to different people engaged in palm oil—producers, government, farmers, anti-deforestation campaigners—all consider themselves to be right about their views, even if those views are polar opposites.

In the polarized debates around palm oil, opposing voices often focus on the most negative or positive examples they can find Table 2. An environmental activist may emphasize the replacement of forest. Proponents of oil palm, on the other hand, may point out areas where oil palm was planted in burnt-over grasslands. Both are correct in that both cases exist. Table 1. Outline of the different kinds of ethical challenges and perspectives at play in any one situation, which could also lead to different ethical outcomes or end-points.

Table 2. Examples of distinct viewpoints on different aspects of oil palm depend on who you ask and on how the question is framed. Unlike the literature on the environmental impacts of oil palm development, which contains various studies using counterfactual-based designs e. Such case studies can provide compelling evidence of negative consequences, for example, from conflicts over land rights, land compensation, or labour provision, which are commonly reported in oil palm areas and undermine the crop's potential for improving people's lives Colchester and Chao, ; Barreiro et al.

Still, the case selection is likely to be biased toward extreme i. Some studies of welfare impacts show that some smallholder producers benefit considerably in terms of income Susila, ; Feintrenie et al. While transparency is improving, there is little doubt that some companies have been complicit in land-grabbing by planting outside concession boundaries, and forcing people from their lands.

At the same time, not every complaint and demand for compensation is necessarily valid and, when evidence is lacking or contested, who believes who, often follows pre-existing allegiances. The benefits available from oil palm development likely depend much on the local context, such as variation between companies in how they engage with communities Persch-Orth and Mwangi, ; Baudoin et al. Furthermore, the standards are widely perceived as lax Dauvergne, Following that, the extent to which companies compensate communities for land, and how these funds are distributed, also varies greatly Colchester, Smallholders are especially diverse: whether it is the ejidatarios planters in Mexico Castellanos-Navarrete and Jansen, ; the smallholders producing animal feed in Peru Meza, ; or the planters paid by wealthy patrons to clear and plant small areas in Riau, Indonesia Purnomo et al.

Most of the commercial palm oil in international trade comes from these more-or-less organized production settings, but oil palm is grown in an even wider range of contexts: e. There is increasing interest also in mixed cropping with oil palm both during initial establishment Nchanji et al. Costs and benefits will obviously vary across these cases. Given the variation in the extent to which benefits from oil palm accrue to people and communities, generalisations that neglect this diversity are problematic. Furthermore, development goals are characterized by normative values that are perceived differently by different people.

For example, people in extreme poverty may prioritize poverty reduction and hunger alleviation over avoided deforestation and reducing wildlife declines, while richer people elsewhere may prioritize saving endangered species such as orangutans, and worry less how this affects someone else's income and food security.

What is right and what is wrong depends on who you ask, and it is unlikely that there are clear universal answers as to how to best tackle contemporary global problems in a just and equitable manner, apart from providing informed choice to all parties. Reading the debates around palm oil suggests that it is special among other commodities. Palm oil is certainly not alone in being a widely traded commodity that contributes to tropical deforestation—for example, bananas, beef, cane sugar, chocolate, coconuts, coffee, pineapples, soybeans, tea, and vanilla, to name a few, are all produced in previously forested areas.

But oil palm is, by area, the most rapidly expanding tropical crop over the last decades Figure 1. Whatever measure is used—land, labour or inputs invested— it is also an exceptionally profitable crop Sheil et al. Figure 1. Note the graph excludes soybean, which is more commonly grown in subtropical or temperate contexts.

Another of oil palm's special characteristics is its ability to grow well at least initially and profitably in contexts—such as hemic and sapric peat lands, sands, or acid sulphate soils—that defeat most other crops Naidu et al. This is important because it means that oil palm is a major deforestation, flooding, and carbon emission threat in such environments Wijedasa et al. But also, seen from the perspective of people who live in such locations, oil palm provides an opportunity. If there was no oil palm these people would lack access to comparable economic opportunities.

The production of palm oil has requirements and restrictions too. For example, if you are a local farmer and want to adopt oil palm cultivation you will have to wonder where you are going to sell it. Palm oil is not unique in this, tea has similar processing requirements. In any case, to get paid for producing oil palm fruit, mills have to be accessible—this is not always the case. Furthermore, independent growers in many regions will only have the option of selling to one mill.

Such monopoly situations mean that growers may not get a fair market price. There is interest in expanding the use of smaller mills, and traditional processing still occurs across much of tropical Africa, but in general these approaches are less efficient and have been discouraged Sheil et al. One remarkable aspect of oil palm is how selective breeding and genetic improvements have continued to increase yields. These improved varieties have high commercial value and are not always freely available. Local farmers who want to set up independently may lack access to good cultivars and are thus at a disadvantage against farmers who collaborate with larger commercial ventures Johnston et al.

The ability of oil palm to produce considerable profits, even from areas where comparable options were absent, has fuelled a boom in speculation, opportunism, and dubious practices. In locations with weak or corrupt institutions this has parallels to the resource curse seen in some other high value commodities e.

Sustainable development in Asia: seeing both the forests and the trees

As a tree crop that takes 3 or 4 years to become productive it may exclude those unable to make such investments—but this is not unusual among such crops. The immediate benefits of land clearance to develop oil palm can also be highly profitable encouraging some unscrupulous investors to access and clear large areas for the timber value on the promise of longer-term oil palm developments that never appear—such scams have been common across Indonesia in recent decades, with both officials and communities duped into giving away their forest and timber for a broken promise Casson, Oil palm has specific management requirements, for example, it has particular pests, and an unusual responsiveness to certain fertilizers Goh and Hardter, Even when the palms are planted and productive the benefits may be siphoned away various pers.

Given the potential wealth generation, it is unsurprising that the powerful seek to capture and control these benefits for themselves; 25 families in Indonesia owned one third of the country's oil palm in TuK Indonesia, Narrow control has also arisen elsewhere, for example, in Honduras Araya, and Sarawak, Malaysia Cramb, Finally, whichever the production form of oil palm, the crop is relatively labour-intensive because harvesting is largely manual.

Furthermore, in aseasonal contexts where the plantations maintain their productivity year-round, neither labour requirements nor associated incomes are as seasonal as in many other labour-intensive commodities though palm oil production can still be seasonal in contexts with a pronounced dry season. This makes oil palm a more reliable source of employment and income than many other cash crops. The minimum labour requirement for established industrial oil palm plantations is about one labourer for every 8—12 ha Abdullah et al.

For millions of people, especially those growing oil palm in multi-crop contexts, oil palm will generate part of their income. High labour requirements thus make oil palm an important livelihood option in regions where wages are low and labour is abundant Byerlee et al. This can have an unintended effect of reducing labour for local food production in nearby areas with labour shortages Rich, Also, the high labour needs can generate in-migration from lower income countries and regions Abdullah et al.

Immigrant workers often come from countries or regions that are poorer than the palm oil producing areas, raising issues of power and worker's rights. In conclusion, oil palm is special in its rapid increase in production, its profitability and its potential in bringing a profitable land use to areas where there are few alternatives. Arguably, it is special also—at least at this point in time—for the diversity and breadth of the debates and polarised views it has caused Corciolani et al.

Nonetheless, few of its other attributes are unique. Whenever oil palm is singled out for scrutiny it is likely that other crops present similar attributes and merit similar assessments and actions. Those who ask to boycott all palm oil due to its contribution to deforestation should perhaps also consider if a boycott of coffee, chocolate or coconut might be needed to be consistent.

Forests support an estimated When oil palm developments lead to forest loss this will often diminish local access to forest resources, and affect internal dynamics of such access Li, , EM pers.

If oil palm development generates sufficient benefits that outweigh the negative impacts of lost access to forest resources, then forest people may support it. A recent study, for example, concluded that the Indonesian palm oil sector lifted around 2. Not everyone benefits equally though. People on the forest frontier often lose out across various measures of social well-being when oil palm is developed, as opposed to farming people in existing agricultural landscapes who tend to do better Santika et al.

In interior forested regions in Indonesian Borneo, for example, this results in negative perceptions about industrial-scale oil palm, as perceived costs outweigh benefits Meijaard et al. There are also cultural aspects at play—such as the circumstances under which an independent farmer or hunter-gatherer might be willing to sign up to regular paid labour.

In many locations companies prefer to deal with immigrants who are more familiar with paid labour Budidarsono et al. Furthermore, companies often prefer to employ immigrants as they have fewer distractions, demands and competing commitments than locals and are seen as more compliant and reliable DS pers. Indeed, in Borneo it is common to find people in remote areas who will travel elsewhere for a period to work in plantations and earn savings, but are opposed to having such developments in their own region as they do not want to be trapped in that system DS pers.

Negative perceptions about industrial-scale oil palm may also relate to forced intensification of traditional shifting cultivation systems and the replacement of these diverse agricultural or agroforestry systems with monocultures. Such change can lead to vulnerability to commodity price fluctuations Potter, and forced cultural change Chao, In some forest areas, however, oil palm is the only viable cash crop on local soils see above , even though the development on some of these soils i.

It is important to understand under which conditions rural communities are likely to benefit from oil palm and may welcome it, if asked, compared to the counterfactual of choosing not to have oil palm-driven development in their area. This requires recognition that communities are not homogenous and that there is much variation in social status and ability to benefit. Anecdotal information indicates that many forest people value the changes brought about by oil palm, such as new roads that provide better access to markets, schools, and health facilities, as well as the immediate financial benefits of labour input during initial land clearing and land use compensation payments EM, pers.

Sustainable Development Goals and forestry: Lessons from Peru - CIFOR Forests News

At the same time, the values that are lost, such as graves, sacred sites and others, may not be not apparent to outsiders Sheil et al. The costs of these developments may accrue over longer time frames when social and environmental impacts from land clearing e. We note that these local concerns and preferences can, and in our view should, be sought out and that there are methods and approaches to achieve this Evans et al.

We need an improved decision-making framework about oil palm developments in forested areas. Development options in tropical forest areas are often limited and getting development started requires investment. Areas with extensive tropical forests in which oil palm could potentially be developed are often among the world's poorest, and many are also characterized by unstable political conditions and frequent human rights abuses.

Improving the lives of local people, both indigenous and migrants, may not always have been the main political objective Hadiz, Nevertheless, viewing this in purely economic terms, a difficult call needs to be made by elected government about choosing a form of development that increases the well-being of rural and remote communities and provides the benefits they want.

The global challenge posed by the 17 Sustainable Development Goals

Under which conditions could oil palm contribute to these developments and who decides? There are also legitimate questions given past situations and government priorities, as to whether such additional investments are actually required, or would be channelled to such benefits if sufficient finances were made available.

It is also not clear whether the people of Papua have been informed and consulted about these alternatives. Whether or not oil palm developments could play a positive role in these sustainable development scenarios depends on the extent to which well-managed companies and associated smallholder schemes can bolster local development compared to alternative scenarios. As it is essential that rights are recognized and respected it will remain important to know how local communities view oil palm development e. We underline that many local people may agree with these choices or not but either way they have not been asked Sheil et al.

Other examples of high forest cover regions in which oil palm is currently being planned but which are ranked low on the HDI include the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Ghana, Cameroon and Nigeria in Africa. In the American tropics, most countries suitable for oil palm development e.

As in the case of Papua, decision-makers need to carefully consider whether oil palm development in whatever form provides desirable development outcomes compared to alternatives, how likely these alternatives are to occur, and who benefits and loses. As argued above, these are value-driven decisions, and the outcomes will vary with context. Simple yes-no answers to oil palm development in high forest cover regions cannot capture the complexity of ethical decision-making.

Ideally, the decisions would be made by the people affected and their elected representatives with access to all the necessary information they require. In practice this is difficult to achieve. FPIC is one approach, but it tends to emphasise a limited number of choices, and it is not always clear how much critical insight can be shared and explored in such processes McGee, Of course, local consent is important, but it still raises ethical challenges when the global community and future generations may be short-changed for example, by those who accept the increased likelihood of species extinction.

Are there examples that show that any such approach works? One example may be in Honduras where smallholder cooperatives have found it possible to develop ways to work with palm oil and other interests in a beneficial manner. It was not easy and there were tensions, with many diverse interests, but everybody agreed that the responsibility to do better rests within each of them.

We note that some remain critical of the Honduras approach especially with regard to concerns about smallholder oil palm contributing to deforestation in national parks on land often owned by large companies Radwin, , and the alleged role of some of these companies in evicting farmers from their plantations Ramachandran, In Peru, in an area where large-scale oil palm operations had failed due to high costs and lack of interest from communities, a new approach that revived the abandoned production sites by engaging small-scale farmers and installing small-scale processing technology, was more successful Elsewhere, some authors have highlighted that there are positive experiences in using participatory approaches to permit poorer land-owners to adopt and benefit from oil palm—and that these examples are worth sharing in other regions Djouma et al.

It is obvious that successful oil palm development in high forest cover regions would require significantly more planning, consultation, and collaboration than commonly used by the oil palm sector, and that implementing such initiatives remains dependent on supporting governmental and non-governmental groups and institutions. Given the demand for vegetable oils Byerlee et al. The largest areas allocated for the production of vegetable oils are in the USA, China, and Brazil Figure 2 , although the predominant crops there, maize and soy beans, also produce non-oil products.

A global shift away from palm oil would require more production of other oils, likely benefiting economies in the global North, where deforestation for agriculture took place a lot earlier than in the tropics. To give an extreme example, if the predicted vegetable oil demand in of Mt Byerlee et al.

If, on the other hand, all demand was met by rapeseed which requires ca. Figure 2. It is obvious that the choice of an optimal oil production mix requires careful ethical consideration. How shifts in oil production affect biodiversity, the environment, and people remains, however, uncertain Carrasco et al. Relative yields of the individual crops vary Carrasco et al. In terms of financial outcomes, tropical areas would lose out with a shift away from palm oil, while higher latitudes would benefit.

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Reducing the demand and switching production of tropical oils palm oil but also coconut to soy, rapeseed, maize and sunflower-based oils, would likely benefit low income oil-producing countries at higher latitudes, like Ukraine and Romania, but also high-income countries like France, Canada, Australia, and the USA, where agricultural intensification also has significant environmental costs, e. Figure 3. Boycotts against palm oil by consumers or consuming countries are a legitimate expression of social and environmental concerns. They, however, punish innocent and guilty alike.

Banning palm oil rather than seeking improved standards risks lowering rather than raising practices Jelsma et al. Nonetheless, effective pressure on the palm oil industry to ensure standards are met is needed but boycotts and similar interventions require a good understanding of the likely social and environmental consequences, both in palm oil producing countries, and in countries producing other vegetable oils. As we point out e. For example, what is the likely impact of the recent vote by Norway's parliament to make Norway the world's first country to bar its biofuel industry from importing deforestation-linked palm oil?

Norway imported 0. This raises the question what the consequence of disengagement for small countries is on global palm oil trade, and the degree to which wider media attention to the ban translates into positive pressure on the palm oil industry. If similar standards are not addressed to other crops and commodities, including those produced in consumer countries themselves, such boycotts can appear political, prejudiced, and protectionist.

Such charges make them easier to dismiss within palm oil producing nations. It also raises the spectre of a political backlash within palm oil producing countries against what they see as Western double-standards, meddling, and threats of retaliatory actions, as indicated in a recent letter of the Malaysian Prime Minister to the French President, or a spat over a study published by the World Health Organization that likened tactics in palm oil to those used by tobacco and alcohol lobbyists MalayMail, A more isolationist stance from producer countries will make it harder to collaborate on improving practices in the industry.

Figure 4. Change over time in imported volume of palm oil per country as percentages of total global palm oil imports in each year FAOSTAT, Interestingly, in contrast to most of our other themes, the ethics surrounding biofuels have been subjected to extensive investigations. Some find the arguments for biofuel compelling as we need alternatives to fossil fuels to address the catastrophic outcomes of greenhouse gas emissions.

But for many of those already opposed to oil palm, the idea of palm oil for biofuel, seems worse than palm oil for food. Some of the debate covers the same ground as with oil palm more generally: are the reductions of greenhouse gases real and how would biofuels impact the environment, and the rights of farmers and other landowners Buyx and Tait, One main difference, along with the climate emphasis, is the focus on food security. Human hunger and malnutrition are clearly bad and those supporting wider use of biofuels are readily painted as causing reduced access to food through changes in food prices and availability.

But as he goes on to explore, evidence that this is the case is less compelling.

Policy and Practice Reviews ARTICLE

He highlights three problems with the anti-biofuel arguments: 1 while fuel markets may indeed influence consumption and availability this is not an issue solely for biofuels; 2 how food security is impacted is not clearly explained; 3 increased food prices could benefit farmers but there are no guarantees how this will play out unless it is carefully planned and structured. Diet choices tend to be complex as they are governed by multiple factors: alongside issues of availability are those of affordability, convenience, and desirability meaning that the consequences of change are not necessarily straightforward Herforth and Ahmed, Given that such economic developments are generally seen as desirable it is unclear to what extent oil palm or other alternatives should be blamed for contributing to these outcomes.

There again, if there really is a moral problem in using land to produce fuels it seems hard to find a way to separate that from other non-subsistence crops. If we should avoid tropical biofuels, can we still support coffee, tea, and chocolate? Few of us will find these easy choices. Clearly views around these issues should mature as concerns and data evolve.

Returning to biofuels more generally, there have been clear statements of principles that offer a starting point for further clarifications. For example, one report concluded that there is a duty to support development of biofuels that satisfies five ethical principles Buyx and Tait, ; Nuffield Council on Bioethics, : 1 biofuels development should not be at the expense of people's essential rights; 2 biofuels should be environmentally sustainable; 3 biofuels should contribute to net reduction of total greenhouse gas emissions and not exacerbate global climate change; 4 biofuels should recognize the rights of people to just reward; and 5 costs and benefits of biofuels should be distributed in an equitable way.

A new international approach to policy-making is called for Buyx and Tait, ; Nuffield Council on Bioethics, , guided by a transparent standard that reflects all areas of ethical concern raised in the five points above. Where the production of biofuel through palm oil is concerned, especially points 2 and 3 require deeper analysis including other vegetable oils. Who defines and polices acceptable practices?