Why Meghalaya plans to stay away from Palm Oil plantations | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Why Meghalaya plans to stay away from Palm Oil plantations

ByJayashree Nandi
Aug 29, 2023 12:43 AM IST

State governments, along with oil palm processing companies, held a oil palm plantation drive from July 25 to August 12

New Delhi:

Meghalaya is likely to oppose palm oil plantations. (wikimedia Commons)
Meghalaya is likely to oppose palm oil plantations. (wikimedia Commons)

Amid a major push to increase domestic production of palm oil, Meghalaya is likely to stand out in its opposition to palm oil plantations because of its impact on biodiversity and opposition by farmers.

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James K Sangma, National People’s Party leader and chairman of the Meghalaya Industries Development Corporation, and Mazel Ampareen Lyngdoh, the state’s agriculture and health minister, have opposed the recent drive to boost oil palm plantations.

“I understand the national mandate for the palm oil push, but I have historically opposed its cultivation on biodiversity terrain like ours ever since there was the push on the same,” Sangma, former forest and environment minister of Meghalaya, said in response to a question on whether the northeastern state will be taking up the palm oil plantation drive this monsoon.

“Our ancient forests and biodiversity perform valuable climate service for the nation and we are looking at a sustainable livelihood model that is less extractive in nature,” he said. “Together with Arunachal Pradesh, we are one of the biggest carbon sinks for India and are very critical for our nation in realising its Paris accord pledges in terms of climate action and environmentally judicious growth.”

State governments, along with oil palm processing companies, held a oil palm plantation drive from July 25 to August 12, under the National Mission for Edible Oils - Oil Palm. Three major oil palm processing companies, Patanjali Foods, Godrej Agrovet and 3F, are promoting and participating with farmers in their respective states for record area expansion, the Union farm ministry said in a statement on July 30.

Major oil palm growing states, which include Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Karnataka, Goa, Assam, Tripura, Nagaland, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh, participated in the drive.

The national mission aims to increase the oil palm production area to 10 lakh ha and boost the crude palm oil production to 11.20 lakh tonnes by 2025-26. The mission is mainly aimed at reducing India’s import burden.

Palm oil has historically produced dire circumstances for regions in terms of monocropping, water guzzling tendencies, human- animal conflicts, and soil health deprivation, and has had a record of turning land into biological deserts, Sangma said in a statement. “We have studied its socio- ecological cost as compared to economic outcomes in Mizoram, Assam, etc., and we have decided against it,” he said.

The indigenous population in the state is against deforestation and palm oil plantations have caused an uproar earlier amongst farmers, he added.

“We need to find greener alternatives and diversify our oil seeds portfolio for extractive commodities like palm oil. So in essence, we have chosen our national contribution to be of the climate service variety by creating a new template of green growth for India,” he said.

“There is a lot of resistance locally to palm oil,” said Lyngdoh. “I do not think we’ll take it up immediately.”

India is the world’s largest importer and consumer of palm oil. “In an aggressive push towards self-sufficiency in vegetable oils, the Indian government is prioritizing the rapid expansion of domestic oil palm plantations to meet an expected doubling in palm oil consumption in the next 15 years. Yet the current expansion of oil palm in India is occurring at the expense of biodiversity-rich landscapes,” said a paper published in Nature Food on June 18, 2021.

The paper recommended sparing forests and grasslands and using small rice fields instead. India appears to have viable options to satisfy its projected national demand for palm oil without compromising either its biodiversity or its food security, it said.

“Palm oil is a water intensive crop so if it replaces another monoculture with higher water demand like irrigated rice or sugarcane it’s okay but not biodiversity rich forested sites. And if palm oil is grown in places where most of its requirements can be met by green water ( rainfed soil moisture) and some grey water it’s blue water footprint can be reduced,” said Jagdish Krishnaswamy, dean of School of Environment and Sustainability at Indian Institute for Human Settlements, Bengaluru.

Oil palm plantations in Mizoram had the lowest forest bird species richness (10 species), followed by teak plantations (38), according to a paper published in Ornithological Applications journal by TR Shankar Raman and Jaydev Mandal, which was published in May 2016.

Forest bird abundance in the jhum cultivation landscape was similar to that in a rainforest, on average 304% higher than in oil palm plantations, the study had found. Jhum cultivation is a traditional farming method that involves clearing land of trees and other vegetation, burning it and then cultivating it for a set period of time.

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