Good news from the Federal Court in Malaysia – a decision made on 8 May could allow Borneo tribes to stake claim to lands they use for hunting and gathering, in addition to land they have cultivated for farming, to which they are already entitled.
In what NGO Survival International has described as a ‘landmark ruling’, the court ruled that indigenous people in Sarawak, in the north-west of Borneo, had legal rights to traditional land even if it had never been cultivated – opening up the possibility that the native Penan tribes could fight logging and palm oil operations in the area.
In the past, the Sarawak state government has leased tribal land to industries without consulting its people.
But there are worries that such measures will not stem the rising demand for palm oil, a progressively more lucrative product.
Just days after the Malaysian court ruling, British companies W4B and Vogen Energy confirmed plans to fuel their new biofuel power plants – in Portland, Dorset, and Newport, South Wales, respectively – with imported palm oil.
The two companies say that they will only use oil accredited by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). However, pressure group Biofuelswatch believes that using palm oil to fuel power stations would create extra demand that could still increase deforestation.
A further blow to the notion of ‘sustainable’ palm oil was dealt with the publication of a Palm oil is refined from palm nuts. Only one per cent of RSPO certified sustainable palm oil has been bought since it became available in 2008 report by WWF in May, which showed that only one per cent of the palm oil certified by RSPO has been purchased since it became available in November 2008.
The oil carries an 8-15 per cent price premium over uncertified oil, but WWF also blamed a lack of interest among the bulk buyers.
‘This sluggish demand from palm oil buyers, such as supermarkets, food and cosmetic manufacturers, could undermine the success of sustainability efforts, and threatens the remaining natural tropical forests of southeast Asia, as well as other forests where palm oil is set to expand, such as the Amazon,’ said vice-president of agriculture for WWF, David McLaughlin.
The environmental group is now threatening to run a ‘naming and shaming’ campaign, drawing attention to those companies that are failing to support the initiative.
Greenpeace has slammed the RSPO initiative for allowing its members to continue destroying forests and peatlands.
Environment secretary Hilary Benn has said the Government is ‘greatly concerned’ by the potential environmental impacts of palm production.