Oil Palm Plan for Northeast, Andamans

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    In News

    • Recently, the Environmental experts and politicians raised concerns over Centre’s proposal of oil palm for North East and Andamans.

    About

    • Environmental experts and politicians are warning that the Centre’s move to promote oil palm cultivation in India’s northeastern States and in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands could be disastrous.
    • The widespread destruction of rainforests and native biodiversity have been caused by oil palm plantations in Southeast Asia.

    Previous Production

    • The Andaman and Nicobar Islands have already had some experience with oil palm, including some abandoned plantations on Katchal Island in the Nicobar chain, and a 1,593-hectare area on Little Andaman which was planted more than 35 years ago and abandoned on the instructions of the Supreme Court.

    Need for increased palm oil plantations

    • Match demand and supply of oilseeds: 
      • There is research going on to increase the production of oilseeds like mustard, groundnut, soyabean, sunflower, and there has been increasing growth in the production of these oilseeds, but to fill huge gap in production versus demand [of edible oils] soon, venturing into crops where production is more is needed. 
    • Production from 1 hectare is more in palm oil than other oilseeds:
      • The production of palm oil from one hectare is far greater than the production of mustard oil in the same area. 
      • So naturally, the production rate of oilseeds cannot be compared to that of palm oil. 
    • Palm oil import is very high right now:
      • Palm oil currently makes up a whopping 55% of India’s edible oil imports, and the new Mission is intended to move towards domestic production and self-reliance instead.
    • Findings of Feasibility Report on Andaman Islands:
      • Prepared by the Indian Institute of Oil Palm Research (IIOPR). 
      • It stated that the existing grass in the islands is not of any use and is being burnt every year to avoid snakebites.
      • The soil and climatic conditions were suitable for oil palm plantation, with high rainfall doing away with the need for irrigation which could suck out groundwater. 
      • The IIOPR suggested that multi-cropping during the first three years of the oil palm’s life cycle would help provide income before the plantation yields returns from the fourth to seventh years.
      • The islands can be revived and supplemented by plantations in the grasslands, which make up over 75% of the land area of Little Andaman, Katchal, Baratang, Kamorta and Teressa.

     

    Global and India’s experience with palm oil productions

    • Sri Lanka: 
      • Although it shares similarly suitable climatic conditions, Sri Lanka has recently disavowed oil palm, to raze existing plantations and ban palm oil imports as the crop has replaced more environmentally friendly and employment generating plantation crops, dried up local streams, and shows signs of becoming an invasive species threatening native plants and animals.
    • Kerala: 
      • Industry stakeholders in Kerala, which has had widespread experience with plantation crops, are excited about growth prospects via the new Mission. 
      • A number of rubber farmers are interested in switching to oil palm and expected a revival of the sector by 2022. 
      • The State government has identified potential sites for cultivation in Wayanad and Palakkad districts, apart from rejuvenation of existing gardens supported by the new Mission.
    • Andhra Pradesh:
      • In Andhra Pradesh, which currently grows more than 90% of India’s oil palm, farmers depended on borewell irrigation. 
      • Oil palm requires 300 litres of water per tree per day, as well as high pesticide use in areas where it is not a native crop, leading to consumer health concerns as well.

     

    Challenges

    • Faulty trade policy:
      • It undercut the gains in oilseed productivity which were driven by the technology mission of the late 1980s and early 90s. 
      • When the government cut duties on edible oil imports, the Indian domestic market collapsed. 
      • Palm oil imports from Southeast Asia became cheaper than domestic oilseeds because of the subsidies provided in those countries
    • Small landholding and water shortage:
      • small land-holdings of farmers with limited resources, erratic monsoon leading to the shortage of water, and overall shortage in water flow impacts growth of palm oil which is a water guzzling crop. 
    • Monoculture crop:
      • This attribute restricts the farmer from growing any thing else and thereby reducing income flow as well.
    • Competition:
      • competition from other economically viable crops such as rubber, areca nut, sugarcane, banana, coconut etc.
    • Community land ownership: 
      • The impact on community ownership of tribal lands as land being used by the Tribal community is being taken over by big farmers.
    • Long gestation period:
      • It has a long gestation period and so is unsuitable for small farmers: Restricts income flow to farmers for at least 4-5 years before giving real fruits. 
    • Invasive species: 
      • Oil palm is an invasive species and its plantations would denude forest cover and destroy the habitat of endangered wildlife.

    Way Ahead

    • In 2002, the Supreme Court had directed that existing plantations, whether of oil palm, rubber or teak, should be phased out.
    • As most of these lands are protected or reserve forests, any land use changes would require the approval of the Supreme Court, 
    • The land should be regenerated to its natural profile without any further introduction of exotic species.
    • If similar subsidies and support are extended to oilseeds which are indigenous to India and suited for dryland agriculture, they can help achieve self-reliance without dependence on oil palm.

    Source: TH