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Palm oil risk to Africa as prospectors eye swaths of land

January 15, 2015

Palm oil risk to Africa as prospectors eye swaths of land

Josephine Moulds
Thursday 15 January 2015 07.00 GMT

Palm oil has long been produced in Africa on small-scale, diversified plantations. A report on palm oil, published last year by the NGO Grain, notes that tens of millions of people in Africa, most of them women, rely on this native tree for food and livelihoods. But the landscape is changing.

Booming global demand for palm oil and limited room for the industry’s expansion in Asia have led large palm oil producers to look towards Africa. Companies are also betting on an explosion in demand from the European Union for palm oil as a sustainable fuel, and Africa is the closest palm oil-producing region.

These producers are being welcomed into Africa with open arms. Governments desperate for foreign investment are scrambling to sign deals, offering companies cheap land and tax holidays in the hope of generating jobs and development.

Politicians are struggling with the supposed trade-off between growth and conservation. Liberia’s finance minister, Amara Konneh, has said the country is “worried about the ecological consequences, but we have to grow the economy. We have to create jobs for our own people. How we do it sustainably is where we are struggling.”

Swaths of land have been allocated to foreign companies for oil palm plantations. Grain lists 66 deals (pdf) covering nearly 4m hectares over the past decade and a half.

Read more at The Guardian.

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