Till now, nobody except for the government guys has a good thing to say about oil palm cultivation.
Concerned environmentalists the world over have opined that large-scale oil palm plantation is not people or environment friendly. Such plantations are also blamed for inflicting widespread environmental and social damage across continents.
The usual oil palm planting practices of burning an area after felling forests or draining peat swamps cause massive loss of forests and biodiversity.
Whether burnt, dried or simply left to rot, dead trees and vegetation release greenhouse gases.
The Eastern Himalayan Youth Coordinating Committee on Climate Change has pointed out that several countries, including Malaysia, Indonesia and Colombia, have witnessed large-scale negative impact of oil palm tree plantation.
It has asked all chief ministers of Northeast states to take up urgent action to stop and withdraw the centrally-approved large-scale oil palm plantation project across the region under the National Mission on Edible Oil–Oil Palm (NMEO-OP).
Both Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh are having bitter experiences.
Chief Minister N Biren Singh recently said that there has been a delay in expansion of projects due to public concern raised about the adverse effect of oil palm plantation.
The state's Oil Palm Project was inaugurated on November 12, 2020 and a potential area of 66,652 hectares has been identified in six districts of Imphal West, Ukhrul, Chandel, Churachandpur, Thoubal and Bishnupur and had even started plantation, including nurseries.
The Union Cabinet had cleared the Rs 11040-crore National Mission on Edible Oils-Oil Palm (NMEO-OP) with a focus on growing the crop in the North-east and Andaman and Nicobar Islands due to their favourable rainfall and temperature.
That clearance, however, came in the face of objections raised by India’s top forestry research institute against introducing oil palm in biodiversity rich areas and in the absence of a detailed study it had proposed.
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the Oil Palm mission just before the assembly elections, several concerns were raised by our own environmental activists and groups. But like other BJP ruled states in the Northeast, Manipur also embraced the mission.
Our question earlier was why the project has to be in the Northeast and Andaman Nicobar Islands and not in mainland India. How long we are going to let the leaders of mainland India decide what is best for us. How long are we going to let the Centre decide our development issues without even going through the sustainability factor?
Several experts had warned that oil palm cultivation should not be encouraged in biodiversity hotspots. The region comes under the Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspot which ranks sixth among the 25 biodiversity hotspots of the world. Most of the Northeastern states have over 60 per cent of areas under forest cover.
According to the Eastern Himalayan Youth Coordinating Committee on Climate Change, the biodiversity of the Northeast region is a genetic treasure of various forms of plants and animals.
The chief minister in a recent seminar appealed to experts and scientists to give a positive message to clear the existing apprehensions among the people with regard to soil and environmental degradation with scientifically proven facts.
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We would very much like to believe that he has been properly briefed by officials on both the positive and negative aspects of oil palm cultivation including, of course, the economic prospects of undertaking such a mission. Yet, he also seems convinced that the apprehension and concerns are somehow misplaced. Hence, the appeal to experts to clear the apprehension.
Yes, the people of the state would like a sincere appraisal of both positive and negative aspects by experts so that people may form an informed opinion of the mission. The general public or for that matter the environmental activists are not that negative. So, pray tell us about it.