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Philip Jacobson

Philip Jacobson

May 6, 2019
14 tweets

I found this to be a startling study about how oil palm development helps/harms villagers in Kalimantan. It matches what I’ve seen on the ground, but still, it’s something else when the data is laid out in front of you. Let’s have a look. /1…

Using government data, the study compares the impact of oil palm development on the well-being of both “market-based” and “subsistence-based” communities. The latter rely primarily on the forest for their livelihoods; in the former, the forest is generally more degraded. /2
The researchers define well-being across five dimensions: basic (ie living conditions), physical (ie infrastructure), financial (ie income support), social (ie security and social equity), environmental (ie prevention of natural hazards). /3
In market-based communities, oil palm development is a mixed bag. Basic and financial well-being go up compared to control villages without oil palm; social and environmental well-being go down. Physical well-being goes up at first, then down over the long term. /4
In subsistence-based communities, the impacts are much starker. These communities suffer across the board, in every category of well-being. /5
This graph shows the impacts on both subsistence and market-based communities in more detail: /6
Most of the oil palm development in Kalimantan, according to the study, has happened in subsistence-based communities. Therefore, most of it has harmed the people it is ostensibly supposed to be helping. /7
If the study is accurate, then it seems to me we shouldn’t even be talking about oil palm development in subsistence-based communities, at least under the prevailing model for plantation expansion. It doesn’t help these people in any way, shape or form. It only hurts them. /8
Now, I suspect many subsistence communities fare so poorly with oil palm bc they're not the ones in control of it. The govt has generally failed to recognize their land rights, so companies take their lands with ease. If they were in charge, palm might work better for them. /9
The picture might be different in Sumatra, where “smallholder” oil palm is more prevalent. But this also has implications for Sulawesi, Maluku and Papua, the parts of Indo where companies are most focused on expanding now. And for other countries the industry is entering. /10
In market-based communities, the picture is more complex. Oil palm has helped and harmed people there in different, interlocking ways. The study seems inconclusive about whether palm is a viable development model in those places. /11
Viable, that is, if your goal is to alleviate poverty. When it comes to deepning the pockets of the ultrarich, oil palm has been v viable. In the 2000s the number of Indonesian billionaires rose from 2 to 11. By 2016 there were 32, incl 14 in palm oil.… /12
In any case, the study challenges the “widespread belief that oil palm development results in increased socioeconomic wellbeing.” In Kalimantan, it's been at best a mixed bag, at worst a vehicle for deepening poverty. /12
Hats off to the researchers, there aren’t enough studies that look at these things. /end…
Philip Jacobson

Philip Jacobson

Investigative journalist @mongabay reporting at the intersection of business, crime and the environment in Asia
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