Help Stop India’s Palm Oil Plans and Save Bengal Tigers

India is planning to take its reliance on palm oil to a whole new level by clearing areas of forest and growing oil palm on an area of land that in total is close to the size of Connecticut. Now, campaigners warn this could be deadly for India’s endangered wildlife.

India’s use of palm oil has rocketed since the 1990s with imports increasing from 100,000 metric tons to over 8.8 million in 2014. Palm oil is a versatile product that can be used in baking and the preparing of food, as well as in a range of beauty products like soaps and even in animal feed products.

Palm oil is also one of the easiest crops to cultivate, and for that reason represents a lucrative market prospect. Until now, India has relied on importing palm oil to meet skyrocketing demand but in the mid-2000s, India’s government introduced a scheme that would expand oil palm cultivation to six more states. This didn’t increase production as much as was hoped and India continues to import palm oil at a massive rate (making up 17 percent of all total global palm oil consumption according to recent figures).

However, India’s government is not satisfied with this situation and plans to expand its oil palm growing capabilities even further. The Ministry of Agriculture has suggested that India could accommodate oil palm plantations up to 1.03 million hectares of land which, as mentioned above, is nearly the size of the U.S. state of Connecticut.

With this land cleared and made ready for oil palm production, the government hopes to produce between four and five million tons of palm oil per year. The government plans to increase its already high spending ($50 million in investments were made to shore up this program in 2012) to provide subsidies for seeds and processing plants.

When looking purely at the figures, this could make sense. Palm oil is the cheapest vegetable oil to produce. Oil palm groves can also provide farmers an incredibly high yield in a relatively small space, especially when compared to other vegetable oil grains like rapeseed and sunflower. As such, some farmers in India are keen to make this transition as they believe it will breathe new life into the farming industry.

However, wildlife campaigners point out that the scheme could cause severe damage to the country’s wildlife, and in particular to several endangered species.

The land slated for clearing through much of east and north east India houses a number of important species, including the Bengal tiger. While Bengal tigers are one of the most numerous of the tiger family, they have been hunted aggressively and their territories have been dramatically reduced to the point that their population has dropped below 2,500 and is probably somewhere in the range of 1,700-1,900. That brings the Bengal dangerously close to population collapse, and it is feared that as forests are cleared for palm oil production, this problem will only worsen. Even if the government manages to skirt Bengal territory — which, critics say, the government hasn’t undertaken adequate planning to ensure — the encroachment will create more human and wildlife conflicts and likely lead to more hunting of tigers whether for game or out of fear.

There are also concerns surrounding how this land clearing effort might affect Indian elephants whose forest corridors (the land they use to move from one area to another) will be squeezed and, if the government does not plan carefully, even cut off. The same concern applies for a number of other predator species besides the tiger, including the leopard, and rodent species whom it is feared will attempt to exploit the oil palm groves only to be killed by disgruntled farmers.

In addition, there are concerns about how this plan could threaten food security in the region. Currently, farmers use some of the land slated for development to grow a variety of crops, but should the ground be cleared for palm oil production, this versatility will be lost. Furthermore, some of the regions marked for palm oil development suffer long periods of drought. While oil palm is relatively hardy, it does require large amounts of water. The government has reassured land owners that it can help to meet that need, but obviously trafficking in water will come with its own environmental costs.

Lastly, critics suggest that the government should be providing subsidies to farmers who are pursuing sustainable agricultural practices, creating a more stable overall economy and reducing land mismanagement, rather than trying to employ a quick fix like oil palm cultivation that has so many drawbacks with no guaranteed return.

In short, there are many reasons why the government’s announced plans appear unworkable, and why campaigners say they should be resisted in favor of more careful agricultural spending and engagement.

Take Action: Tell India’s government to stop its plans to expand palm oil production and help save India’s wildlife.

If you have a cause you care about, why not start a Care2 petition? It’s free, quick to get up and running, and a great way to draw attention to your chosen cause:

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

84 comments

Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for the article.

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Loesje vB
Loesje Najoan2 years ago

Petition signed and shared.

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Jennifer Hayes
Jennifer H2 years ago

Melania P. Your statement holds true for many countries; the US included.

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Dianne D.
Dianne D3 years ago

signed

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Lisa Zarafonetis
Lisa Zarafonetis3 years ago

Petition Signed & Shared.

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uma J
uma J3 years ago

I've signed the petition. First control the population... politicians are scared to open their mouth regarding population control.....Indian government actually closes the eyes and watch the fun... inefficient government.....

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Maria Teresa Schollhorn

Petition already signed. Thank you.

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Melania Padilla
Melania P3 years ago

Signed of course, but honestly, I don't want to be negative, but the reality is that if India doesn't tackle its human overpopulation there will never be space for any species.

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Lori Hone
Lori Hone3 years ago

Stop buying products made with palm oil, no demand, no destruction. Consumerism is what dictates supply and demand, consumers are in charge.

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Angev GERIDONI
Angev GERIDONI3 years ago

❦ ❦ ❧ BOYCOTT PALM OIL ❧ ❦ ❦

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