World Rainforest Movement

Thailand: The looming catastrophe of oil palm plantations for biodiesel

The Thai government has set its policy on producing palm oil-based biodiesel as energy. At present, the country’s large-scale oil palm harvest areas account to around 400,000 hectares, but since 2006, a discourse on oil palm has emerged to promote its plantation as a “renewable source of energy”, a “country savior”, a “reforestation scheme”, a “wind-protection zone”, and a “transformation of deserted rice fields into palm fields”.

To fulfill the government’s ambition, a daily production of 8.5 million litres of biodiesel must be met. That means another 800,000 hectares of oil palm plantation areas must be expanded between 2006 and 2009, totaling 1.2 million hectares of the palm cultivation. By 2029, the plantation areas would reach 1.6 million hectares.

All research work has been conducted to seek monoculture techniques to maximize the production of oil palm, but the Thai government has never revealed this crop’s environmental impacts.

It is a great concern that the Thai government has never said that the land used for oil palm plantation often becomes deteriorated because of the monoculture type of production, with extensive use of chemicals. It is difficult to produce oil palm in an integrated manner because of the bulkiness of the palm trees and because its fibrous roots spread far and wide. Over three-ton weight of each tree allows very few types of plant to be grown in the plantation. Making their way into the plantation ground is very difficult for animals living in the ground such as earthworms. Getting rid of the dead trees and their roots is hard and costs a lot of money since it needs to pay a backhoe to uproot or to use chemicals to destroy them.

The government has provided farmers with funding, raw materials and other inputs. Such active promotion has resulted in the rapid expansion of the plantation areas, especially in the watershed forest, wetlands, community public forest and rice fields. If an expansion of the oil palm plantation areas was made according to the government’s plan, Thailand would irreversibly lose its food security, forests and biological diversity. It would mean a catastrophe for the Thai People.

Excerpted and adapted from “Ten Million Rai of Oil Palm Plantation: A Catastrophe for the Thai People”, by Ms.Bandita Yangdee, Project for Ecological Awareness Building (EAB), sent by Sayamol Kaiyoorawong, e-mail: noksayamol@yahoo.com The full article is available at: http://www.wrm.org.uy/countries/Thailand/Catastrophe.pdf