Plantation Cropping Systems

It is not just trees as biomass for fuels that threatens forests and communities that depend on them. Many of the land acquisitions by foreign firms in Tanzania, for example, take land from traditional land holders and refugees for biofuel plantations [27]. The existing and proposed crops include jatropha, sugarcane, and white sorghum as well as oil palm and Croton magalocarpus, native to Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda. The schemes that involved sugarcane and jatropha, an introduced species, acquired the most land. Sugarcane requires relatively productive land, while jatropha grows on marginal lands.

In the case of palm oil, land is often cleared for plantations of the export crop. As a result of concerns not only about ecosystem health but indigenous rights, particularly related to traditional communal land tenure, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was developed. Of particular concern in land rights, which are part of all biomass fuel cropping systems, is that many of the issues revolve around who represents the impacted communities and exactly how to involve local stakeholders.

The implementation of RSPO standards has been fraught with challenges. The RSPO’s approach is pragmatic, as the diversity of actors and divergence of interests has necessitated a gradual, step-by-step approach to implementing change. Tensions exist between develop­ing country producers and developed country processors and retailers. Where standard-less market channels are still available, producers see no need to implement the very sustain­ability standards that they helped design as part of the RSPO process. NGOs criticize the pragmatic, stepwise approach and argue for more fundamental discussions regarding sus­tainability [28]. The legality and legitimacy of the RSPO is dependent on the inclusion of a wide variety of stakeholders and consensus-based decision making. However, pragmatic compromises often lead to a perceived undermining of the principles of sustainability. The resulting sustainability standards are less stringent. When NGOs feel like the key tenants of sustainability have been excluded, they refuse to endorse the standard, hence decreasing its legitimacy. This, in turn, compromises the legitimacy of the RSPO standard in the eyes of concerned external observers and the public [28].

As with many sustainability standards that involve resources on indigenous land, the RSPO strategy refers only to Free, Prior and Informed Consultation, despite continuing demands from indigenous peoples that only by adopting Free, Prior and Informed (FPI) Consent will fair and non-coercive negotiations between investors and affected communi­ties be possible. FPIConsent is currently under consideration in the ongoing formulation of the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank (IFC) Performance Standards strategy, and cannot be part of the palm oil strategy until this process is completed. Nor­man Jiwan of Indonesian NGO SawitWatch points out that “the IFC is a member of the RSPO, which recognizes FPIConsent, but the new strategy refers only to FPIConsulta — tion. This is effectively a breach of the RSPO code of conduct by the IFC, and means there will be far less incentive for IFC-backed companies to comply with the principles and criteria of FPIConsent” [29]. The difficulties of enforcement and the willingness of some signers of the RSPO to deviate from the principles and criteria undermine the legit­imacy of these sustainability standards, despite the massive efforts that have been put into developing them.

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