African Governments to Protect Africa’s Tropical Forests from Unsustainable Palm Oil Development

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he governments of seven African palm oil producing countries, representing over 70% of Africa’s tropical forest, will today declare a joint pledge to prioritize sustainable palm oil development with support from some of the world’s largest producers, buyers and traders of palm oil.

The TFA 2020 Marrakesh Declaration for the Sustainable Development of the Oil Palm Sector in Africa is expected to be signed by the Governments of the Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Liberia, the Republic of Congo, and Sierra Leone at the UN Climate Change Conference (COP22) in Morocco today.

The Ministers of Agriculture and Environment signing the pledge will agree to place sustainability, human rights and collaboration with industry, indigenous peoples and civil society groups at the heart of the expanding palm oil industry in Africa. Large companies, palm oil producers, NGOs and human rights groups who are partners of the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 (TFA 2020) are welcoming the move in a joint statement. The secretariat of the TFA 2020 is hosted at the World Economic Forum.

Collectively, the countries who signed the declaration represent over 250 million hectares – 13% of the world’s tropical forest. However, deforestation from unsustainable palm oil production causes extensive carbon emissions and contributes to global warming.

Palm oil is the most widely used vegetable oil worldwide and about half of all packaged products sold in supermarkets contain palm oil, according to the World Wildlife Fund. It fuels a $50 billion global industry, which is projected to rise to $88 billion a year by 2022. As demand grows, Africa is the next growth spot for palm oil production.

Dominic Waughray, Head of Public-Private Partnerships at the World Economic Forum, said that the declaration shows how the commitments made by global businesses to remove deforestation from palm oil supply chains are changing the global market.

“These governments recognize the significant market signal that global businesses are providing through their desire to source sustainable palm oil at scale. Through this unprecedented agreement, the African Palm Oil Initiative – with support from the private sector and civil society through the platform of the Tropical Forest Alliance – is now well-positioned to build a multi-country market for sustainable palm oil across West and Central Africa that will improve smallholder incomes and drive greater action on tropical deforestation” he said.

Unilever, a major buyer of palm oil, welcomes the move. “Palm oil, if produced sustainably, can play a key role in poverty alleviation by helping farmers thrive economically while adopting sustainable agricultural and business practices. I am pleased that these countries are demonstrating their commitment to sustainable palm oil by signing the Marrakesh Declaration,” said Paul Polman, Chief Executive Officer, Unilever.

Government and civil society partners and environmental NGOs are also welcoming the declaration. Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, co-chair of the International Indigenous People’s Forum on Climate Change, the indigenous people’s caucus to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said it would protect the livelihoods of communities. “Deforestation has often been linked to human rights violations. People are losing access to the land they have always lived on and farmed. I hope this declaration will be an example to the rest of the region and encourage other tropical forest African countries to follow in the commitment.”

Nick Hurd, UK Minister of State for Climate Change and Industry, said that climate finance provided by the UK had helped nurture the initiative: “The Marrakech Declaration will enable West and Central African countries to work with companies such as Unilever to secure sustainable jobs and livelihoods, support food security in the region, and prevent environmental degradation and greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation,” he said.

Fred Kwame, Regional Director of Africa, WWF, said he welcomed the declaration, adding that it “supports the emergence of a palm oil sector that protects biodiversity, community rights and integrates socio-economic development.”

The Marrakesh Declaration is part of an ongoing public-private partnership taking place in Africa under the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 Africa Palm Oil Initiative. It represents a public acknowledgement that, while investment in Africa’s palm oil sector has the potential to deliver economic benefits to the region, it also brings the risk of significant social and environmental problems, including deforestation, land conflicts, human rights abuses and the destruction of high conservation values.

Since 2014, Proforest, a non-profit group, has coordinated the initiative with companies, governments and civil society organizations. They include the Consumer Goods Forum and its members Unilever and Nestlé; palm oil producing companies, such as Sime Darby and Wilmar, and a wide range of civil society organizations, including the World Wildlife Fund, Solidaridad, Conservation International and the World Resource Institute.

The goal is to support the widespread implementation of responsible palm oil, as adopted in Marrakesh by national governments, to deliver real transformational change. The Africa Palm Oil Initiative (APOI) is a regional programme of the TFA 2020, a global partnership to remove deforestation from the supply chains of soy, beef, palm oil, and paper and pulp.

The work of the APOI to date has been funded by the United Kingdom government’s Department for International Development. The TFA 2020 is hosted by the World Economic Forum, funded by the Governments of the Netherlands, Norway and the UK.

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