Anti-development activists attempt to capture PNG’s agriculture sector

It has been recently reported that Papua New Guinea’s agriculture sector is at risk of being stifled by anti-development activists. Palm oil producers, who generate more income for PNG than growers of any other crop, are being targeted.

Consultants connected to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Greenpeace have been engaged by the United Nations Development Programme to push for PNG to lock palm oil producers into costly certification schemes controlled by environmental NGOs.

WWF and Greenpeace have a long history of campaigning against palm oil. The two NGOs and others founded the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). RSPO has developed a set of principles and criteria that palm oil manufacturers can choose to adopt, in order to produce RSPO-certified palm oil. RSPO-certification is expensive and restrictive.

The organisation claims that producers can offset costs against higher sales prices for certified product; however these price premiums are far from assured. Major palm oil producing countries Indonesia and Malaysia have resisted NGO pressure to make RSPO certification compulsory, instead opting to develop national certification schemes.

Now, WWF and UNDP are pushing to make RSPO certification mandatory in PNG. Such a move would halt the expansion of PNG’s most valuable agricultural export. This is WWF’s goal, to stop the conversion of forest land to agriculture.

PNG’s forests cover more than eighty percent of the country, and according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, the rate of deforestation has been effectively zero since 1990. Constraints on the ability of landowners to make their own decisions on how to use their land would seriously limit economic development and improvements in living standards.

RSPO certification is suitable for some palm oil operations – for example, New Britain Palm Oil and Hargy Oil Palm are RSPO-certified –  but not for others. Each operation should be free to decide whether to pursue certification. PNG agriculture – particularly palm oil – is making a growing contribution to the national economy. Allowing environmental activists to stifle the contribution would be a grave error.

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