Forest or Not? Contentious Discourse on Expansive Oil Palm Plantations in Southeast Asia


Friday, March 30, 2012, 12:00pm to 1:30pm


Yenching Common Room, 2 Divinity Ave., Harvard University

Professor Okamoto Masaaki, Kyoto University
Discussants: Deborah Gewertz, Amherst College and Frederick K. Errington, Trinity College
Co-sponsored by the Harvard-Yenching Institute

About the Seminar
This talk will focus on the contentious discourse regarding the rapid expansion of oil palm plantations in Southeast Asia, especially in Indonesia. With the rapid rise in global demand for Crude Palm Oil (CPO) as the cheapest vegetable oil, oil palm plantations are sometimes devastatingly causing deforestation in Southeast Asia. CPO is used not only for cooking oil, but also for various usages including bio-diesel. This has sparked serious debates between pro-expansion (the government and business sector) and anti-expansion groups (environmental NGOs and indigenous communities). The Indonesian government and business sector shrewdly moved to define plantations as forests, so that the expansion of oil palm plantations is no longer deforestation but rather “re”forestation. If a REDD++ scheme is implemented, plantations could even obtain carbon credit as forests.

Of course, global NGOs are harshly criticizing this movement and the contention is becoming sharper and sharper, as CPO is very lucrative for the government and business sectors in Indonesia, while NGOs view the movement as environmentally devastating. This talk will cover the development of this contentious discourse and present the emergence of a strange but positive dynamic equilibrium or consensus among stakeholders.