Agricultural Sector and Marketing Reforms – eNAM, Model APMC Act, Eco Survey Reco, etc.

The dangers of India’s palm oil push

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : National Mission on Oilseeds and Oil Palm

Mains level : Paper 3- Oil palm cultivation in India

Context

On August 15, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a support of Rs 11,000 crore to incentivise oil palm production.

National Mission on Edible Oils and Oil Palm (NMEO-OP)

  • Under NMEO-OP, the government intends to bring an additional 6.5 lakh hectares under oil palm cultivation.
  • The agro-business industry has said the move will help its growth and reduce the country’s dependence on palm oil imports, especially from Indonesia and Malaysia.
  • Indonesia has emerged as a significant palm oil hub in the last decade and has overtaken Malaysia.
  • The two countries produce 80 per cent of global oil palm.
  • Indonesia exports more than 80 per cent of its production.

Reducing the import dependence

  • India imported 18.41 million tonnes of vegetable oil in 2018.
  • The National Mission on Oilseeds and Oil Palm are part of the government’s efforts to reduce the dependence on vegetable oil production.
  • The Yellow Revolution of the 1990s led to a rise in oilseeds production.
  • Though there has been a continuous increase in the production of diverse oilseeds — groundnut, rapeseed and mustard, soybean — that has not matched the increasing demand.
  • Most of these oilseeds are grown in rain-fed agriculture areas of Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh.

Issues with oil palm cultivation in India

  • Impact on biodiversity: Studies on agrarian change in Southeast Asia have shown that increasing oil palm plantations is a major reason for the region’s declining biodiversity. 
  • The Northeast is recognised as the home of around 850 bird species, it is also home to citrus fruits, it is rich in medicinal plants and harbours rare plants and herbs.
  • Above all, it has 51 types of forests.
  • Studies conducted by the government have also highlighted the Northeast’s rich biodiversity.
  • The palm oil policy could destroy this richness of the region.
  • To preserve the environment and biodiversity, Indonesia and Sri Lanka have already started putting restrictions on palm tree plantation.
  • Water pollution: Along with adversely impacting the country’s biodiversity, it has led to increasing water pollution.
  • Climate change: The decreasing forest cover has significant implications with respect to increasing carbon emission levels and contributing to climate change.
  • Against the notion of self-reliance: Such initiatives are also against the notion of community self-reliance:
  • The initial state support for such a crop results in a major and quick shift in the existing cropping pattern that are not always in sync with the agro-ecological conditions and food requirements of the region.
  • Against commitment to sustainable agriculture: The policy also contradicts the government’s commitments under the National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture.
  • The mission aims at “Making agriculture more productive, sustainable, remunerative and climate resilient by promoting location specific integrated/composite farming systems.”
  • The palm oil mission, instead, aims at achieving complete transformation of the farming system of Northeast India.
  • Studies also show that in case of variations in global palm oil prices, households dependent on palm oil cultivation become vulnerable.

Consider the question “India depend on import for its vegetable oil requirements to a larger extent. What are the steps taken by the government to reduce the dependence? Can oil palm cultivation in India be a solution?”

Conclusion

Similar environmental and political outcomes cannot be ruled out in India. Apart from the possible hazardous impacts in Northeast India, such trends could have negative implications on farmer incomes, health, and food security in other parts of the country in the long run.

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