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The oil palm industry likes to present itself as a success story in fighting rural poverty in tropical countries, an image supported by a recent article in The Conversation. Is it true?
The answer depends on the areas we look at and the methodology we apply. There are indeed case studies that find that farmers who get involved in the palm oil economy on favorable terms can greatly improve their economic situation.
Case - Studies - Communities - Oil - Palm
However, as numerous case studies also show, communities that encounter the oil palm industry on less favorable terms can be impoverished by the arrival of the palm oil crop, and lose control over their lands and livelihoods.
Palm oil brings about huge changes to the communities directly affected. It changes who control lands and resources and nearly all aspects of the local economies—where people get food, water and housing materials, and how they spend their money.
Example - Sarapat - Village - Central - Kalimantan
Take, for example, Sarapat Village in Central Kalimantan in the middle of Borneo island.
Previously, its inhabitants used to cultivate rice and vegetables, drink river water, fish and bathe in the river, tap rubber and find building materials in the forest.
Oil - Company - Village
In 2007, a palm oil company established itself in the village.
Community leaders agreed to reject any plans for palm oil development, but the plantation company nevertheless started clearing forests and farmland to make way for oil palms.
Plantation - River - Fertilizer - Pesticides - Waste
After the plantation had been established, the river got polluted by fertilizer, pesticides and waste from the plantation. Thus, it was no longer suitable for fishing, drinking or personal hygiene.
The majority of the population lost the lands they used to live off. They had to switch from being farmers and fishermen to day laborers at the nearby plantation.
Market - Needs
Most became dependent on the market to fulfill their basic needs.
Looking at contexts such as in Sarapat Village, any meaningful comparison of welfare levels...
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