The challenge is to avoid seeing the oil palm complex “as a space of invariant logics and autonomic unfolding” (Gibson-Graham 2006: xxi
The decades-long oil palm boom in Indonesia and Malaysia has generated the most rapid and extensive transformation of agrarian and forest landscapes ever seen in the two countries, surpassing the com- modity booms of previous centuries.
While governments, civil society organisations, and industry roundtables have set out to address the problems associated with oil palm, the industry continues to generate land conflicts and deforestation as it moves into frontier zones with apparent impunity.
Global demand for palm oil is projected to conti- nue growing for at least the next three to four decades
Hence the incentives for farmers and plantation companies to go on increasing production will remain strong.
Average oil palm yields have remained constant for decades, so the pressure will be for this increased production to come from further rapid expansion into the forest frontier.
Critics may be tempted to see the oil palm complex as a centrally coordinated capitalist conspiracy. Rather, we argue for understanding this complex as an ensemble of complicated, interrelated parts, the sum of different vectors, encompassing a variety of interests and rela- tionships
The oil palm complex is thus formed and reformed through a process of “complexation”.3 Different actors, pursuing their varying interests with their particular capabilities, and within the constraints set by the broader political economy, develop accommodations or agonistic forms of relationships, in the process creating recognizable patterns with dis- tinct outcomes. For example, the nucleus estate and smallholder (NES) complex arose at a particular conjuncture in Indonesia as a compro- mise between the interests of a developmental state with limited resources, plantation companies needing access to land, smallholders wanting to improve their livelihoods, but lacking finance and technol- ogy, and donor agencies promoting broad-based economic growth
Indonesia’s legal heritage provides only weak protection to customary landowners.
Many small-scale oil palm farmers have indeed found a way “to farm their way out of poverty” (World Bank 2007).
enactment of legislation to fully recognise and uphold customary rights to land
establishment of fully independent and well-resourced judicial avenues for landholders to appeal against unfair land- and profit- sharing arrangements
dismantling of scheme structures skewed in favour of investors that relegate landholders to minor shareholders with insecure tenure and inadequate livelihoods
ensuring that all oil palm investment is linked to effective rural development policies and broader poverty reduction strategies that ensure effective smallholder inclusion
legislation to provide plantation workers and their families with the wages, working conditions, and living conditions needed for a decent existence
There are some signs that the balance of power within the com- plex as a whole may have shifted decisively in favour of more equita- ble and sustainable outcomes.
In September 2014 another joint commitment was made in the form of the Indonesia Palm Oil Pledge, to “find solutions for sustainable palm oil that is deforestation free, respects human and community rights and delivers shareholder value.”
The oil palm complex is continually changing in ways that we have attempted to identify and comprehend in this book and to sum- marise in this chapter, but how quickly, in precisely which directions, and with what interruptions and reversals, remains to be seen
Glasp is a social web highlighter that people can highlight and organize quotes and thoughts from the web, and access other like-minded people’s learning.