Palm oil and indigenous people in South East Asia

1 Jan 2011

Rapid expansion of oil palm estates in Southeast Asia is being driven by rising global demand for edible oils and biofuels. Two countries – Malaysia and Indonesia – dominate world production. According to the study, an estimated 4 million hectares of land are currently under oil palm in Malaysia – with a target of planting of 60,000–100,000 hectares per year on customary lands – and over 7.5 million hectares in Indonesia, where the current rate of land clearance for oil palm exceeds 600,000 hectares per year.

This paper examines how such a rapid expansion, within regulatory and procedural frameworks that were developed for small-scale informal land markets, is creating unequal relations, with little protection given to indigenous peoples’ rights as recognised in international and customary laws. Several examples are provided of cases where court rulings and international treaty bodies have concurred that violations are taking place.

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