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Myanmar must be careful with palm oil industry

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Staff writer ▼ | July 9, 2014
New research and discussions show there is hope to conserve Myanmar's unique biodiversity as its palm oil industry expands if the country can learn from the experiences of its neighbours.
Palm oil
Palm oilNew research and discussions show there is hope to conserve Myanmar's unique biodiversity as its palm oil industry expands if the country can learn from the experiences of its neighbours.


Palm oil has spelled controversy across Southeast Asia for its environmental and social impacts. But if planned right palm oil development and biodiversity conservation in Myanmar could happen together.

Launched at Myanmar's first workshop on the development of a sustainable plantation sector on 28 June, 2014, a study by Fauna & Flora International (FFI) shows that most biodiversity-rich forests in Myanmar's Tanintharyi region are located inland along the Myanmar-Thai border, while most land suitable for palm oil cultivation is located along the coast, where forests are already too degraded to support threatened species.

"Myanmar has an opportunity to develop its palm oil sector sustainably by planning for agricultural conversion in areas that are already severely degraded and leaving forested habitat untouched," said FFI's Myanmar Director, Frank Momberg.

Myanmar's Tanintharyi region is one of the country's most important biodiversity areas with 2.5 million hectares of intact lowland rainforest home to globally threatened animals including tigers, leopards, elephants, tapirs, Malayan sun bears and Gurney's Pitta, a colourful ground-dwelling bird found nowhere else in the world.

Tanintharyi is also the only area with the right soil and climate conditions to grow oil palm in Myanmar. Fuelled by a need to meet Myanmar's demand for cooking oil and reduce the high cost of palm oil imports (which cost the country $376 million in 2012 from Indonesia and Malaysia), to date over 140,000 hectares of oil palm have been planted and 400,000 hectares allocated to over 40 local and three international companies.

On 28 June, co-hosts FFI and the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI) brought together plantation companies, government agencies and civil society organisations in Yangon to discuss the sustainable development of Myanmar's palm oil industry.

FFI is working with government and industry to ensure that plantation development doesn't happen at the expense of Myanmar's incredible biodiversity and rare species.


 

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