Buoyed by global demand, the palm oil sector attracts interest and investors. South-East Asia has sacrificed millions of hectares of forest for exponentially growing palm oil production, thereby generating many conflicts with impacted communities.
In view of this threat, international pressure has forced the sector’s Asian giants to make certain commitments to combat deforestation and to put an end to land conflicts. While it is becoming more difficult to turn forests into plantations in South-East Asia, the same mistakes must not be made on other continents.
Africa may only account for a small proportion of global palm oil production, but there is currently a run on African forests. An increasing number of investments are being made, with investors attracted by favourable climatic conditions and above all by soft regulations that are either not applied (in particular due to corruption) or that are particularly favourable to foreign investment[i].
The leading planter in Africa, the Société Financière des Caoutchoucs (Socfin) is little known to the general public but has been operating in the continent for over a century[ii]. Heading up Socfin’s shareholdings are two figures of African business: Vincent Bolloré, France’s ninth-richest person who remains highly active in Africa, and the Belgian businessman Hubert Fabri. Socfin has announced plans to extend its plantations in a dozen countries, mostly African nations, threatening forests that are essential for the preservation of climate balances, biodiversity and the living conditions of local populations. For example, in the Democratic Republic of Congo or in São Tomé and Príncipe, Socfin’s plantations include primary forests, but also secondary or regeneration forests that store large quantities of carbon. These plantations sometimes border onto unique ecosystems, as in São Tomé where they are located next to a national Natural Park that is home to remarkable biodiversity. Furthermore, Socfin is implicated in many conflicts with resident communities[iii].