September 10, 2023

AIKS Demands Rolling Back of Oil Palm Plantation Mission in Assam

THE All India Kisan Sabha, in a statement issued on August 31, has noted with grave concern that despite opposition from agriculture scientists, environmentalists, farmers’ organisations, and political parties, the Narendra Modi-led union government has begun an oil palm plantation mission in Tinsukia district of Assam on August 8, 2023 under the National Mission on Edible Oils-Oil Palm (NMEO-OP). The government of Assam has allocated over one lakh hectares of valuable agricultural land to big corporates like Patanjali and Godrej, with plans to expand the mission to one million hectares. Apparently, Patanjali alone has been granted 60, 300 hectares in seven districts of Assam. The state government is facilitating land-grab by big corporates while it is evicting the poor and landless farmers cultivating government land. This is in detriment to the livelihoods of farmers, who are mostly vegetable growers. The farmers will be dispossessed of their land and converted to workers at the mercy of big corporates.

Oil palm plantations have long been opposed by agriculturalists, scientists, and environmentalists due to its negative impact on biodiversity and ground water that can potentially cause drought-like conditions due to the contiguous nature of cultivation. Countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, known for being major palm oil producers, are now moving away from palm oil agriculture. Assam and the north east are known for their rich variety of crops such as tea, rice, mustard, sugarcane, corn, and jute, as well as rare orchids. The region is also home to 14 world-famous wildlife sanctuaries and biosphere reserves, known for their population of one-horned rhinoceros, tigers, elephants, deer, birds, fishes, and rare trees. Apprehensions are there that mono-cropping of oil palm in large swathes of land could adversely affect the presently farmer-centric agriculture, traditional crops and biodiversity in Assam and the north east. The present move is to promote the interests of corporate agribusinesses.

The experience of neighbouring Mizoram that ventured into oil palm cultivation since 2004 raises many questions. The plantations are reported to have denuded the soil of fertility and water. Infrastructure for transportation and milling is non-existent, and the crop is reportedly left to rot after harvest. The three companies involved with oil palm plantations in Mizoram – Godrej, 3F, and Patanjali – accept no accountability for the failure. Two of these are now foraying into Assam. Notably, even the Supreme Court ordered a ban on cultivation in Andaman and Nicobar Islands to preserve the ecological health of the islands.
Therefore, the AIKS demands an immediate halt to the ongoing oil palm plantations, a complete rollback of the NMEO-OP in Assam and the north east states, and the allocation of land to poor and landless farmers.