The Governments of the Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Liberia, the Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone publicly signed the Marrakesh Declaration for the Sustainable Development of the Oil Palm Sector in Africa at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Marrakesh.
The Declaration sends an important signal that these signatory countries — representing over 66% of Africa’s tropical forest — are open for business, but will only welcome oil palm investments that comply with the principles of sustainability, transparency and the protection of human rights set out in the Declaration. It is the latest development in the ongoing work of the Tropical Forest Alliance 2020 (TFA 2020) Africa Palm Oil Initiative (APOI), coordinated by Proforest since 2014.
National and regional principles
Coordinated by Proforest and the TFA 2020 Secretariat, APOI has worked at national level in 10 countries with governments, social and environmental NGOs, communities and companies to develop national principles for sustainable oil palm development. These have fed into a regional process, ensuring that the outcome — the accord signed today — is fully owned by, and embedded in, the reality of the participating countries.
The regional principles, which form the foundation of the Marrakesh Declaration, place sustainability, good governance, transparency, recognition of community and human rights, partnerships, and equitable benefit sharing at the heart of Africa’s oil palm industry.
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Oil palm — the plant which produces the world’s most popular edible oil — originated in West Africa but until recently, its cultivation in the region has been relatively small-scale. Greenpeace has referred to the region as the ‘new frontier for palm oil’ and it is estimated that up to 22 million hectares of land in West and Central Africa could be converted to oil palm plantations over the next five years.
The economic benefits, such as job creation and rural poverty reduction, offered by oil palm development are accompanied by the risk of significant negative social and environmental impacts, including land tenure conflicts, child labour and other human rights abuses, deforestation and loss of biodiversity.
Broad engagement with sustainable palm oil
The APOI has provided a platform to bring together regional stakeholders from government, business and civil society to develop a shared vision for sustainable palm oil development.
Previous sustainable palm oil initiatives in the region have not always fully engaged with governments and have lacked a wider, regional vision. The regional aspect is important to avoid ‘leakage’ where investment is diverted from countries that implement responsible practices to neighbours with lower standards.
The regional principles are, by necessity, high level and aspirational, so it is crucial that the accord is followed by interpretation, adoption and implementation of the principles at the national level. The next step, already underway in many of the countries, is the development and implementation of practical action plans for responsible oil palm development which build on the principles.
This week's public signing of the Declaration represents a tangible step forward in providing a practical framework for governments and companies to meet their responsible production and sourcing commitments.