By KHALIL HEGARTY
EXPERTS from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) have been recruited by the UN Development programme (UNDP) to develop an environmental strategy which will curb agriculture in Papua New Guinea.
The target is palm oil, Papua New Guinea’s largest agricultural export.
The key contention is that palm oil production in PNG is unsustainable.
To remedy this, the UNDP is asking the UN-backed Green Climate Fund for US$36 million for the mandatory implementation of RSPO (Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil) standards across PNG.
This is part of WWF’s worldwide strategy to place greater controls on agricultural production, whether it is beef, palm oil, soybean or cotton.
There are significant problems with RSPO standards for producer countries.
First, the compliance costs for RSPO are significant.
RSPO and WWF both say that these costs are recouped by a price premium for RSPO palm oil. But these price premiums have not materialised.
Large and established producers may be able to absorb these costs. Small and medium-sized enterprises cannot.
Second, RSPO has faced resistance at the national level from the world’s largest producers, Indonesia and Malaysia. Both countries have gone on to develop national, government-backed standards that they both consider better suited to their national circumstances and development goals.
WWF-backed standards have also faced resistance from the soy industry in Brazil and the beef sector in Australia.
PNG’s problem with agriculture is not sustainability; it is that there is not enough of it.
Palm oil has become the country’s largest agricultural export, generating significant export and taxation revenues.
Further regulating a sector that sorely needs greater levels of investment is no way to develop it.
PNG’s climate change agency has already spent several million kina provided by the UNDP and the World Bank.
Most of that money appears to have been used to pay consultants to write bids for more climate change funding. Yet what is proposed is at best peripheral to mitigating climate change.
The most recent research indicates that PNG’s deforestation emissions have been overestimated and its forest areas underestimated – by as much as 27 per cent.
WWF has in the past been quite content to place a greater burden on the agricultural sector in the region and abroad. However, curbing agriculture means curbing payments to landowners.
Wealthy countries may be able to afford complex and expensive sustainability systems. PNG, however, cannot.
It should be aiming to lift burdens, not increase them.
- Khalil Hegarty is a sustainability consultant at ITS Global, Melbourne