Mizoram shows why centre’s palm-oil plans will be disastrous for farmers, environment

28 September 2021
An oil palm plantation near Dampa Tiger Reserve, in Mizoram’s Mamit district. Mizoram’s experiment with oil palm cultivation has led to a host of impoverished farmers, and unaccountable companies.
TR Shankar Raman / Wikimedia Commons
An oil palm plantation near Dampa Tiger Reserve, in Mizoram’s Mamit district. Mizoram’s experiment with oil palm cultivation has led to a host of impoverished farmers, and unaccountable companies.
TR Shankar Raman / Wikimedia Commons

On 15 August 2021, marking India’s 75th Independence Day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed a crowd-packed Red Fort. “Just as we are making sure that no person or no class should be left behind in the development journey of society, similarly no part of the country, no corner of the country, should be left behind,” he told the crowd. “Development should be all-round, development should be all-pervasive, development should be all-inclusive.” Speaking of possible initiatives, he said, “There is a huge potential in the fields of tourism, adventure sports, organic farming, herbal medicine, and oil palm in the North East. We have to fully harness this potential and make it a part of the development journey of the country.”

Three days later, a national scheme on palm oils was approved by the union cabinet. Palm oil is an edible oil derived from the fruits of oil palms, that are native to west Africa, and are widely grown across Southeast Asia. Modi announced the decision in a tweet: “Today’s Cabinet decision on National Mission on Edible Oils-Oil Palm will be a game-changer when it comes to helping oil palm farmers and creating an Atma Nirbhar Bharat”—referring to a plan to make India economically self-reliant. “The Northeast, and Andaman and Nicobar Islands will specially benefit from this.” Later, in a press briefing, Narendra Singh Tomar, the union minister of agriculture and farmers’ welfare, said the cabinet had approved Rs 11,040 crore for the National Mission on Edible Oils—Oil Palm. The scheme aims to increase cultivation of oil palm trees to one million hectares from the current 3,50,000 hectares, and to achieve an oil-production rate of 2.8 million tonnes by 2030.

On 31 August, Tomar alongside G Kishan Reddy, the minister for the development of the north east region, held a meeting with the chief ministers of the Northeast states. In it, Reddy mentioned that the states have an important role to play in the success of the National Mission on Edible Oils, or NMEO-OP, and that Mizoram has had a successful journey in the cultivation of oil palm, which could set an example for the other states.

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    Kimi Colney is a reporting fellow at The Caravan.

    Keywords: Mizoram palm oil Northeast Patanjali
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