Breaking the link between environmental degradation and oil palm expansion: a method for enabling sustainable oil palm expansion

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Land degradation is a global concern. In tropical areas it primarily concerns the conversion of forest into non-forest lands and the associated losses of environmental services. Defining such degradation is not straightforward hampering effective reduction in degradation and use of already degraded lands for more productive purposes. To facilitate the processes of avoided degradation and land rehabilitation, we have developed a methodology in which we have used international environmental and social sustainability standards to determine the suitability of lands for sustainable agricultural expansion. The method was developed and tested in one of the frontiers of agricultural expansion, West Kalimantan province in Indonesia. The focus was on oil palm expansion, which is considered as a major driver for deforestation in tropical regions globally. The results suggest that substantial changes in current land-use planning are necessary for most new plantations to comply with international sustainability standards. Through visualizing options for sustainable expansion with our methodology, we demonstrate that the link between oil palm expansion and degradation can be broken. Application of the methodology with criteria and thresholds similar to ours could help the Indonesian government and the industry to achieve its pro-growth, pro-job, pro-poor and pro-environment development goals. For sustainable agricultural production, context specific guidance has to be developed in areas suitable for expansion. Our methodology can serve as a template for designing such commodity and country specific tools and deliver such guidance

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