The challenges of balancing economic interests with environmental and social considerations remain significant. Likewise, the economic benefits of oil palm cultivation and its negative aspects with detrimental environmental and social impacts remains a challenge. The government of Nagaland has just launched a mega oil palm cultivation project in the foothill areas partnering with two prominent agricultural companies, Godrej Agrovet Limited (GAVL) and Patanjali. It reportedly aims to revitalize the agricultural landscape and improve economic prospects for local farmers. But at what cost?
The Naga Students’ Federation has expressed concern about the long-term negative impact the commercial cultivation of oil palm could have on the health, forest, biodiversity and quality of the soil of the state. The ‘Kezekevi Thehouba’ has also expressed concerns about the loss of soil fertility and the depletion of water sources, among other detrimental effects, likely to be caused by large scale oil palm cultivation.
Oil palm cultivation has always left a trail of destruction wherever it went – from South East Asia to Africa to South America. The rapid expansion of oil palm plantations in SE Asia, specially Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea, has been linked to extensive deforestation, loss of biodiversity, and displacement of indigenous communities. Oil palm cultivation in African countries like Nigeria, Cameroon, Sierra Leone, and Liberia has led to deforestation, habitat destruction, and conflicts over land rights. The expansion of oil palm cultivation in South America has resulted in deforestation of critical ecosystems like the Amazon rainforest, contributing to biodiversity loss and carbon emissions as well as conflicts with indigenous communities.
Advisor of Agriculture Mhathung Yanthan acknowledged environmental concerns but stressed the economic benefits for farmers. This is the problem with the government of Nagaland. It will always accept any project that brings in the funding without considering the long term ill effects. On the other hand, the government of Nagaland is discouraging the traditional shifting cultivation because it purportedly destroys the environment or is not sustainable. Or, actually, because there is no external funding for shifting agriculture. There is a growing body of research on shifting cultivation, and it is important to stay up-to-date on the latest findings. It has been proven that shifting cultivation is actually beneficial for the environment and can be a sustainable practice when it is practiced in a traditional way and when it is properly managed. Discouraging shifting cultivation and encouraging monocropping for environmental and sustainable reasons is a monumental fallacy.