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Stage set for big push to oil palms plantation in Manipur


The state government is gearing up to hold a high-level seminar on May 30 to promote oil palms plantation in Manipur and sensitise the general public about the importance of the mission

TFM Report

In a move to give a big push to India’s National Mission on Oil Seed & Oil Palm, the state government is gearing up to hold a high-level seminar on May 30# to promote oil palms plantation in Manipur and sensitise the general public about the importance of the mission.

#(May 30 seminar has been deferred and rescheduled as per the latest information TFM received on May 18, a day after the story was filed)

The move came amidst environmentalists’ concerns over possible adverse environmental impacts of plantation of oil palms on ecologically fragile and biodiversity hotspot North Eastern region.

As much as 9,67,981 hectares of land in the North East have been earmarked as potential areas for plantation of oil palms for phase-I and phase-II. Out of this potential area, plantation of oil palms has been already initiated in 38,922 hectares.

Organising this seminar has featured in Chief Minister N Biren Singh’s Action Plan for the first 100 days.

Speaking to Team TFM, MS Khaidem, Consultant Oil Palm Mission Manipur, said the Union cabinet on 18th August 2021 has approved the launch of National Mission on Edible Oils – Oil Palm (NMEO-OP) as a new centrally-sponsored scheme with an outlay of Rs 11,040 crore for a five-year period.

Out of Rs 11,040 crore outlay, Rs 8,844 crore will be the share of central government and Rs 2,196 crore will be the share of states. The focus of the program will be to increase area and productivity of oilseeds and Palm oil, he added.

Touting the scheme as farmers friendly, MS Khaidem revealed that the Assessment Committee, Ministry of Agriculture, GOI has identified 66,652 hectares in six districts of Manipur as potential areas for oil palm cultivation. The six districts are Imphal West (14,516 hectares), Thoubal (18,475 hectares), Bishnupur (10,389 hectares), Churchandpur (11,662 hectares), Chandel (6,803 hectares) and Ukhrul (4,808 hectares).

In addition to these potential areas, the State Level Standing Committee has identified another 7,715 hectares for plantation in Jiribam District of Manipur where Arecanut and Coconuts which belong to the same family of Oil Palm are already cultivated commercially by the farmers of the district, he said. Manipur will be the 22nd State in India to implement the Oil Palm Project, he added.

Sharing details about the scheme, MS Khaidem said formerly the project was implemented under the centrally sponsored scheme of National Mission on OilSeed and Oil Palm (NMOOP). Now the project will be implemented under the newly launched centrally sponsored scheme of National Mission on Edible Oils & Oil Palm (NMEO-OP), he added.

Oil Palm Mission under the Department of Agriculture Manipur with the adoption of Good Agricultural Practices will target to cultivate Oil Palm in foothills, intercropping in the existing Jhum areas & abandoned Jhums and fallow agricultural land without disturbing the forest, he said.

In the project component as per Guidelines of the GOI, there is provision for intercropping in the wide spaced plant to plant areas till the fourth year with the provisions for creation of water harvesting structures. Besides these as indicated in the Section 6 of the Bill a Committee will be constituted to oversee proper implementation of the project without disturbing the environment and local communities.

On environmentalists’ concern about detrimental impacts on the environment being faced by major palm oil producing countries like Indonesia, Malaysia, African Countries etc, MS Khaidem argued private companies were taking up Oil Palm cultivation by destroying the forest and no intercropping was practiced in those South Asian & African Countries.

Learning from their experience, the government of India has included four years support for providing inputs assistance for intercropping, creation of water harvesting structures, vermicomposting, custom hiring centres etc, he added.

MS Khaidem further informed that to protect farmers’ interest, the government of India has also launched a scheme for payment of price gap called Viability Gap Payment to the farmers by Direct Benefit Transfer in case the contractual price is below the National price determined by the GOI.

Is it to help big companies like Patanjali?

However, the congress has criticised the central government’s government policy to promote oil palm cultivation in Manipur. It has dubbed the policy as an attempt to destroy the future of the state. During the election campaigns, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi alleged that the policy is meant to help only big companies like Patanjali.

“That is not a vision for Manipur. We are not interested in helping Baba Ramdev and punishing the people of Manipur. We are interested in protecting the future of the people of Manipur,” he had said while addressing an election rally at Hapta Kangjeibung in Imphal.

Former union minister and Rajya Sabha member Jairam Ramesh has countered prime minister Narendra Modi’s claim that palm oil plantations will benefit Manipur’s farmers. It is the transfer of profits and farmlands to two to three big palm oil companies, he alleged.

Congress’ arguments stem from the fact that Yoga guru Baba Ramdev’s Patanjali group-led Ruchi Soya had made an announcement about its plans to start palm oil plantations in Assam, Tripura, Manipur and other North-Eastern states days before prime minister Narendra Modi announced National Edible Oil Mission-Oil Palm (NMEO-OP) involving an investment of over Rs 11,000 crore.

“We plan to set up palm oil plantations in the North East. We have completed our survey there. We have plans for Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya, Manipur among others,” Baba Ramdev had said in an interview with PTI on August 2 2021 well before the central government rolled out the oil palm mission in the north east.

Farmer representatives from all the districts of Manipur have stressed the necessity for establishing a strong farmers’ union for the whole of Manipur to highlight their issues. They also resolved to say no to Palm oil tree plantation in Manipur.

Environmentalists’ concern

Opposing India’s national palm oil production initiative in North-Eastern states, environmentalists maintained the region falls in Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspot of Indo. The region is home to some 8,000 flora species, 35% of which are endemic. There are nearly 2,200 species of fauna, of which 24% are endemic. They argued that that oil palm will be detrimental to such rich flora and fauna of North East India.

Maintaining that the scheme will contribute to massive deforestation disturbing biodiversity in the regions, they emphasised on the need to give special preference on indigenous plants for afforestation. Oil Palm is not an indigenous plant and promoting monoculture will have detrimental impact on ecosystem and wildlife, they said.

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