Singapore-based agribusiness giant Olam International criticised for endangering the forest habitats of Gabon in Western Africa with widespread deforestation has denied allegations. The company denies developing palm oil plantations irresponsibly, threatening the environment in the region.
Talking to reporters Olam Chief Executive Officer Sunny Verghese said, "I want to say very categorically that we believe our projects in Gabon are environmentally sustainable and socially responsible.” He also cited Olam’s role is in helping Gabon develop its economy.
He said the firm follows high- conservation-value and high-carbon-stock approaches when developing oil palm plantations, meaning that forest areas are assessed for their conservation value and the amount of carbon to see if they should be protected or cleared.
"We develop our plantations only in ecologically degraded secondary forests," said Verghese, adding that the firm has developed 44,000ha of oil palm plantations so far in Gabon but has set aside 55,000ha to be conserved and protected.
Environmental group Mighty, based in Washington D.C. has accused Olam of bulldozing rainforest in Gabon to make way for palm oil plantations.
Asian palm oil businesses are turning to West Africa to make up for a shortage of suitable land in the two main producing countries, Malaysia and Indonesia, and to meet growing demand for the cheapest vegetable oil.
In a report published recently, Mighty said, “Olam has cleared mature, high-quality forest. Field investigators saw and filmed bulldozers clearing large trees on a considerable scale.”