Thu, 28 Oct 2010

From: Reuters

By Niluksi Koswanage & Fitri Wulandari
Agribusiness giant Cargill may become the first major palm oil buyer to invest in a carbon credit scheme that rewards nations like Indonesia for preserving forests, a key official said on Wednesday.

The Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) proposal would provide a stamp of approval for firms like Cargill to assure consumers that products made from palm oil follow eco-friendly guidelines, giving it cover from green campaigns that allege widespread habitat destruction.

Participation by Cargill would breathe life into the scheme now mostly pushed by governments.

“As for our direct involvement in the scheme, we’re in the early days,” said John Hartmann, chief operating officer of Cargill Tropical Oils. “We’re exploring this option but we need to see how the rules are written before we make any commitment.”

Cargill runs two mid-sized plantations in Indonesia and buys palm oil from suppliers like Jakarta-listed SMART that recently came under fire for allegations of clearing forests and peatlands.

Palm oil firms in Indonesia and Malaysia, the world’s top producers, are eager to expand as demand for vegetable oil soars in China and India, sending benchmark prices above 3,000 ringgit ($965) for the first time since July 2008 just last week.

Groups like Greenpeace, however, argue that expansion of Indonesia’s plantations comes at the expense of cutting down forests, which leads to more carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere.

The REDD scheme, which seeks to limit carbon by putting key forest reserves off-limits and identifying marginal lands that could be reclaimed for palm oil plantations, is part of Norway’s $1 billion climate aid deal to Indonesia, which also includes a formal survey of marginal or degraded lands - which are largely seen as the main mode of industry expansion in the world’s largest palm oil producer.

Cargill said it broadly supported the idea. “We are talking about degraded land that will have specific definition which is more stringent than high conservation value definition,” Hartmann said, referring to further high carbon value assessments.

“In essence, it will reduce the area that’s available for plantation expansion. But at the same time,” he said, “it will assist palm oil plantation companies to determine their development plans.”

Singapore investment bank Hwang-DBS said last week that palm oil firms in Indonesia would hold back on aggressive planting in 2010 and the years to come despite capital-raising exercises last year as a means to exploit low interest rates.