Minggu, 03 September 2023

Cultivating Change: Rural Women Mainstreaming Agroecology and Confronting False Solutions in Indonesia's Oil Palm Plantations

[ACSC/APF 2023] Rural Women Building Agroecology as an Alternative Movement Against False Solutions in Large Oil Palm Plantations | CS 4: Climate and Environmental Justice




Amidst the towering palm trees and sprawling plantations of Indonesia, a transformational movement is quietly taking root. In a world grappling with the environmental and social challenges posed by the palm oil industry, rural women are emerging as the unsung heroes of change. In a recent workshop titled "Rural Women Building Agroecology as an Alternative Movement against False Solutions in Large Oil Palm Plantations," organized by SERUNI (Serikat Perempuan Indonesia) and Ibon International, the resilience and determination of these women shone brightly against the backdrop of one of the world's largest palm oil producers.


Indonesia's palm oil industry has witnessed exponential growth over the years, making it a global powerhouse in palm oil production. However, this expansion has come at a tremendous cost. The workshop delved on the topic of "false solutions—purported remedies that claim to mitigate the environmental and social impacts of palm oil production but ultimately fall short, failing to address the root issues, including deforestation, habitat degradation, and social conflicts.


Unmasking the Green Myth


In the oil palm industry, a pressing concern revolves around the prevalence of "false solutions." These are ostensibly remedies that claim to address the environmental and social challenges associated with palm oil cultivation but, in practice, fall short of addressing the root issues.


One glaring example is the existence of certification schemes like the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which has faced criticism for its inability to prevent deforestation, human rights violations, and land seizures. Despite their professed intentions, these schemes often lack the teeth to deliver substantial changes on the ground.


Another problematic practice involves the promotion of high-yield oil palm varieties. While seemingly logical for boosting productivity, it can inadvertently result in an expansion of monoculture plantations, exacerbating habitat loss and soil degradation. The pursuit of higher yields can compromise environmental sustainability.


Critiques of false solutions are multifaceted. They can create a deceptive facade of sustainability, misleading the public and hindering genuine efforts to transition to sustainable land use and agricultural practices. Moreover, false solutions often prioritize short-term economic gains at the expense of long-term environmental and social well-being.


In parallel, the palm oil industry grapples with "greenwashing." This entails misleading marketing and branding that portray palm oil products as environmentally friendly or sustainable, even when they fall short of such standards. For instance, companies may claim to produce "sustainable" palm oil while contributing to deforestation and displacing indigenous communities. Greenwashing can mislead consumers, delay industry reforms, deter regulatory action, and erode trust in supply chains.


Navigating the Landscape of Sustainable Alternatives: The Good Food Community Experience in the Philippines


In the ever-evolving journey toward sustainable practices, the "Good Food Community" in the Philippines stands as an illuminating example. This initiative not only exemplifies the unwavering determination of farmers to secure their sustenance and independence but also showcases the pivotal role of women in the "Pamayanihan" project. These women serve as the guardians of family well-being and the custodians of seeds, both in a literal and cultural sense. However, their labor and care often remain invisible, emphasizing the need for greater recognition.


As oil palm plantations replaced traditional rubber and food crops, women lost access to their small farms, leading to decreased participation in co-production activities and increased economic dependence on men in these rural areas. This, in turn, has significantly contributed to high unemployment rates among women.


Themes intertwined with the values of "Pamayanihan" and the "Good Food Community" experience encompass:


      Co-Creation of Knowledge: Both initiatives involve a collaborative effort to generate knowledge and solutions, drawing upon the wisdom and insights of various stakeholders, with a particular focus on women's contributions.

      Social Values and Diets: These initiatives address the social values connected with food systems and diets, emphasizing the importance of nurturing local traditions and cultures.

      Participation: The "Good Food Community" actively involves women as key participants, recognizing their indispensable role in shaping and sustaining the initiative. Together, they navigate the landscape of sustainable alternatives in pursuit of a more equitable and resilient future.



River Restoration and Youth-Led Agricultural Innovation 

Another inspiring initiative highlighted during the workshop was the advocation brought by Sindy Novela, a Jambi beauty queen 2023 from Puteri Indonesia Foundation. This endeavor sprang from a deep-seated addressing climate and environmental impacts of gold mining and oil palm plantations, evolving into a commitment to river and soil restoration and sustainable agriculture. By adhering to agroecological principles, the community not only grows fruits and vegetables abundantly but also cultivates a sense of environmental stewardship.

Perhaps the most promising aspect of this is its focus on educating the younger generation about environmental restoration. By empowering youth and women with knowledge and practical experience, the community ensures that the torch of change is passed on, guaranteeing the continuation of this vital work.


Workshops and Questions


During the workshop, critical questions were posed:


      Did you include the family in the agroecological practices? Is it providing additional income for women and their families?

      Indeed, the initiative actively involves not only women but also their families. Recognizing that women often receive meager wages due to poor working conditions in palm oil plantations, families are frequently integrated into the work. Collective organic farming within reclaimed land on plantations is a key component of this strategy, aimed at both market sales and daily consumption, thus contributing to the additional income of families.



      How can we call upon the government to subsidize farmers in this space?

      While government representatives declined participation in the workshop, the workshop organizers emphasized the importance of asserting their space as a civil society platform. This platform enables them to voice their demands to ASEAN stakeholders during the ASEAN Summit, culminating in a communiqué to be submitted to the summit.




The workshop concluded with vital recommendations:


      ASEAN Climate and Environmental Convergence Body:A multifaceted approach that places rural women at the forefront of advancing people's alternatives should be pursued.

      Amplifying CSO Voices: ASEAN should create space for civil society organizations to amplify the voices of the most marginalized, fostering collective examination of relationship dynamics at all levels, promoting collective work and diverse participation, sharing best practices, and celebrating heritage.

      Government Subsidies: The governments of Indonesia and ASEAN member countries must provide subsidies for farmers, particularly women farmers, to sustain small-scale production of both endemic food crops and livestock, thus enabling people to achieve food sovereignty.



In the heart of Indonesia's palm oil plantations, the workshop on "Rural Women Building Agroecology as an Alternative Movement against False Solutions in Large Oil Palm Plantations" unveiled a story of hope and resilience. Rural women, often overlooked in the narrative of palm oil's impact, are now emerging as pioneers of change. Their determination to embrace agroecology and their commitment to environmental restoration underscore the importance of supporting their efforts. As they fight for justice on both environmental and social fronts, they remind us all that empowerment begins with recognizing the strength and potential of those who have long been marginalized.



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SERUNI atau Serikat Perempuan Indonesia adalah organisasi perempuan yang memiliki cita-cita kesetaraan gender dan kehidupan lebih baik bagi perempuan Indonesia.

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