21/05/2009 (Mongabay.com) - The Malaysian government's federal land agency (FELDA) is now denying its well-documented plan to develop oil palm plantations in the Amazon rainforest, reports Ecological Internet, a forest advocacy group that carried out a campaign against the project.
"In a positive yet puzzling development, a spokesperson for the Malaysian government's federal land agency (FELDA) now denies plan for Malaysian government controlled oil palm development in the heart of the Amazon ever existed," Glen Barry, founder of Ecological Internet and organizer of the campaign, wrote via email. "Wan Zaleha Wan Embong, from FELDA's Public Relations Department, has been responding to our network's protest emails, disavowing the plans."
Barry speculated that the apparent change of plans could be "an attempt to save face" in response to more than 100,000 protest emails, economic difficulties caused by a dramatic fall in the price of palm oil, or simply an attempt to mask the government's involvement by reorganizing the project with private, rather than government, capital.
Last July Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak (now Malaysia's Prime Minister) announced that FELDA would immediately establish 100,000 hectares (250,000) of oil palm plantations in the Brazilian Amazon.
"As a start, 20,000ha in Tefe will be opened for oil palm planting. After that, between 3,000ha and 5,000ha will be opened yearly," he said. "Felda wants to emulate Petronas as a global player," he added, referring to Malaysia's national oil company.
At the time FELDA said it would partner with Braspalma, a local company, to form Felda Global Ventures Brazil Sdn Bhd. FELDA would have a 70 percent stake in the venture.
The deal appeared to still be in the works up until at least late March 2009, according to a post on the from Palm Oil Truth Foundation, a web site run by a palm oil marketing firm. But now, per the comments from FELDA's spokesman, the deal has been shelved.
"Something has changed over the last 8 weeks," said Barry. "It appears our protest by 3,082 people from 78 countries, in which 101,611 protest emails were sent, seems to have deeply embarrassed the Malaysian government. Immediately after our alert launched, references to plans by Malaysia‘s federal land agency to establish up to 100,000 hectares of oil palm plantations in the heart of Brazil's Amazon rainforest were systematically removed from FELDA's Internet servers. And Streamyx, the monopoly Internet service provider in Malaysia, stopped delivering emails referring to Malaysia's global rainforest for oil palm land grab."
Barry says he won't be surprised to see the project re-emerge under a different name without direct government involvement of the Malaysian government.
Ecological Internet and other environmental groups have been campaigning against the conversion of natural forests for oil palm plantations, which in recent years has become a significant driver of deforestation, especially in Malaysia and Indonesia.