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Peruvian Melka group palm oil production company withdraws from RSPO

  • The withdrawal letter was sent via email on October 12.
  • Juan Carlos Ruiz Molleda, the complainants’ lawyer, points out that the Melka Group “have unmasked their true self” by withdrawing from the group of companies that advocated sustainable practices.
  • 38,000 hectares are in dispute with Plantaciones de Pucallpa SAC and Andean migrant farmers, according to Roberto Guimaraes, president of the Federation of Native Communities of Ucayali (Feconau).
  • Satellite images show that the Melka Group company cleared more than 5,000 hectares of forest inside indigenous territory between 2010 and 2015.

The directors of palm oil producer Plantaciones de Pucallpa SAC decided to withdraw their company from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) on October 12, sending an official email addressed to Datuk Darrel Webber, CEO of the RSPO. “Plantaciones de Pucallpa is no longer engaged in the palm oil industry and for that reason terminates their RSPO membership,” the withdrawal document states.

“Apparently the company Plantaciones de Pucallpa SAC has already transferred/sold its goods, although we do not know to whom (we suspect that it has made the transfer to a new trustee). It appears that this company is trying to wash their hands of the problems,” Conrad Feather, coordinator of the Forest Peoples Programme (FPP), told Mongabay-Latam.

Comprised of palm oil producers, activist groups and consumer companies, the RSPO is the world’s largest palm oil sustainability certification association. The withdrawal of Plantaciones de Pucallpa SAC from the RSPO happened days prior to a complaint the RSPO was planning to issue related to the clearing of forests and occupation of indigenous territory of the Santa Clara de Uchunya indigenous community, located in the Amazon region of Ucayali.

Plantaciones de Pucallpa SAC withdrawal email to the RSPO. Document courtesy of the Forest Peoples Programme (FPP)

The complaint was made in 2015 by a group of civil society organizations, alleging that Plantaciones de Pucallpa SAC did not respect the environment, indigenous territory or Peruvian laws.

“From this withdrawal, it is clear to us that Plantaciones de Pucallpa SAC is accepting responsibility for the deforestation of a large territory belonging to the community of Santa Clara de Uchunya,” Roberto Guimaraes, president of the Federation of Native Communities of Ucayali (Feconau), told Mongabay-Latam. “Since 2010 the company has been practicing this type of palm monoculture in the country; however, the contract specifically states that it must do so in degraded areas without forest, something that does not happen. Large areas of primary forests with high biological value are being deforested and some of these forests are inside indigenous territories.”

Guimaraes, currently attending the COP22 climate summit in Morocco, said that he will present this case in front of the Minister of the Environment, Elsa Galarza. “We have a meeting with the Minister of the Environment on November 16 to explain what is happening with Plantaciones de Pucallpa SAC. The previous minister [Manuel Pulgar-Vidal] had stated that the ministry had initiated investigations against this company and others of Dennis Melka, like United Cacao, which is listed in London.”

The organizations are worried about the status of their complaint if Plantaciones de Pucallpa SAC no longer belongs to the group.

“That’s the problem. They withdraw from the RSPO, and we do not know where it [the complaint] stands,” Juan Carlos Ruiz Molleda, a lawyer of the Legal Defense Institute (IDL) — one of the complainants — told Mongabay-Latam. “We’ve reached out to the RSPO, and they have told us that they will not speak out. How is that possible? One cannot withdraw with the complaint disappearing to anything. That is a malicious act. We are pushing them to speak out. The RSPO aims to prove that its members are engaged in sustainable exploitation, which  has an effect on some European markets. But I feel it is a lost battle for the Melka Group, they have unmasked their true self by stepping back.”

Mongabay-Latam requested comment from the RSPO and executives of Plantaciones de Pucallpa SAC to obtain their declarations, but no responses were forthcoming by the initial publication date of this story on Mongabay-Latam.

Satellite images show deforestation of tropical forest in Ucayali caused by Plantaciones de Pucallpa SAC. Graphic courtesy of MAAP

More than 5,000 hectares were cleared between 2010 and 2015 by Plantaciones de Pucallpa SAC, according to analyses by the Monitoring of the Andean Amazon Project (MAAP). In 2015, the Peruvian government ordered the company to stop its activities due to damages to the environment and the local indigenous population. However, the company ignored the order, continued working and even denied access to the Peruvian environmental prosecutor who was reviewing the situation in the field, prompting subsequent sanctions.

Plantaciones de Pucallpa SAC’s stop-work order issued by the Peruvian government. Photo courtesy of Forest Peoples Programme (FPP)

Roberto Guimaraes of Feconau says that imagery of the site shows the company’s activity continued until the first week of October of this year.

“As you can see in the images, until the first days of October, the company has continued to move harvested timber into trucks and has continued to deforest. People of Santa Clara de Uchunya witness this every day,” Guimaraes said. “The only thing that Plantaciones de Pucallpa SAC has done is misreport the information and misinform the RSPO about their respect for the Peruvian laws. It has also discredited the credibility of indigenous organizations.”

Deforestation by Plantaciones de Pucallpa SAC. Photo by Iván Flores, leader of the community of Santa Clara de Uchunya
Truck moving harvested timber by Plantaciones de Pucallpa SAC. Photo by Iván Flores
Deforestation by Plantaciones de Pucallpa SAC. Photo by Iván Flores

A territorial dispute

Santa Clara de Uchunya is an indigenous community of more than 700 inhabitants of the Shipibo and Kakataibo people who live in a territory of 200 hectares. They are disputing an area of 38,000 hectares of what they claim is their ancestral land, part of which is occupied by Plantaciones de Pucallpa SAC and Andean farmers.

“In 2015 the Ministry of Agriculture (Minagri) granted 16 certificates of possession on this territory to other people….We have begun taking legal action to prevent this,” Guimaraes said.

Guimaraes pointed to an October 26 move demanding the Ministry of Agriculture comply with ILO Convention No. 169 and initiate a consultation process with local communities when monoculture plantations are proposed to avoid future conflicts.

This story was reported by Mongabay’s Latin America (Latam) team and was first published in Spanish on our Latam site on November 14, 2016.