Is oil palm the next emerging threat to the Amazon?
The Amazon Basin appears poised to experience rapid expansion of oil palm agriculture. Nearly half of Amazonia is suitable for oil palm cultivation, and Malaysian corporations are now moving aggressively into the region to establish new plantations. Strong economic incentives for a major Amazonian oil palm industry are likely, given growing global demands for edible oils, oil-based products, and biofuel feedstocks. We have two main concerns. First, oil palm plantations are ecologically depauperate, supporting little forestdependent wildlife. Second, we disbelieve political and corporate statements suggesting that oil palm plantations will be concentrated on previously deforested lands in Amazonia. In reality, oil palm producers strongly favor clearing primary forest for plantations because they can reap immediate profits from timber production. These profits are vital to offset the costs of plantation establishment and maintenance for the initial 3-5 years until the oil palm plantations become profitable. Hence, oil palm agriculture could soon emerge as a major new threat to the Amazonian environment.