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A new face for palm oil? How a small co-op is changing the industry in Honduras

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David Reyes plunges his hand into a black smelly liquid at the bottom of a cut-off plastic jug tied around a palm tree and pulls out a dead horned beetle. “We used to put insecticide on the bottom of these traps,” says Reyes, the agricultural manager of Hondupalma – a cooperative of small landowners in Honduras that produces palm oil. “Now we simply use alcohol with sugar cane molasses to kill off the bugs.” According to Reyes, these new measures saved the co-op $175,000 in pesticide costs over the past two years.

Host all consumer products on the market: from ice cream and ramen noodle soup to toothpaste and candles. Expanding oil palm plantations are among the top reasons for deforestation globally, along with cattle ranching, timber, and soy.
The improvements achieved by the cooperative extend beyond reduced chemical use. José Alfredo Torres, a local sustainability auditor who helped them earn certification, recalls that workers in the plantations often used to die from snakebites. Deadly pit vipers (locally known as “yellow beards”) would hide in the tall grass around palm trees and bite the harvesters’ legs as they looked upward, cutting palm fruits with sickles mounted on a 50-foot poles. As part of the effort to achieve certification, the plantation owners have started a training program for the workers that teaches them to clear the grass around each tree before they start harvesting. They also provide more protective clothing.

Another improvement Torres highlights is that children no longer work on the plantations. Until just a few years ago, youngsters would follow their mothers out to the fields to collect fallen palm fruits for extra cash. Now, they attend a local school that is largely funded by cooperative money.

“They really take care of the community,” says Torres.
This people-friendly approach appears in sharp contrast with alleged human rights violations by another palm oil company just a few hours up the road. Dinant Corporation recently received much bad publicity after the World Bank’s own ethics compliance advisor criticized the bank for lending $15 million to it. According to the ethics report, the company allegedly evicted and harassed farmers in the region, allegations the Bank failed to investigate prior to disbursing the loan.ondupalma recently achieved a Rainforest Alliance certification for sustainable growth of African palms – the first cooperative in the world to feature the famous green frog seal on the cooking oil they sell. Palm oil (generically labeled as vegetable oil) is used in alm

By Tanya Dimitrova

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