The first oil palm seedlings were planted in Palawan in 2007 and in 2011 harvesting commenced over an area of around 3,500 hectares. This paper offers a rich and unique picture of a palm oil project in its infancy.

The study focused on corporate accountability, and on the effectiveness of policies and institutions in governing the emerging palm oil industry and its impacts, and the paper puts forward 10 specific recommendations that could help the provincial and national government to manage them.

The palm oil sector is often promoted with a promise of economic benefits to cash-strapped local governments and landowners looking to improve limited livelihood opportunities. However, any large-scale land conversion and centralization of productive control carries social and environmental risks.

For example, participants in this study pointed to a range of grievances: smallholder cooperative farmers reported contractual deception and food insecurity; there were complaints that indigenous peoples have been dispossessed of land; and environmental groups reported illegal logging, substitution of oil palm for food crops, and problems with pests.

And it is not always clear to whom the net benefits of such projects accrue: This paper makes this transparent, and asks whether local institutions are equipped to manage the agro-industry and safeguard the interests of communities, other stakeholders, and citizens in general.

The data were obtained during fieldwork undertaken in a first scoping period in June 2013 and a second consolidation period in November and December 2013 in Puerto Princesa City and the six southern municipalities of Palawan Province where palm oil developments are taking place (i.e. Bataraza, Brooke’s Point, Rizal, Quezon, Sofronio Española and Aborlan). A multi-stakeholder seminar was held on 13 December 2013 in Puerto Princesa City to share the findings with participants in the study, consolidate the results, and receive feedback on proposed action points to improve corporate accountability.

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