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New expansion of oil palm plantations, Sao Tome and Principe

São Tomé and Principe (Biosphere Reserve) has a unique flora and fauna, threatened by a new wave of oil palm expansion. which also threatens local farmers.


São Tomé and Principe (Biosphere Reserve) are located in the west coast of Africa with unique flora and fauna. Of a total avifauna of 143 species, including 72 breeding residents, 28 species are endemic to São Tomé and Principe. Twelve of the endemics are species of global conservation concern [5]. According to WRM report [3], the Oil palm grows naturally on the two main islands. Although the islands were not inhabited when the Portuguese arrived between 1469 and 1472, the subsequent introduction of sugar cane cultivation based on slave labour led to the forced arrival of Africans from Benin, Congo and Angola who brought with them the traditional uses of this oil palm (Elaeis guineesis). Their leaves, traditionally have  been used in basket weaving, bags, brooms by local people[4]. Moreover, this type of palm is used to produce wine across the entire country too .The product generates considerable income for wine extractors and vendors. This oil is extracted by the local suppliers for agricultural use, although it is also sold [3]. After the Independence of the islands, the European Community financed the plantation of 650 hectares of oil palm in Ribeira Peixe, in the south of São Tomé island. The first palm oil mill (Empresa de Óleos Vegetais – EMOLVE) was established by a loan from the European Investment Bank. The mill was the capacity to meet the  food oil needs of the entire population in the island. During the 1980s, EMOLVE continued expanding its palm plantations. By 1990, EMOLVE's industrial plant produced about 2,000 oil tonnes/year.  In 1999, theoil production declined, falling to less than 100 tonnes/year, and finally coming to a halt in 2007. Several factors were behind this: for one, the oil palm groves grew old, and for another, the company’s equipment and infrastructure deteriorated. In 2008, the equipment was somewhat improved with a contribution from the government of Taiwan. but the problem was not fully resolved [3].

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:New expansion of oil palm plantations, Sao Tome and Principe
Country:Sao Tome and Principe
State or province:Sao Tome and Principe Islands
Location of conflict:Ribeira Peixe, Obô Natural Park (Sao Tome), Sundy area (Principe)
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Plantation conflicts (incl. Pulp
Land acquisition conflicts
Specific commodities:Palm oil
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Following the islands' 1975 independence, the plantations were expanded over 650 hectares in Ribeira Peixe, in the south of São Tomé island. And the first palm oil mill (Empresa de Óleos Vegetais – EMOLVE) was established. During the 1980s, EMOLVE continued expanding its palm plantations.

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Project area:5,000
Level of Investment for the conflictive project75,000,000
Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:2009
Company names or state enterprises:Socfinco from Belgium - he São Tomean State signed an agreement with Belgian company Socfinco for palm oil operation
Agripalma from Belgium - joint venture between Socfinco SA and the government of Sao Tome & Principe (Socfinco’s subsidiary Agripalma )
Relevant government actors:Government of Sao Tome & Principe
Agriculture Ministry
International and Finance InstitutionsEuropean Investment Bank - A loan from the European Investment Bank made it possible to establish the first palm oil mill (EMOLVE company)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Movimento de Defesa das Florestas de São Tomé e Principe
Bird Life International (
RSPB. Giving nature a home (
Associação dos Biólogos Santomenses (ABS)
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
International ejos
Local ejos
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Assessment of the populations of the three critically endangered species ongoing
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover
Potential: Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Food insecurity (crop damage)
Other Environmental impactsConflict between Agripalma and Monte Carmo forests of the Obô Natural Park and overlapping with the Natural Park’s buffer zone
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Land dispossession
Potential: Displacement, Loss of livelihood
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Application of existing regulations
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Although the court has approved an injunction against Agripalma imposing restrictions on its development of a palm oil plantation in the country, this court's decision does not halt the company's clearing work for the establishment of palm oil plantations. It merely imposes conditions with the objective of protecting specific areas. Indeed, the environmentalists, headed by the president of the bar association and a former public prosecutor, have declared that they are not opposed to Agripalma's US$38.5m investment, and that they only want to defend the country's flora and fauna. Agripalma has rejected the environmentalists' accusations of a violation of the country's nature preservation laws.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[3] Ricardo Carrere. 2013. Oil palm in Africa: past, present and future scenarios.
[click to view]

[click to view]

[6] FIAN. 2017. Companies-Land grabbing
[click to view]

[1] Maior empresa do país promete 10 mil toneladas de óleo alimentar a partir de 2016
[click to view]

[2] São Tomé and Príncipe: Biodiversity threatened by oil palm plantations. 2012
[click to view]

[5] Sao Tome Lowland Forest (Palm Oil Plantation expansion)
[click to view]

[6] Téla Nón. 2013. Tribunal mostra sinal de STOP à empresa Agripalma
[click to view]

[7] Socfin. Agripalma webside
[click to view]

[8] Téla Nón. 2013. Sociedade civil denuncia crime ambiental na zona sul de São Tomé
[click to view]

[9] Belgian company to produce palm oil in Sao Tome and Principe
[click to view]

[10] Téla Nón. 2014. Conflito de terra na Ribeira Peixe coloca batata quente nas mãos do Ministro da Agricultura
[click to view]

[11] 2013. Court injunction to limit development of palm oil plantation
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Teresa Perez (WRM)
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:1089
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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