An assessment of high carbon stock and high conservation value approaches to sustainable oil palm cultivation in Gabon
Industrial-scale oil palm cultivation is rapidly expanding in Gabon, where it has the potential to drive economic growth, but also threatens forest, biodiversity and carbon resources. The Gabonese government is promoting an ambitious agricultural expansion strategy, while simultaneously committing to minimize negative environmental impacts of oil palm agriculture. This study estimates the extent and location of suitable land for oil palm cultivation in Gabon, based on an analysis of recent trends in plantation permitting. We use the resulting suitability map to evaluate two proposed approaches to minimizing negative environmental impacts: a High Carbon Stock (HCS) approach, which emphasizes forest protection and climate change mitigation, and a High Conservation Value (HCV) approach, which focuses on safeguarding biodiversity and ecosystems. We quantify the forest area, carbon stock, and biodiversity resources protected under each approach, using newly developed maps of priority species distributions and forest biomass for Gabon. We find 2.7–3.9 Mha of suitable or moderately suitable land that avoid HCS areas, 4.4 million hectares (Mha) that avoid HCV areas, and 1.2–1.7 Mha that avoid both. This suggests that Gabon’s oil palm production target could likely be met without compromising important ecosystem services, if appropriate safeguards are put in place. Our analysis improves understanding of suitability for oil palm in Gabon, determines how conservation strategies align with national targets for oil palm production, and informs national land use planning.
John R Poulsen, Prasad S Kasibhatla, Lee White, Dean Urban, Kemen G Austin, Michelle E Lee, Connie J Clark, Brenna R Forester