Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.


Oil-palm concerns in Brazilian Amazon


Brazil's Environmental Council of Pará State (COEMA) is debating a resolution to the new Brazilian Forest Code that will help to define 'low-impact' land uses in legally designated areas of permanent protection (APPs). One proposal is that plantations of oil palm (Elaeis guineensis), which are rapidly expanding in the eastern Amazon, might offer a sustainable option for restoring permanently protected areas. We have some concerns about this proposal.

Evidence from across the tropics (E. B. Fitzherbert et al. Trends Ecol. Evol. 23, 538–545; 2008) shows that oil-palm plantations have a considerable impact on the environment because they require substantial agrochemical inputs and host few native species. Therefore, oil-palm plantations must not be allowed to displace natural forest vegetation and should not count as a component of the legally required forest reserves on private land.

We suggest that any approval from the COEMA that officially designates oil palm as a low-impact crop should await a full investigation into the biological and social effects of oil-palm cultivation in APPs. This will ensure that the biological function of these ecologically sensitive regions is not compromised, as the law demands.

Several other areas in Brazil would be more suitable for oil palm — particularly degraded land, where the impact on biodiversity would be minimal.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Alexander C. Lees.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Lees, A., Vieira, I. Oil-palm concerns in Brazilian Amazon. Nature 497, 188 (2013).

Download citation


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing