Palm Oil Producers, Buyers Still Blowing Smoke

World Economic Forum Promoting New Avenues

Palm oil is the fastest-growing commodity on the planet. Sales are expected to exceed $88 billion by 2022. Unfortunately, the industry and its supporters are still blowing smoke about deforestation, biodiversity and climate change. There’s a better way forward and we can help make it a reality.

Palm oil is one of the most controversial commodities. It’s driving deforestation on a massive scale across Southeast Asia, South America and Africa. Deforestation is a major contributor to global warming, land-use change and wildlife extinction.

Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of crude palm oil. Approximately 45 million acres of land in Indonesia has been licensed for palm oil development. Unfortunately, licenses mean very little in the land of smoke and mirrors. Even protected areas, such as the Leuser National Park, are under siege. RSPO members aren’t defending biodiversity or the forests. They only protect themselves from the truth.

palm oil plantation deforestation

Palm oil is derived from the fruit harvested from date palm trees. Presently, more than 95 percent of palm oil is produced in Indonesia and Malaysia. It is marketed as a low-cost form of vegetable oil. It’s used in the majority of consumer goods, including food and personal products, such as lotion and soaps. It’s also marketed as a biofuel. Multinational corporations, including Unilever, PepsiCo, Kellogg’s, Ferrero and many others are under fire from customers and stockholders for supporting deforestation. These companies and the palm oil industry have gone to great lengths for years to cover their tracks and green wash their supply chain with claims of so-called sustainable palm oil. There is no such thing as sustainable palm oil. It’s no more sustainable than crude oil or coal.

The Roundtable On Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was set up in 2004 following a series of meetings between WWF and palm oil companies. According to WWF, “One of the huge successes of the Roundtable is the development of a certification system for sustainable palm oil.” Unfortunately, that certification system was riddled with fraud and abuse. It’s a label bought not earned.

In 2015, a report by the Environmental Investigation Agency and Grassroots exposed serious problems in the RSPO certification system. Auditing firms that are supposed to monitor palm oil companies’ operations are colluding with the companies to hide violations.

The latest trend is called Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO). Call it what you will—palm oil plantations and biodiversity do not mix. Animals that enter palm oil plantations are killed. In many cases, bounties have been put on endangered orangutans, elephants and Sumatran tigers. Indonesia has already pushed two tiger species into extinction. The Sumatran tiger could easily follow the Java tiger and Bali tiger into the history books thanks to an industry with no reverence or conscience.

deforestation and climate change

In 2013, Greenpeace produced a report titled “Certifying Destruction,” which highlighted some of the tactics being used to shield the truth about this massive industry. A similar report came out again in 2015 by EIA. In a similar vein, PepsiCo recently released a report in an attempt to cover its tracks. Rainforest Action Network pounced on the report this week as another attempt to cover up the blood in its supply chain.

A report released by Rainforest Action Network (RAN) in April 2017, titled “Profits over People and the Planet, Not ‘Performance with Purpose’; Exposing PepsiCo’s Real Agenda,” revealed PepsiCo’s connections to Conflict Palm Oil suppliers, which are driving deforestation, climate emissions, and human and labor rights abuses across Indonesia, Malaysia, and Latin America. Today’s release by PepsiCo lacks a meaningful response to the issues raised in RAN’s report.

“PepsiCo’s latest “Palm Oil Action Plan Progress Report” is a masterful attempt to window dress its lack of progress in addressing the systemic environmental and human rights violations in its palm oil supply chain and in the operations of its joint venture partner Indofood. In the real world, forests continue to fall and workers continue to be exploited for the production of palm oil used in PepsiCo’s products.

“While PepsiCo openly acknowledges in its report that deforestation and labor rights violations are rampant in the palm oil industry, the company has once again failed to set a deadline to end these abuses in its own supply chains,” said Robin Averbeck, Senior Campaigner of RAN. “Instead, PepsiCo hides behind false claims of sustainability made by the RSPO––the same certification system that has continued to certify its controversial partner Indofood, despite its ongoing exploitation of workers exposed by RAN, Indonesian labor rights organization OPPUK, and International Labor Rights Forum in June 2016.”

orangutan conservation

“PepsiCo needs to stop the corporate greenwash and stop rainforest destruction and the violation of workers and communities’ rights in its supply chain and the plantations controlled by its partner Indofood. Until it does so, PepsiCo and its financial backers will be exposed to campaigns that demand real outcomes on the ground.”

The palm oil industry and its pimps throughout the supply chain, including the RSPO, continue throwing misinformation into the market to placate investors, wholesale buyers and consumers of products that contain palm oil. Meanwhile, RSPO members continue to rape and pillage virgin rain forests and peat lands as they produce more than half of global palm oil supplies.

European nations are threatening to ban palm oil as a “renewable biofuel” in an attempt to reduce demand and force meaningful changes in the palm oil industry. Indonesia and Malaysia are digging in to keep palm oil production and consumption at an all-time high. The industry accounts for billions of dollars per year for the countries’ tycoons and cronies.

As all of this fraud indicates, the palm oil industry and palm oil buyers are desperately seeking solutions, while deforestation and its contribution to wildlife extinction continue. According to a report from the World Economic Forum, the push to get commodity producers, including beef and soy, out of the world’s last rain forests represents a multi-billion dollar opportunity. The good news is that an alternative production model exists that isn’t dependent on rain forest destruction.

palm oil and orangutans

Cities around the world in the tropics, subtropics and deserts represent a powerful opportunity to expand the footprint of palm oil production, while promoting urban agroforestry, sustainability, resiliency and economic development. It can also cut shipping costs by decentralizing the production so that it’s closer to the buyers, such as PepsiCo and others. It’s a win-win opportunity for all stakeholders and stockholders. We need a leader to step forward to demonstrate the benefits of urban agroforestry. It’s a deforestation-free production model that offers valuable benefits.

This initiative will make cities more productive, livable, sustainable and resilient. Some of the new palm trees can help combat the urban heat island effect on our streets and highways. Others can reduce energy demands by sheltering homes, schools and office buildings. Strategically placed trees also can shade parks, golf courses, parks, school grounds and rooftops, while absorbing and sequestering tons of carbon dioxide. Farms and ranches will have an incentive to line their fence lines with a new cash crop. Most importantly, we can create jobs, educational opportunities and sustainable palm oil worth millions of dollars every year just by being resourceful and innovative.

Deforestation and Biodiversity News

climate change and deforestation

Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, sustainable agriculture, carbon capture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management and land use are critical to the survival of entire ecosystems. Sacred Seedlings is a U.S.-based program that supports the vision of local stakeholders. We have projects ready across Africa. We seek additional projects elsewhere around the world. We also seek volunteers, sponsors and donors of cash and in-kind support. Write to Gary Chandler for more information gary@crossbow1.com Together, we can stop deforestation and preserve biodiversity.

EU Considering Palm-Oil Boycott To Curb Deforestation

Deforestation Driving Climate Change, Extinction

Indonesia and Malaysia, which produce more than 80 percent of the world’s palm oil, are resisting proposals by European parliamentarians that could limit their access to the second biggest palm oil market after India.

Government ministers from Malaysia and Indonesia, along with some regional palm oil producers, met in Jakarta on April 11 to plan a response to a resolution approved on April 4 by European parliament members concerning palm oil and deforestation.

The parliamentarians requested the EU to “introduce a single certification scheme for palm oil entering the EU market and phase out the use of vegetable oils that drive deforestation by 2020.”

They hope for an EU-wide ban on biodiesel made from palm oil by 2020, claiming that the expansion of palm oil plantations, mostly in Southeast Asia, is causing “massive forest fires, the drying up of rivers, soil erosion, peatland drainage, the pollution of waterways and overall loss of biodiversity.”

palm oil plantation deforestation

Indonesia’s Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar called the EU proposals an “insult,” while the foreign ministry accused the EU of “protectionism” and of ignoring the rights of millions of Indonesian farmers whose main source of income is from small oil palm plots.

The growth in global demand for palm oil, which is used in a wide array of products from cosmetics and fuel to foods such as margarine and chocolate, has resulted in the massive clearing of forests, particularly in Indonesia, over the last 30 years. The slash and burn methods used on Sumatra and Borneo have led to forest and peatland fires that have enveloped Singapore and parts of Malaysia in a smoky haze that has spread as far as southern Thailand.

Images of orphaned baby elephants and orangutans rescued from cleared forests and plantations have spurred vigorous environmental activism and consumer awareness campaigns in recent years. Species such as the Sumatran elephant have been put on endangered lists, with the ensuing bad publicity forcing governments and palm oil companies to sign up for various national and international certification schemes to guarantee that palm oil products are not causing environmental damage.

palm oil and orangutans

But members of the European parliament argue that a single certification scheme is needed. “MEPs note that various voluntary certification schemes promote the sustainable cultivation of palm oil,” but “their standards are open to criticism and are confusing for consumers,” said a European parliament press release issued on April 4.

In response, Indonesia’s Agriculture Minister Andi Amran Sulaiman told reporters in Jakarta that “we cannot let Europe dictate Indonesia’s agriculture. We have our own standard called Indonesia Sustainable Palm Oil.”

Mah Siew Keong, the Malaysian plantation industries and commodities minister, said that “Malaysia too already has a national certification system.” He noted that “only palm oil is subjected to certification while similarly produced vegetables oils are not subject to sustainability certification,” asserting, “this is not fair.”

With the Indonesia Oil Palm Producers Association executive director Fadhil Hasan calling on the government to “retaliate,” mentioning wine, aircraft, perfume and pharmaceuticals as imports from Europe that Jakarta could target, the dispute over palm oil could undermine work started in July 2016 by the EU and Indonesia to move toward a free trade agreement, as well as disrupt longer-standing negotiations between the EU and Malaysia on a similar deal.

Indonesia is Southeast Asian’s biggest economy and accounts for almost 40% of the total 620 million population of Southeast Asia. “European companies already provide 1 million jobs here in Indonesia and we hope it can grow,” said EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan, during a Nov. 2016 trade mission visit to Jakarta.With tensions over palm oil threatening to undermine free trade negotiations, some European officials sought to play down some of the concerns raised by MEPs.

deforestation and climate change

Jean-Charles Berthonnet, the French ambassador to Indonesia, described the MEP resolution as “unilaterally critical and moralizing” in an opinion article published in the Jakarta Post, though the ambassador agreed that a better certification system is needed.

“Deforestation is a very complex issue and I think we can agree on a number of points. But we need to take a broader look at deforestation because it is not caused only by the palm oil industry,” said Karmenu Vella, the EU commissioner for environment, maritime affairs and fisheries.

Indeed, one recent agreement suggests that the EU and Indonesia can collaborate on preserving forests. In November 2016, Indonesia and the EU launched a licensing scheme that aimed to stop illegally logged timber from being exported from Indonesia — the world’s third biggest jungle area after Brazil and the Democratic Republic of the Congo — to Europe, and in turn reduce deforestation across the archipelago. “Indonesia has shown true leadership and now sets a high standard for other countries to emulate,” said Vincent Guerend, the EU ambassador to Indonesia, when the initiative was launched.

endangered species conservation and forest conservation

But both sides will now have to come to terms over palm oil. The April 11 meeting of palm oil growers in Jakarta was convened to plan a negotiating strategy ahead of a possible meeting with European officials in May to discuss the proposed restrictions on palm oil.

“We will do whatever we can to convince the European parliament and European countries not to implement it,” Darmin Nasution, Indonesia’s coordinating minister for economic affairs, told reporters. “We will negotiate in full force,” he added.

The European parliamentarians also accused the palm oil companies of not living up to their claims that their products are environmentally friendly. “Some companies trading in palm oil are failing to prove beyond doubt that the palm oil in their supply chain is not linked to deforestation, peatland drainage or environmental pollution, and to demonstrate that it has been produced with full respect for fundamental human rights and adequate social standards,” the MEPs stated.

Anita Neville, vice president of corporate communications and sustainability relations at Golden Agri-Resources, a Singapore-based palm oil company that manages 480,000 hectares of Indonesian palm oil plantations, said that producers hoped that the EU would not back away from the use of palm oil. “If your motivation is to tackle deforestation and poverty, you need to stay in the game and demand sustainable palm oil,” she said.

Malaysian palm oil producers Sime Darby and IOI announced in March they had joined the year-old Fire Free Alliance, which “focuses on fire prevention through community engagement.” It includes environmental groups and major forestry and agriculture companies such as pulp and paper giant Asia Pacific Resources International and major palm oil players Musim Mas Group and Wilmar International.

deforestation climate change

The Indonesian government is backing the FFA, which so far supervises activity in just 200 villages covering roughly 1.5 million hectares of land. This amounts to just over a quarter of what the Indonesian government estimates are 731 villages in seven of Indonesia’s 34 provinces where slash and burn clearances are undertaken.

Among those most affected by plantation expansion and deforestation in Indonesia is the country’s indigenous population, which is seeking more rights over traditional lands in many places that overlap with some of the country’s forests and plantations.

But granting such rights would likely make it more difficult to conduct agribusiness on up 8 million hectares of land claimed by indigenous peoples. This is seen as one reason why Indonesian President Joko Widodo belatedly cancelled a scheduled appearance at a March congress of indigenous leaders in northern Sumatra.

Rukka Sombolinggi, the newly elected head of the Indigenous Peoples Alliance of the Archipelago (AMAN), said she was not surprised at the president’s reluctance to attend the event. But she added, “the problem is with the ministry of environment and forestry, they are the ones who are claiming our land as state land.”

Her group contends that giving indigenous groups legal rights to their land is the best way to ensure that forest ecologies are preserved. Rukmini P. Toheke, a prominent activist for indigenous peoples from Palu in central Sulawesi, said: “For us the forest is ‘katu vua,’ or life itself.” She added: “If we destroy the forests, we destroy our own lives.”

Deforestation News via http://asia.nikkei.com/Markets/Commodities/Asian-palm-oil-producers-slam-EU-moves-to-restrict-market-access?page=1

climate change and deforestation

Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, carbon capture, sustainable agriculture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management and land use are critical to the survival of entire ecosystems. We have projects ready across Africa now. We seek additional projects elsewhere around the world. We also seek volunteers, sponsors and donors of cash and in-kind support. Write to Gary Chandler for more information gary@crossbow1.com

Palm Oil Plantations vs. Biodiversity

Palm Oil Plantations Do Not Tolerate Wildlife

By Melati Kaye, Scientific American and Mongabay

I have been hiking through an oil palm plantation in Borneo for hours but have yet to see a single oil palm. Instead, mahogany and other native tree species tower overhead. Mushrooms, flowers and huge pitcher plants line my trail, uniquely adapted to the island’s peat swamp forests. This lush portion of the plantation should be ideal habitat for orangutans. I have not spotted any, but according to Hendriyanto, my guide from the plantation’s conservation team, an estimated 14 of the red apes do indeed live here.

Surveyors came up with that number by counting orangutan nests in this 657-hectare so-called “High Conservation Value” (HCV) enclave within the 18,000-hectare plantation. The population density survey and the HCV set-aside are required of oil palm companies like Hendriyanto’s employer, Ketapang-based PT Kayung Agro Lestari (PT-KAL), for eco-compliance certification by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a consortium that has been setting the industry’s sustainability standards since 2004.

deforestation and climate change

But one step outside this refuge lies a very different scene: blistering tropical heat and regimented rows of spiky oil palm trees spread over miles of ochre mud that turns to deep, rutted puddles after a drizzle. Borneo’s forest-to-plantation ratio has plummeted in recent decades. Satellite data show that the island’s forest cover dwindled from 76 percent to a mere 28 percent between 1973 and 2010. Deforestation has only accelerated since then, especially in 2015, when fires smoldered across 1.3 million hectares of peatland for months on end.

From an ape’s point of view, the plantation vista presents an uninhabitable hellscape. From an industry standpoint, it is a prospect of burgeoning revenue. Half of the vegetable oil consumed around the world comes from oil palms. According to data from USDA and the World Bank, the global market for palm oil and palm kernels is around $47 billion.

palm oil plantation deforestation

Can an industry maintain profitability if consumers associate palm oil with the rape of the jungle and the imminent extinction of its iconic orangutans?

Some leading oil palm companies have tried a series of conservation initiatives to show that orangutans and plantations can co-exist–hence the RSPO, the HCV enclaves and the relocation of orphaned apes to rehabilitation centers for later reintroduction back to the forest. The latest scheme is to interlink isolated HCV patches with migration “corridors” so that orangutans and other forest-dwelling creatures can disperse in accordance with their natural behaviors.

To implement such measures (and garner some third-party credibility), many companies have partnered with environmental non-governmental organizations (NGOs). But results have so far been elusive. Part of the problem is a general lack of data. But companies can also ignore or skimp on the NGO recommendations. Compounding matters, the RSPO and its ilk are agonizingly slow at investigating complaints, and their findings are no more than advisory, with no force of law. Moreover, Indonesian licensing laws can undermine conservation by reallocating forest leases of companies that do not exploit their allotted tracts fully or quickly enough. And with RSPO covering barely a fifth of the world’s palm oil operators, there is always a queue of wildcat planters ready to take up rescinded leases.

Orangutan-friendly forests once provided contiguous habitat for the tree-dwelling apes throughout South and Southeast Asia, from India to China to Indonesia. Human settlement shrank and fragmented the forest range, and with it the orangutan population According to a 2006 study by Cardiff University molecular ecologists Benoit Goossens and Michael Bruford, there were an estimated 315,000 orangutans in Sumatra and Borneo in 1900. Today, only an estimated 60,000 orangutans remain in the wild. They live solely in the peat-swamp forests of Borneo and Sumatra.

These peatlands were once deemed too remote and nutrient-poor for agriculture. With the advent of large-scale logging and plantations, however, they started getting cleared for development. The oil palm boom of the 1970’s kicked deforestation into hyperdrive. It began in Malaysia and, by the 1990s, spilled over into neighboring Indonesia. Together the two countries account for 80 percent of the world’s palm oil.

palm oil kills orangutans

Habitat loss not only starves orangutans, it brings them into closer contact with humans. The contact can be lethal. In a study published inPLOS in 2012, conservation biologist Erik Meijaard and his colleagues found that between 2,383 and 3,882 orangutans were killed every year in Borneo. They derived this range from nearly 7,000 interviews conducted with villagers about human-animal conflict.

In the first rounds of deforestation, when the number of displaced orangutans became too many to ignore, palm oil companies and NGOs airlifted them to rehabilitation centers or intact forest elsewhere. But relocating the apes is no longer an option, according to Karmele Sánchez, director of International Animal Rescue (IAR) Indonesia program, an NGO rehabilitating primates. “The habitat is so heavily disturbed and fragmented,” she says, that “there isn’t near enough forest to put all rescued orangutans.” Instead of overcrowding protected areas like national parks, Sanchez urges plantation operators to accommodate their resident orangutans onsite. For RSPO members, this means a greater emphasis on HCV inholdings within their plantation tracts.

In 2010, Greenpeace activists ran a TV ad showing a man chomping into a Nestlé’s chocolate bar only to find, to his horror, blood dribbling down his chin. Cut to a jungle scene of a screaming orangutan. Then the punch line: “Ask Nestlé to give rainforests a break.”

endangered species conservation and forest conservation

Partly in response, Nestlé joined the RSPO and temporarily docked one of its most environmentally egregious palm oil suppliers, Jakarta-based Sinar Mas. The company also redesigned its “responsible sourcing guidelines” to only buy palm oil from law-abiding plantations that maintained peatlands, as well as “high carbon” and “high conservation value” forests on their property.

But some environmentalists are unconvinced that such efforts are effective. Hardi Baktiantoro, co-founder of the Center for Orangutan Protection in Jakarta, Indonesia, likens them to “mopping the floor while ignoring the still-gushing tap that’s causing the puddle in the first place.” Others, like Michelle Desilets of the policy think-tank Orangutan Land Trust in Derbyshire, England, remain agnostic: “the RSPO is not a perfect solution but it is the only way to get larger consensus” on orangutan conservation and protection on palm plantations.

But whereas the RSPO may be useful for setting industry standards, its efficacy for enforcing them is another matter. When RSPO-member company First Resources, based in Singapore, converted its HCV patches into palm plantations, IAR filed a complaint with the standard-setting consortium. That was 10 years ago; the case is still pending. Even the model HCV enclave that PT-KAL so proudly showed me was smaller than what was recommended by the biodiversity assessors it contracted. Why should companies go overboard with HCV set-asides when they could lose their forest leases for under-exploiting their conditional “use permits”? The RSPO has yet to reconcile this incongruity between its own charter and Indonesian licensing laws. It does not help that RSPO sanctions are not binding, anyway. The organization’s charter says companies will be kicked out for flouting their commitments, but repeated NGO “hit lists” of violators have led to few reprimands.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, that some conservationists see the RSPO as a cynical exercise in “greenwashing”–dressing up business-as-usual practices with a semblance of environmental stewardship while shirking any real change. After all, the whole endeavor was conceived for PR purposes to begin with, notes Marc Ancrenaz, co-founder of the Malaysia-based NGO, HUTAN. “Companies comply because they want a good image.”

Sonny Sukada, the sustainability director at PT KAL’s parent company ANJ, maintains that the reduced size of the HCV area was needed to “align” the company’s commitment to local communities and its planting objectives, in addition to conservation needs.

In an email, RSPO communications manager Letchumi Achanah acknowledged that the RSPO complaint system was a “long process.” But she defended the speed of negotiations as necessary to “engage” the complainers and the offending party “rather than taking action on the involved party,” which might “formally end a complaint sooner but leave no avenue for improvement on the ground.” As for greenwashing, Acanah noted, “palm oil production has been linked to deforestation, violation of labor rights and displacement of local communities.” The RSPO was set up to address this “urgent concern.”

orangutan conservation

The HCV concept is hardly unique to the palm oil industry. First developed in 1999 by the Forest Stewardship Council to manage timber plots, it has since been adopted by nine sustainability-certification schemes, including those for soy, wood and pulp producers. But in new palm plantations, the HCV enclaves are particularly beleaguered.

Hendriyanto, of PT KAL’s conservation team, says at least once a month he spots orangutans outside the enclaves at large in the plantation. There, they’ll eat the palm shoots and fruits, adds Nardiyono, Hendriyanto’s boss. With an estimated 100 to150 of them at a time roaming through the plantations, he adds, they present a ready target for human depredations. Villagers have been known to catch the stray orangutans for pets or food. There even is a record of a non-RSPO palm company offering bounties for dead orangutans as a means of protecting their crop.

To guard against such outcomes, Hendriyanto uses booming “sound cannons” to herd the runaways back into their protected areas. As further insurance, the monitored HCV patches are surrounded by moats to contain animals and keep out forest fires. That arrangement may spare the orangutans from human attack, but it creates siege-like conditions that may be stressful for the animals.

The enclaves make for high-density habitat, which is anathema to the orangutan’s free-roaming nature, according to Gail Campbell-Smith an IAR conservation biologist who trains PT KAL staff in wildlife management. Overcrowding means more competition for food and, hence, increased aggression. In fact, researchers recently documented a female orangutan teaming up with a male to kill another female – a striking departure from the species’ usual norms of mutually tolerant females.

Isolated populations also lead to inbreeding and eventually “genetic erosion,” says Cardiff University professor Michael Bruford, who researches the genetics of fragmented animal populations. An “eroded” or generally smaller gene pool makes communities more susceptible to disease and extinction.

To relieve such isolation, IAR and other NGOs and government offices, are discussing a network of wildlife corridors. The eventual goal is to link all the privately held HCV patches in PT KAL’s vicinity, together with the Gunung Palung National Park 40 kilometers to the north and the 1,070 hectares of protected forest maintained for carbon credits by the nearby village of Laman Satong.

Their plan is ambitious but it is not the first of its kind. Two plantations owned by RSPO-member company United Plantation in Central Kalimantan have already established wildlife corridors of their own. And then there is the grandfather of such schemes: a 15 kilometer-long, 25- to 50-meter-wide orangutan corridor in Malaysia maintained for the past five years by RSPO-member company PT Wilmar Berhad, which is headquartered in Singapore.

The wildlife corridor strategy has at least a 40-year history. It has been applied to species ranging from lions in Africa to pandas in China. Some animals take to them better than others. Australian sugar gliders, for instance, want no part of them.

Indonesia deforestation

So how will they play out with orangutans? The limited geographic span and duration of the existing corridors mean that it is still too early for data-driven answers. But odds are that results will depend on how much connectivity can be achieved. University of Zurich anthropologist Carel van Shaik, who has been studying orangutans since the 1980s, says that populations can rebound, but only if the islands of remaining habitat can be somehow bridged so that animals can travel between them.

The viability of the corridors will depend, first, upon their physical dimensions. So far, PT KAL has built just one “corridor”: two rows of oil palms that they allowed to go fallow, connecting an HCV plot with the Laman Satong forest. The area was set aside in July, 2015, and so far just one orangutan has been sighted in it.

But even that narrow corridor represented a revenue sacrifice on the company’s part, so Campbell-Smith hesitates to push for more width. Instead, she aims to expand the corridor network by incorporating riverbanks within the plantations. Not only do the rivers provide migrating animals with abundant food and water, but Malaysian and Indonesian law guarantee the watercourses 30- to 100-meter buffer zones, to safeguard against floods and pollution.

Borneo and Sumatra biodiversity threatened

Indeed it is far more effective to link up HCV enclaves using already legally protected natural features, than to carve new corridors out of deforested plantation land, says conservation biologist Matthew Struebig of the University of Kent in England. Struebig, who is under contract with the Malaysian government for a review of tropical wildlife corridor studies, nevertheless admits, “you can create the best design but if the company doesn’t adopt it then it’s useless. You need to make it easy for them.”

When it comes to displaced orangutans, though, solutions are rarely easy. It takes far too long to implement and evaluate wildlife management solutions. In the meantime the animals and their habitat are diminishing rapidly. Under such circumstances, it might seem prudent to err on the side of conservation. But the lure of fast profits pulls in the opposite direction.

Forest Conservation News via http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/can-oil-palm-plantations-and-orangutans-coexist/

climate change and deforestation

Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, sustainable agriculture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management and land use are critical to the survival of entire ecosystems. Sacred Seedlings is a U.S.-based program that supports the vision of local stakeholders. We have projects ready across Africa. We seek additional projects elsewhere around the world. We also seek volunteers, sponsors and donors of cash and in-kind support. Write to Gary Chandler for more information gary@crossbow1.com

Indonesia Forest Fires Threaten Wildlife, Communities

Land Clearing Considered Greatest Environmental Crime Of Our Time

By Nadia Drake, Nature

The world’s only wild orangutans—already besieged by logging, hunting, pet trading and the steady expansion of palm oil plantations—are now threatened by forest fires that have burned for months on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra in southeast Asia. In the toxic smoke and haze, locals and researchers are scrambling to protect the estimated 50,000 remaining orangutans that live only on those two islands.

Fires erupt every year in Indonesia during the dry season, as farmers, plantation owners and others deliberately burn forest to clear land or to settle territorial disputes. But this year’s El Niño weather pattern, combined with a legacy of land-management practices that have dried the soil and degraded vast swathes of peat-swamp forest, turned this burning season into an environmental catastrophe that has destroyed more than 2 million hectares of forest throughout Indonesia, to which Sumatra and much of Borneo belong.

endangered species conservation and forest conservation

Since late summer, teams of researchers have headed out from the city of Palangkaraya in Borneo to find and fight new blazes. Some patrol the rivers and others head into the forest, where extinguishing the flames can require drilling more than 20 metres down to reach the water table—tough, gruelling work that is carried out amid tropical heat and in a persistent, menacing orange haze.

One day in October, Simon Husson, director of the UK-based Orangutan Tropical Peatland Project, deployed a drone at the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation’s centre for orangutan rescue and rehabilitation near Palangkaraya.

“Eyes in the sky are a huge help,” he says. “On the ground, you’re in choking smoke and the haze is severely restricting visibility.”

Indonesia forest fires palm oil plantations

As the drone rose above the smoggy blanket, its camera glimpsed a new fire burning deep in the forest. The fire was remote enough not to threaten the orphaned and injured orangutans being readied for reintroduction to the forest, “but you can’t help thinking about the wild ones out there”, Husson says.

Husson and his colleagues have temporarily abandoned their normal research activities in the 6,000-square-kilometre Sabangau Forest, which is home not just to orangutans but also to rare Bornean white-bearded gibbons, sun bears and pangolins, to help local fire-fighting teams with cash and personnel. “Not only is [research] pretty unimportant right now,” he says, “it’s basically impossible to study the orangutans in the canopy as we can’t see them for the smoke.”

Indonesia deforestation
Indonesia and Malaysia are the palm oil capitals of the world. The industry has pillaged the islands of Borneo and Sumatra.

Peat fires devastate orangutan populations primarily by destroying crucial habitat, but the animals are also susceptible to the same types of smoke- and haze-induced respiratory problems as humans. The charismatic arboreal apes are already endangered throughout their range; their population is estimated to have declined by 78% from more than 230,000 a century ago. “Over half the world’s orangutans live in peat-swamp forests, and every one of these peatlands in Borneo right now is on fire, somewhere,” Husson says.

Undisturbed peat forests are actually incredibly fire resistant, says Susan Page, a geographer at the University of Leicester, UK, who studies peatlands in southeast Asia, because the swamps are damp enough to make ignition difficult. But, unfortunately, large tracts of Borneo’s peatland are anything but undisturbed.

In 1996, Indonesia’s then-president Suharto launched the Mega Rice Project, which tried to transform 1 million hectares of Bornean peatland into rice paddies. Draining the peat was essential for the plan, and despite the fact that no rice was ever harvested, canals that were cut through the forests have been draining water from the peat ever since.

The infernos in Indonesia have climate implications as well. Normally, Borneo’s peat forests are efficient carbon stores, holding tons of organic matter in layers of compressed plant material that can be more than 15 meters thick. But when that peat burns, the accumulated carbon is released. This year, the fires have already released more than 1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere—more than Japan’s annual carbon emissions. Since September, carbon emissions due to the fires have exceeded the daily production of the United States on at least 38 days, prompting one conservation scientist to call this year’s fires the “biggest environmental crime of the twenty-first century.”

Read The Full Story At http://www.nature.com/news/indonesia-blazes-threaten-endangered-orangutans-1.18714

climate change and deforestation

Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, sustainable agriculture, carbon capture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management and land use are critical to the survival of entire ecosystems. Sacred Seedlings is a U.S.-based program that supports the vision of local stakeholders. We have projects ready across Africa. We seek additional projects elsewhere around the world. We also seek volunteers, sponsors and donors of cash and in-kind support. Write to Gary Chandler for more information gary@crossbow1.com

Greenwashing Sustainable Palm Oil

Editor’s Note: Although it is possible to produce most things in a sustainable way, it’s not possible to grow large volumes of palm oil in a truly sustainable way–one that protects and promotes biodiversity. Most of these plantations are consuming a massive footprint in what used to be our tropical rain forests. In most cases, owners of the palm oil plantation are responsible for slashing and burning the land to clear large swaths for palm oil production. If not, they rely on a shell game–smoke and mirrors–to hide the connection to the deforestation. Endangered species, including tigers, orangutans and elephants are displaced, if not killed in the chaos.

palm oil plantation deforestation

These palm oil plantations proceed to disrupt entire ecosystems because they are based on the concept of monoculture versus biodiversity. Even a so-called “sustainable” plantation often sits on thousands of acres of former wildlife habitat within a critical watershed. If those animals can’t survive elsewhere, they are not welcome to return to their native habitat as they search for food and water. Shame on any company or consumer that calls this displacement and destruction a “sustainable” practice. These are crimes against nature in the name of junk food and profit maximization. Just say no to RSPO until,they take responsibility for the survival of endangered species in their native habitat. We have a model for sustainable pilot plans. We urge RSPO and other stakeholders to work with us on many fronts. Sustainability is possible.

Ecosystem Destruction Not Sustainable

Palm oil has become one of the world’s most controversial commodities, used to make for everything from shampoo to biodiesel to sugar candies. The World Wildlife Fund says it is the most widely used vegetable oil on the planet, comprising 65 percent of all vegetable oil traded internationally.

Yet there are only a few areas in the world with the right growing conditions for the crop. Some 85 percent of international production is in Malaysia and Indonesia, but Myanmar’s Tanintharyi Region also boasts the right growing conditions and is increasingly drawing interest as a place to produce the commodity.

deforestation and climate change

Earlier this month, representatives from the Chamber of Commerce sat down with INGOs and palm oil industry leaders to discuss expanding the sector in line with sustainable, international standards.

It is possible to create a large-scale palm oil sector that “is legal, environmentally appropriate, socially acceptable and profitable”, said Darrell Weber, secretary general of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an industry group, during his keynote speech at the event.

He recommended the government adopt his organization’s guidelines as they look to expand their plantations in Tanintharyi region.

However, some environmentalists say that the idea of sustainable palm oil plantations, both socially and ecologically, is “a farce”. Pointing to examples both in Myanmar and across Southeast Asia, they argue that any profit from the plantations is eventually offset by damage to local communities.

endangered species conservation and forest conservation

“There’s a lot of talk about a sustainable model, but it’s just a myth,” said U Win Myo Thu, founder of the environmental NGO Ecodev. “In the long run there will always be more harmful effects.”

As U Win Myo Thu and several other experts pointed out, clearing large swaths of tropical forest – even forests degraded by logging – to produce a single crop inevitably causes massive drops in biodiversity, with attendant ecological problems quick to follow.

In Malaysia and Indonesia, palm oil production has been directly linked to record levels of air pollution and destroying the habitats of endangered species like the orangutan.

“What’s happening now in Myanmar is that a lot of companies are coming in and they’re basically copying the same system that’s been going around Malaysia and Indonesia,” said Oliver Pye, a professor of Southeast Asian Studies on the University of Bonn.

Under this system, according to Mr Pye, large corporations are free to expand and “[they] don’t have to pay the environmental costs they incur”.

In addition, he claimed that in both nations, the RSPO has stood in the way of stronger regulations from the national government. The RSPO could not be reached for comment last week.

Beyond ecology, experts also say that expanding Myanmar’s palm oil sector would likely expand the corruption that has defined the industry for decades.

Speaking to The Myanmar Times last week, Kevin Woods, a Yangon-based researcher with the INGO Forest Trends, said that much of the land awarded to large corporations for palm oil plantations in Tanintharyi were in fact taken from civilians during the Tatmadaw’s offensive against the KNU in the 1990s.

deforestation and climate change

“This dramatic history clearly indicates that any concept of ‘sustainability’ of oil palm in Tanintharyi is a farce, as the land from which oil palm is being cultivated was stolen by the military and led to thousands being forcibly resettled under duress without any compensation,” he said.

However, other environmentalists stand by both the RSPO and the idea of sustainable palm oil.

“The social and environmental impacts of the plantation sector, particularly palm oil, have drawn criticism across Southeast Asia,” said Frank Momberg, the program director of Flora and Fauna International’s Myanmar office, which helped organise the meeting.“The introduction and promotion of sustainable practices in plantation development can help maximize economic, social and environmental benefits.”

Speaking to The Myanmar Times last week, Mr. Momberg said that that FFI had identified forests in Tanintharyi that could be converted to palm plantations with minimal damage to the surrounding environment, and that if local communities are properly consulted during construction “the development of sustainable palm oil can contribute to the reduction of social conflicts.”

palm oil and orangutans

U Zaw Win, deputy director-general of the Forests Department, said that any expansion of palm plantations would indeed be aligned with sustainable practices outlined by the RSPO, and would only come after a full consultation with local communities and other stakeholders.

On this point at least, U Win Myo Thu agreed with the government’s stance. “We must create informed decision-making for local communities, find out the effects and tell the story to the public and let the public make a choice – because every approach may have its advantages and disadvantages.”

Source: http://www.mmtimes.com/index.php/business/10990-sustainable-palm-oil-fact-or-fiction.html

climate change and deforestation

Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, carbon capture, sustainable agriculture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management and land use are critical to the survival of entire ecosystems.

Sacred Seedlings is a U.S.-based program that supports the vision of local stakeholders. We have projects ready across Africa. We seek additional projects elsewhere around the world. We also seek volunteers, sponsors and donors of cash and in-kind support. Write to Gary Chandler for more information gary@crossbow1.com

Indonesian Hero Earns Award For Forest Conservation

Sumatra’s Vanishing Wildlife

An Indonesian has won the world’s most prestigious award for environmental activism for his efforts to fight illegal logging, forest encroachment for palm oil production, and a policy that would open up vast swathes of an endangered ecosystem for mining and industrial plantations. 

Rudi Putra, a biologist who works in Sumatra’s Aceh Province, was on Monday honored with the $175,000 Goldman Environmental Prize. Putra was selected as the “Islands and Island Nations” winner. 

Rudi Putra Goldman Prize forest conservation IndonesiaPutra was recognized for his campaign to dismantle illegal oil palm plantations within Sumatra’s Leuser Ecosystem, a habitat for critically endangered orangutans, tigers, rhinos, and elephants, as well as his activism around a plan to remove protected status for vast areas of forest across Aceh. That activism culminated in 2013 with a petition asking the Indonesian government to enforce conservation laws and reject Aceh’s proposal. The petition was signed more than 1.4 million times, catalyzing broader awareness of the issue and sparking intense international outcry. The Goldman Environmental Foundation highlighted Putra’s effort to restore wildlife corridors in areas that were once illegal oil palm plantations.

With support from local communities, Putra approached local police directly to enforce land protection laws and shut down illegal palm oil plantations. He spoke of the hundreds of thousands of families who lost their homes and loved ones during the 2006 Aceh floods and their struggles to access clean drinking water.

He also approached palm oil plantation owners and reminded them that their actions were against the law. After Putra showed them the boundaries marking conservation areas, some owners voluntarily shut down the plantations and gave the land back to the government so that Putra and his colleagues could conduct restoration work.

palm oil plantation deforestation

Putra’s sustained outreach and strategic negotiations, deploying carrots and sticks when necessary, resulted in the dismantling of more than 1,200 acres of illegal plantations in the Leuser Ecosystem. The rehabilitation of these forests after the clearance of the oil palm has recreated a critical wildlife corridor now used by elephants, tigers and orangutans for the first time in 12 years. The Sumatran rhino population in the Leuser Ecosystem has also inched up in the past decade.

Ian Singleton, an orangutan conservationist who has worked with Putra for years, agreed that the activist has had an outsized impact.

endangered species conservation and forest conservation

“He has always struck me as one of the most focused and dedicated Indonesian conservationists I have ever met,” Singleton told Mongabay.com. “He is certainly not one to make a song and dance of things, and instead keeps a low profile, plugging away at an issue until eventually his hard work pays off.”

palm oil and orangutans

“Rudi is a leading member of a large team of various players working hard to halt a devastating new spatial plan in the province of Aceh, Sumatra, which would destroy huge tracts of the Leuser Ecosystem and spell the death knell for its remaining elephants and rhinos, and possibly orangutans and tigers as well. This battle is far from won, but without people like Rudi taking part it would be a far harder battle to win.”
Due to criticism, Aceh’s spatial plan revision as originally proposed is now in limbo. The central government in Jakarta and the Aceh government have yet to come to an agreement that would allow the plan to proceed, buying environmentalists more time to make a case for protecting the province’s endangered forests. Putra is hopeful the Goldman Prize will now boost help that effort.

deforestation and climate change

“The government has failed to do enough to stop forest conversion for oil palm — large areas of forest are not covered by the moratorium,” he told Mongabay.com. “It has also failed to stop encroachment, illegal logging, and mining inside conservation areas.” 

“This fight is far from over but the Goldman Prize will help.” 

Source: http://news.mongabay.com/2014/0428-goldman-prize-rudi-putra.html#zDrwkwr75ifFCSWy.99

climate change and deforestation

Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, carbon capture, sustainable agriculture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management and land use are critical to the survival of entire ecosystems.

Sacred Seedlings is a U.S.-based program that supports the vision of local stakeholders. We have projects ready across Africa. We seek additional projects elsewhere around the world. We also seek volunteers, sponsors and donors of cash and in-kind support. Write to Gary Chandler for more information gary@crossbow1.com

Forest Conservation Good For Business

Sustainable Palm Oil Ignores Biodiversity

Editor’s Note: The term sustainable palm oil is misleading consumers as it relates to biodiversity and endangered species. I am looking for a clear and concise statement that tells me that companies that purchase such products aren’t promoting wildlife extinction through deforestation. The sole barometer at this point should be orangutans, tigers and elephants on Sumatra, for example. How can sustainable palm oil come from a plantation that sits on land that once was pristine jungle habitat for endangered species? Convince me that there are no loopholes and schemes at work to prevent this from happening.

Secondly, let’s assume that I’m wrong and let’s give credit where credit is due. Unilever has announced that it is sourcing all palm oil from sustainable sources ahead of schedule. They are obviously paying attention to the issue of illegal deforestation and that’s a start. They are big enough and influential enough to be a leader that can promote change. The key is that this change happen before the jungles, orangutans, tigers and elephants are extinct. A sustainability champion can’t take its eye off of the web of life. 

Finally, we issue a challenge to Unilever and its suppliers. We have an urban forestry model that can truly be a sustainable palm oil model. It can accomplish many objectives around the world. Let’s talk. 

palm oil plantation deforestation

Business is the solution to environmental progress, not its enemy, said the head of one of the world’s largest corporations. Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, accepted the 2013 Commitment to Development “Ideas in Action” Award from the Center for Global Development last night. Unilever was recognized for its work in reducing deforestation through its sustainable sourcing of palm oil and pulp and paper products.

“First and foremost I am a businessman; I cannot deny that,” said Polman. Like most corporate leaders, he excels in tracking progress and measuring success, important tools for both building a successful company and rooting out the cause of environmental degradation. “Otherwise, you don’t move things forward, and I think that’s one of the things that businesses are good about,” he added.

Owner of such brands as Ben & Jerry’s, Dove and Hellmann’s mayonnaise, Unilever has successfully sourced 100 percent of its palm oil from certified sustainable sources (which means what?), three years ahead of schedule, according to the company’s 2012 annual report. Unilever alone purchases about 3 percent of the total global palm oil output. It has set a goal to trace 100 percent of its palm oil back to the plantation on which it was grown by 2020.

endangered species conservation and forest conservation

Polman has exhibited leadership on the issue not just through Unilever, but through his work in the Consumer Goods Forum and the Tropical Forest Alliance, industry groups whose members have committed to sustainable sourcing of materials. Capitalism, said Polman, has been “an enormous positive force in this world.”

But the financial crash of 2008 also showed the limitations of capitalism to help society. Enormous debt, aggravated by overconsumption, had left a large part of the world’s population behind and disregarded the “natural capital,” or the value of ecosystems.

The company pulls in about $67 billion in revenue annually. It is this size and scale that have allowed the company to influence deforestation policy.

“You take Unilever: We have 2 billion consumers using us every day; we are in seven out of 10 households globally,” he said. “If you have that scale and reach, it’s an enormous possibility to transform markets.”

Palm oil can be found in a variety of foods, personal care products like soap, and biodiesel. The rapid expansion of palm oil, driven by rising global demand for food and fuel, has been linked to widespread deforestation in Southeast Asia, the source of about 85 percent of palm oil. About 10 percent of global carbon emissions is linked to deforestation. The death of orangutans, tigers and elephants has been caused by the industry.

palm oil kills orangutans

In the last two decades, the area of palm oil plantations has expanded nearly eight times in Indonesia alone, according to a recent Agriculture Department Foreign Agricultural Service report. Growers have been accused of clearing native forests, removing habitat of endangered species and violating the rights of forest dwellers.

Unilever was also a player in palm oil trader Wilmar’s recent agreement to adopt a no-deforestation policy, which prohibits its suppliers from establishing plantations on lands with large amounts of carbon — like peat soils — or lands with a high conservation value (ClimateWire, Dec. 8, 2013). Wilmar controls about 45 percent of the palm oil market.

“The Wilmar commitment sets a new global standard for industry and creates new constituencies in forest countries among the private sector for improved land-use policies and improved law enforcement,” said Frances Seymour, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development and an expert in forest policy. “Mr. Polman’s actions give us hope that market transformation can be achieved and that we can stop tropical deforestation.”

Polman organized a global outreach program with businesses that, together, make up 10 percent of global gross domestic product.

deforestation and climate change

“Among CEOs, Polman is seen as the go-to guy for sustainability leadership,” said Glenn Hurowitz, a palm oil campaigner and executive director of sustainability consultant group Catapult. He “knows how to use Unilever’s purchasing power, leverage and influence to help transform the entire supply chains of some of the world’s most environmentally intensive commodities.”

Language is key in generating a response. Polman has made a habit of placing the word “illegal” in front of deforestation.

“The reason it’s illegal is that everything we do now cannot be reversed, and by calling it illegal, by the way, I get far more people to agree with me,” he said. “There’s something still in our humanity, in our values, that we don’t like to do things illegally. We should have called the whole thing ‘illegal climate change,’ and we would have solved it.”

Polman is anxious for other large palm oil traders to make similar commitments to Wilmar.

“If we can get Sime Darby or Sinar Mas or Cargill or one or two others to join, you’re at 70 percent; that’s a tipping point,” he said, naming some of the largest traders after Wilmar. “Again, if we don’t do it, our business is at stake.”

Source: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/stopping-deforestation-makes-business-sense-says-unilever-ceo/

climate change and deforestation

Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, carbon capture, sustainable agriculture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management and land use are critical to the survival of entire ecosystems.

Sacred Seedlings is a U.S.-based program that supports the vision of local stakeholders. We have projects ready across Africa. We seek additional projects elsewhere around the world. We also seek volunteers, sponsors and donors of cash and in-kind support. Write to Gary Chandler for more information gary@crossbow1.com

Palm Oil Plantations Killing Wildlife

Palm Oil A Deadly Biofuel

The European Union wants to protect the climate and reduce carbon emissions from motor vehicles by blending fuels with increasing shares of supposedly eco-friendly “biofuels.”

Last year, 1.9 million tons of palm oil were added to diesel fuel in the EU – in addition to millions of tons of equally harmful rapeseed and soybean oils. The plantations needed to produce the palm oil cover an area of 700,000 hectares – land that until recently was still rainforest and the habitat of endangered orangutans and tigers. Despite the clear-cutting of the rain forests, the EU has classified palm oil as sustainably produced.

palm oil plantation deforestation

This policy has now blown up in the legislators’ faces, with scientists confirming what environmentalists and development experts have long asserted: agrofuels help neither people nor the environment – and are most certainly not climate-neutral, as even studies commissioned by the EU show. Biodiesel from palm and soybean oil, but also from European-grown rapeseed, is more harmful than diesel from fossil sources.

The EU should therefore abolish its biofuels policy immediately, but the agro-industry is fighting hard to maintain the status quo. Not surprising, when one considers that biofuels are currently subsidized to the tune of 10 billion euros in the EU alone.

endangered species conservation and forest conservation

The European Parliament is currently debating the future of biofuels. The allegedly green energy will be put to a vote on July 10 in the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, and on September 10 in the plenary session of Parliament.

Please sign this petition to the EU and demand an end to agrofuels.

Source/Petition: https://www.rainforest-rescue.org/mailalert/908/biofuel-eu-destroys-700-000-hectares-of-rainforest#.UdXH5WTwRhR.twitter

climate change and deforestation

Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, carbon capture, sustainable agriculture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management and land use are critical to the survival of entire ecosystems.

Sacred Seedlings is a U.S.-based program that supports the vision of local stakeholders. We have projects ready across Africa. We seek additional projects elsewhere around the world. We also seek volunteers, sponsors and donors of cash and in-kind support. Write to Gary Chandler for more information gary@crossbow1.com

The High Cost of Cheap Biofuels

Palm Oil Plantations Killing Endangered Species

By Tom Knudson

As a child, Matt Aman grew up in the lush tropical lowland rainforest of Sumatra. Tigers padded through the underbrush, rarely seen and silent as shadows. “It made my skin prickle,” the indigenous leader recalled recently as he sat on the floor of a stick hut surrounded by fellow villagers.

endangered species conservation and forest conservation

“When I was young, it was easy to find the mouse deer, monitor lizard, and wild pigs,” Aman said. The birds were majestic, too, he said, as he nodded and lit a cigarette. They filled the forest with a chorus of coos and trills that woke the Kubu village every morning. “We never hear those birds anymore,” Aman said.

It is easy to see why. The storybook forest of his youth, the great green riot of reeds and vines, the cathedral-like thickets of fruit and hardwood trees — all of it is gone. In its place, for mile after monotonous mile, is a rolling carpet of palm trees, not the kind that sway in the wind at Waikiki, but a shorter, pudgier variety — the oil palm — that like corn and soybeans is rapidly becoming one of the world’s major sources of biofuel.

Not long ago, biofuels were billed as a green dream come true, a way to burn less fossil fuel and shrink our carbon footprint. But today, mounting evidence indicates that producing biofuels — particularly those derived from food crops such as corn and oil palm — may be doing considerably more harm to the planet than good, actually increasing greenhouse gas emissions and driving up food prices worldwide.

palm oil plantation deforestation

Some of the most devastating costs of the biofuel revolution are on display in Indonesia, where massive clearing of tropical forests for oil palm plantations has caused staggering environmental damage and tremendous loss of biodiversity. Only the Amazon and Africa’s Congo basin harbor more tropical forests than Indonesia, but the reality today is that all three regions are seeing their rain forests disappear at an alarming rate. And in the Amazon and Indonesia, growing world demand for food and biofuel is now driving much of the damage.

A flurry of scientific field work and environmental reports have linked the spread of oil palm plantations in Indonesia to the decimation of rain forests, increased conflict between logging and oil palm interests and rural and indigenous people, and massive CO2 emissions through logging, burning, and the draining of carbon-rich peat lands. And most of the trouble, as I learned on a recent visit, is playing out in the Indonesian lowland rain forests on Sumatra and Borneo, an ecosystem long regarded as a global hotspot for rare and endemic species — but perhaps not for much longer.

Over the past three years, researchers with the Zoological Society of London have searched exhaustively for tigers, clouded leopards, and other rare mammals on oil palm plantations in Sumatra. They have turned up next to nothing. “Most endangered species were never detected,” they wrote in a report last year. Initially, they found hope along the edges of plantations where, against all odds, some tigers — which have roamed the rain forest for millennia — managed to survive. But even as their studies were underway, much of that land was also cleared, often illegally by settlers.

deforestation and climate change

“If developed responsibly, oil palm should be able to provide economic growth and development without turning some of the earth’s most important tropical ecosystems into ecological deserts,” the researchers noted in the report. But they added: “This is a big `if.’ Achieving responsible development is a major challenge.”

Roughly the size of California, Sumatra is the sixth largest island in the world. But it is home to fewer than 400 Sumatran tigers, down from around 1,000 in the 1980s. Historical population figures are sketchy. But the big cat is believed to have lost 80 percent of its natural habitat over the past century, reducing the tigers to scattered groups in increasingly beleaguered forest oases.

“The tiger is going to go extinct if we don’t do something,” a wildlife biologist named Sunarto told me in Pekanbaru, the steamy capital of Sumatra’s Riau province, a center of oil palm planting.

For his part, Sunarto is working to persuade oil palm managers to leave strategic corridors of forest around plantations untouched so the endangered big cats do not become genetically isolated. But it’s a struggle.

Not long ago, he journeyed to a research site only to find the area cleared and burned to make way for an oil palm plantation. “The trees are gone,” said Sunarto, who is working on a Ph.D. through Virginia Polytechnic Institute. “The animals are gone. There are many places like that.”

According to Indonesia’s own figures, 9.4 million acres of forest have been planted with oil palm since 1996, an area larger than New Hampshire and Connecticut combined. That works out to 2,000 acres a day, or about one football field a minute. Indonesia is the Kuwait of palm oil. Only Malaysia, which has less at stake biologically, produces more.

“This isn’t mowing your lawn or putting up a factory on the outskirts of town,” said Stephen Brend, a zoologist and field conservationist with the London-based Orangutan Foundation. “It’s changing everything as far as the eye can see.”

Like tigers, orangutans — which are found only in Sumatra and Borneo — are also being nudged into increasingly isolated population units by rain forest destruction. Their numbers are dropping, too. But because there are more of them — between 45,000 and 69,000 in Borneo and 7,300 in Sumatra — extinction is not an imminent threat.

palm oil and orangutans
“They are still going to be in the wild, but in fragmented populations that can never meet,” Brend told me one evening. “And if it’s reduced to that, we’ve just lost everything. It’s not only the orangutans. It’s what you lose alongside them — the birds, insects, pollinators, all the environmental services that forests give, as well as a thing of beauty.”

Indonesia has long been known for its heavy-handed logging and plantation clearing. Rain forests fall faster in Indonesia, in fact, than almost anywhere else on earth. But Riaz Saehu, a spokesman for the Indonesia Embassy in Washington, D.C., told me that under the country’s new president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who took power in October 2004, the era of widespread clearing for oil palm may be coming to a close.

“There is an effort to reduce plantation expansion,” Saehu said. “What we do now is basically to promote sustainability.”

Many scientists are skeptical. “After 23 years there, I must say they can talk the talk but never walk the walk,” Lisa Curran, director of Yale University’s Tropical Resources Institute, told me in an e-mail. “The richest folks in Indonesia are owners of these oil palm plantations, so the corruption and patronage are linked to the very top of the food chain and power structures.”

In 2006, Curran was awarded a so-called MacArthur genius award for her work on deforestation in Indonesia. “Oil palm is a disaster all the way around for biodiversity if converted from logged forest or peat swamp,” she said. “Oil palm is fine if they actually put it on totally degraded lands – but they don’t.”

Even if new planting were stopped tomorrow, it would be too late for the Kubu people I met in Sumatra, whose once-rich rain forest pantry has been stripped bare by an oil palm plantation. “I have lost my garden,” a Kubu woman named Anna told me. “I cannot grow the rubber, bananas, chilies, and other things I need to feed my family.”

A plantation oil palm tree grew in her front yard. Not long ago, Anna said, plantation workers even bulldozed Kubu homes to plant oil palm.

“We tried to stop them,” she said. “We started crying. But the man said, ‘Keep quiet or I’ll take you to the police.’”

In Jakarta, I told Art Klassen, regional director of the Tropical Forest Foundation — a science-based U.S. non-profit — about what I heard from the Kubu villagers. He did not seem surprised.

Indigenous land claims “are not enshrined in any legal framework,” he said. Oil palm, he continued, “occupies the land totally and squeezes out local populations. They become marginalized. They become slave workers for the oil palm industry basically. There is no other economic opportunity for them. That’s it. End of story.”

But it’s not just tribal people and wildlife that are displaced by oil palm. So, too, is the very atmospheric gas now at the center of the global warming debate: carbon dioxide. All forests release CO2 when logged. But Indonesia’s jungles and carbon-rich, peaty soils hemorrhage the stuff. Last year, a World Bank report put the loss from deforestation at 2.6 billion tons a year, making the impoverished southeast Asian island nation the third largest source of CO2 on Earth, behind China and the United States.

The week I visited Sumatra, Greenpeace activists aboard the Rainbow Warrior were blockading a shipment of palm oil off its coast. A banner tied to the ship’s mast read: “Palm Oil Kills Forests and Climate.”

Perhaps the right kind of biofuels can help slow carbon emissions. But scientists say that by rushing into biofuel production in recent years, we failed to look ahead. What would make the best biofuel? Switchgrass? Soybeans? Sunflower seeds? Algae? That’s open to debate, but one thing is certain: Raw materials for biofuels should not be grown on plantations hacked out of tropical forests that are home to the richest concentrations of plant, insect, bird, and animal species on the planet. 

Source: http://e360.yale.edu/feature/the_cost_of_the_biofuel_boom_destroying_indonesias_forests/2112/

reforestation and climate change solution

Sacred Seedlings is a global initiative to support forest conservation, reforestation, urban forestry, sustainable agriculture and wildlife conservation. Sustainable land management and land use are critical to the survival of entire ecosystems. Sacred Seedlings is a U.S.-based program that supports the vision of local stakeholders. We have projects ready across Africa. We seek additional projects elsewhere around the world. We also seek volunteers, sponsors and donors of cash and in-kind support. Write to Gary Chandler for more information gary@crossbow1.com