Palm oil plantations are taking over the ancient rainforests!

Indonesia is home to some of the most rich and biodiverse rainforest in the world. These amazing rainforests are home to over 80 species and some of the world’s most unique and endangered wildlife such as the orangutan, elephant and tiger , But these animals are in serious danger. Every hour 300 football fields of precious remaining forest is being chopped and burned to the ground across South East Asia to make way for palm oil plantations. Palm oil is used processed foods, cosmetics like soap, shampoo, packaged food and cleaners – It is found in over half all packaged items on our supermarket shelves. In the last 20 years, over 3.5 million hectares of Indonesian and Malaysian forest have been destroyed to make way for palm oil. Almost 80% of orangutan habitat has disappeared in the last 20 years.

  • We are losing over 6,000 orangutans a year.
  • There are now only 400 Sumatran tigers left in the world.
  • We must stop this devastation in its tracks.
  • Take action today before it’s too late.
  • Indigenous peoples are also bribed by the corporations to hand over their land in return for roads or schools, which they never receive and they loose their homes

What is Palm Oil ?

Around 50 million tons of palm oil is required to be produced every year to meet the rising global demand. Palm oil is derived from the palm fruit that grow on the African oil palm tree. It is an edible vegetable oil. Apart from the fact that land and forests are cleared on a large scale -300 football fields every ten minutes! -for oil palm plantations, there are a lot other important issues linked to this industry such as indigenous human rights abuse, habitat loss, deforestation and climate change. Orangutan and other wildlife are killed, kept as pets and other problems due to illegal logging for the tropical timber trade.

Research shows that if it goes on uninterrupted, species like orangutan could become extinct within the next five to ten years. Another endangered species, the Sumatran tiger is also in danger of becoming extinct in the world within less than three years’ time, there are only 400 left in the world! Palm Oil is used in household products including, confectionery, baked goods, cosmetics, shampoo, washing detergent, cleaning agents and toothpaste. Around 50 million tons of palm oil is required to be produced every year to meet the rising global demand.

Impact on the environment

Biodiversity and ecosystems in the countries where palm oil is produced are greatly affected by this unsustainable development. So much so that due to the rapid encroachment on the wildlife habitat has resulted in one in three mammal species in Indonesia being critically endangered. The massive deforestation drives in Borneo and Sumatra for the purpose of palm oil plantations is affecting the orangutans the most that is on the verge of becoming extinct. According to UN authorities, it is “a conservation emergency” because over the last twenty years, more than 90% habitats of orangutans have been destroyed. Orangutans being a keystone species plays very important role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem in the region.

The existence of this species is vital for the ecosystem. To cite one example, there are certain rainforest seeds that can germinate only after they pass through the gut of an orangutan. According to an estimate, 1000-5000 orangutans are killed every year for this development. The situation in which orangutans are today represents the plight of several other species facing the same problems in South-East Asia. Today, Indonesia has become the third highest greenhouse gas emitter in the world. Invaluable timber and remaining forest undergrowth is set of fire and burnt down in order to clear native forests. The activity causes smoke emission in immense quantities into the atmosphere. Thus, the deforestation required for palm oil production is a huge contributor to climate change.

How it effects wildlife

Many of the over 300,000 different animals found in the Borneo and Sumatra jungles have been killed, injured or displaced during the deforestation process for palm oil plantations. The deforestation drive has also enabled poachers and wild life smugglers to have access to these animals who rampantly kill or capture them to be sold as pets or sell them to be used for medicinal purposes or kill them for their body parts. Therefore, it’s not just a conservation emergency as claimed by the UN. The massive destruction of Borneo and Sumatra rainforests is also a major wildlife welfare crisis. Such is the gravity of the atrocities that animals like orangutans are attacked with machetes, buried alive, gunned down or killed with other weaponry. According to official government figures, over 50,000 orangutans have been mercilessly killed during the deforestation process for palm oil plantations over last twenty years.

Most of the animals killed are killed during the deforestation process but they are also killed after the process is over because they have no other option but to enter the nearby villages or existing palm oil plantations in search of food. Poachers kill mother orangutans and the babies then are sold or kept as pets or taken to countries like Thailand or Bali where they are used to entertain people in wildlife tourism parks. Orangutans however are not the only species affected by the deforestation. Sumatran Rhinoceros, Sumatran Tiger, Pygmy, Sun Bear, Proboscis Monkey, and Clouded Leopard are some of the other animals killed for this development. The accessibility of these areas to poachers is greatly increased due to the road networks constructed to allow equipment and palm oil plantation workers access to forests. Poachers had to previously trek several miles to find these kinds of valuable animals. They can now comfortably drive using the roads and easily kill many of the animals.

Effects on people

This development of clearing forests and establishing oil palm plantations is often touted as a way of bringing development and prosperity to the rural, poor regions of Sumatra and Borneo. The reality however is very different. The industry often has a devastating effect on the people living in these areas. The governments of these countries are mainly interested in the economy of their country so the corporations are allowed to take the land of indigenous peoples for their own financial benefits. In some remote areas of Malaysia and Indonesia, the palm oil industry is also linked to major human rights violations like child labour. Scores of children work on the palm oil plantations.

They spend hours bending over fruit from the plantation floor every day. They are also made to weed fields and carry loads of heavy fruit. Moreover, they are paid very little no pay for their hard work. It is a damaging workplace for them because bruises and cuts from climbing thorny oil palms and heat exhaustions are common place. The local communities are forced to accept employment at oil plantation establishments as the rainforest land they depend on is systematically destroyed by the plantations. The locals are increasingly finding it difficult to sustain themselves because apart from being forced to work in poor and degrading working conditions, they are often paid barely enough to survive and support their families. They largely depend on the success of the palm oil industry for their income and survival. These villages are extremely vulnerable to the world market price of the palm oil. They themselves have no control whatsoever on the pricing mechanism.