Palm Oil Industry Threatens Indonesian Biodiversity

palm oil plantationThe Leuser Ecosystem in Indonesia is one of the most biodiverse ecosystems. The 6.5 million acres of tropical lowland rainforests stores vast amounts of carbon in its peatlands and forests. It is under threat despite being protected by Indonesian law.

One of those threats is the palm oil industry, as a recent Rainforest Action Network (RAN) report details. Conflict palm oil in particular is a threat. Conflict palm oil refers to palm oil produced through destruction of rainforests and peatlands and the violation of human rights, which includes the use of forced labor and child labor. Conflict palm oil can’t be traced back to its origin, and is increasing inside the Leuser Ecosystem.

Three companies are cited in the report as the biggest buyers of palm oil in the Aceh region of Indonesia where the Leuser Ecosystem is located. They are Musim Mas Group, Wilmar International and Golden Agri-Resources. As the report states, they “have a crucial role to play in securing the protection of the Leuser Ecosystem.”

The report finds evidence connecting a refinery owned by the Musim Mas Group and the Indonesian government’s state-owned palm oil plantation company, PT Perkebunan Nusantara (PTPN) III, to a mill that processes palm oil fruit grown in the Leuser Ecosystem. Musim Mas Group is a large company that has plantations and factories and ships palm oil around the world.

“The Leuser Ecosystem is one of the world’s most richly biodiverse landscapes, and millions of people depend on it for their food, water and livelihoods. But the fate of this crown jewel of Indonesia’s natural legacy – home to tigers, orangutans, rhinos, elephants and sun bears – depends on urgent choices made right now,” said Gemma Tillack,  agribusiness campaign director with Rainforest Action Network.

There’s a growing demand globally for palm oil and that drives the destruction of the Leuser Ecosystem. Palm oil is in a myriad of products such as cookies, ice cream, shampoo, lipstick and pet food. Most of the world’s palm oil supply comes Indonesia and Malaysia. “The Leuser Ecosystem is now an epicenter of palm oil plantation expansion and combined with unchecked mining, logging, industrial pulp plantations and poaching in the region, this vital ecosystem is facing a perfect storm of destruction,” the report states.

Consumer good manufacturing companies that buy palm oil are at risk of purchasing conflict palm oil grown in the Leuser Ecosystem. The report lists what it terms Snack Food 20 companies which have combined sales of $432 annually. These are the companies who have not adopted and implemented responsible palm oil procurement policies. The list includes PepsiCo, Kraft Foods Group, The H.J. Heinz Company, The Campbell Soup Company, Hillshire Brands, Grupo Bimbo, Nissin Foods and Toyo Suisan Kaisha Ltd.

The report recommends that palm oil growers ensure that they palm oil they produce meets responsible production requirements. The report also recommends that companies that buy palm oil need to source it from third party suppliers verified as compliant with responsible palm oil requirements.

Image credit: Angela Sevin

Gina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

10 responses

  1. In April 2005 at the UNESCO ‘Committing Universities to Sustainable Development Conference’ in Graz, Austria, I called for the development of an ‘Oxygen Credits System’. In that presentation I also stated that Carbon Credits are a permission slip for polluters to keep polluting; that developing nations have a right to develop; and that calling for forests to be maintained whilst refusing to replace that income potential, was naive.

    The continued stripping away of the lungs of the planet is based first and foremost on income needs for the countries reaping that resource. An Oxygen Credits System would have richer nations and high polluting nations pay an ongoing levy so that forest rich nations did not have to cut them down in order to make an income. Simply put we can’t prevent forests from being harvested if we do not first put in place a way for those nations to earn the income they’d otherwise get.

    If we want to keep the planet’s lungs healthy (so that we all benefit) we must pay to do so. If not, the disasters that befall us due to palm oil plantations stuffing food product manufacturers’ desire for cheap (and nasty) ingredients, will continue.

    http://www.lufg.com.au

  2. we still need palm oil for our lives. we believe that we have developed oil palm is still in the natural carrying capacity of our country. Why only our own that are required to maintain our forests into the lungs of the world, while you, the people of Europe and the developed industrialized countries still produce other greenhouse gases? You people of Europe and the advanced industrial countries today can enjoy economic progress and enjoyable life because you have first destroy biodiversity in your country.

  3. we still need palm oil for our lives. we believe that we have developed oil palm is still in the natural carrying capacity of our country. Why only our own that are required to maintain our forests into the lungs of the world, while you, the people of Europe and the developed industrialized countries still produce other greenhouse gases? You people of Europe and the advanced industrial countries today can enjoy economic progress and enjoyable life because you have first destroy biodiversity in your country.

  4. Europe accused the plantations and the palm oil industry in Indonesia endanger biodiversity? Did you know that oil palm plantations is far more efficient in the use of land? For the same volume of oil products, palm oil need only one-eighth to one-tenth of the land area compared to the area of land required by the soybean, canola, sunflower, and others. Thus, palm oil is much more efficient than other vegetable oils.

    So what is the real issue? Is it really about the environment or are there other interests behind these environmental issues? Maybe there is the issue of commercial interests that are hidden under these environmental issues.

    Because in fact, soybean oil, canola flower, sunflower far more greedy than oil palm land. And other vegetable oils are less efficient than palm oil. Is it because of competition from palm oil that you use environmental issues, health, and human rights to protect the vegetable oil industry in Europe and the US?

  5. Indonesia recognizes the importance of addressing the global challenge of climate change on the basis of the universally recognized principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities.” Today Indonesia’s deforestation rate is about 1.5 million acres annually, down from 2.7 million acres in the 1990s. Furthermore, Indonesia’s 2011 moratorium on new forest concessions protects 155 million acres from deforestation. This is an area larger than California and Florida combined.

    Palm oil is an important industry in Indonesia, employing some four million people. Your call for its elimination is callous and misguided. Indonesia doesn’t see growth and sustainability as an either-or proposition. With proper policies, Indonesia can and will deliver both.

  6. Smear campaigns and non-tariff trade barriers are ruthless political tools in the world’s lucrative vegetable oils trade. Indonesia Government must to be more effective in tackling smear campaigns and barriers to palm oil trade in free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations with developed nations.

  7. The bigger the palm oil industry becomes, the easier it is a target for smear campaigns by rivals via political means.

    This is evident as Malaysia and Indonesia capture more market share in the vegetable oils trade, faster than rivals in Europe and North America. Palm oil planters in Indonesia have had to endure false allegations of massive deforestation and land grabbing as well as lies about orangutan killings hurled by green activists.

    This article and report by RAN become warning for Indonesia and Malaysia palm oil industries if trade barriers under the guise of environmental protection continues looming.

    Indonesia dan Malaysia palm oil planters must be more discerning. Otherwise, we would have an unacceptable situation where developed countries offer US$1 with enviroment argument in one hand and deny us US$100 in business opportunities with the other.

  8. Smear campaigns and non-tariff trade barriers are ruthless political tools in the world’s lucrative vegetable oils trade. Indonesia Government must to be more effective in tackling smear campaigns and barriers to palm oil trade in free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations with developed nations.

  9. Estates in Indonesia dan Malaysia plant oil palm, rubber and cocoa trees to produce cooking oil, margarine, rubber gloves and cocoa butter for global trade. This is part of the same early-stage growth pattern adopted by every major developed economy in the world, from North America to Europe.
    Now, the very same people who have already achieved developed status cite fear that Asia’s development will cause ecological degradation. Now, The EU and their NGO slave argues against rainforest conversion for oil palm and rubber tree planting.
    In curbing oil palm expansion, European lawmakers and their sponsored green activists allege that the clearing of rainforest harms biodiversity and emits carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, worsening global climate change.
    Many people believe World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and Wetlands International are protectors of the world’s forests. In fact, these NGO are not more than green slave who always under command by EU economic interest.
    Are they bringing their own governments to justice for clear-cutting temperate forests? Are they lobbying for reforestation in their own countries? Are these activists completely altruistic and selfless in their devotion to the world’s forest, wildlife and indigenous people?

    A book titled “PandaLeaks: The Dark Side of the WWF”, written by Wilfried Huismann, which tells of hypocrisy and shady deals done behind the green façade.

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