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Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

There's No Time To Waste In Protecting Indonesia's Leuser Ecosystem


The Leuser Ecosystem in Indonesia’s Aceh province is 6.5 million acres of tropical lowland rainforests, mountains and peatlands. It has at least 105 mammal species, 382 bird species, and 95 reptile and amphibian species. There are Sumatran orangutans, elephants, tigers, rhinos and sun bears.

It’s also a place where palm oil is sourced, and the palm oil industry is having devastating effects in the area. A new report by Rainforest Action Network (RAN) tracks the progress of protecting the Leuser Ecosystem. The verdict is that there is failure to protect it as rainforests are continually razed, peatlands drained, and conflicts persist between companies and communities while the legal protections for the Leuser Ecosystem are under threat.

“The Leuser Ecosystem –– a vast, dynamic, beautiful landscape –– is like nowhere else on Earth,” Emma Lierley, forests communications manager at RAN, told Triple Pundit. “It's lowland rainforests and peatlands are the last place on Earth that can support, together in the wild, viable populations of rare species like Sumatran tigers, orangutans, rhinos, elephants and sun bears. Quite literally, if we lose the Leuser Ecosystem, we lose many of these unique species.”

The report highlights the progress of what RAN calls the “Big Three Buyers” (Wilmar International, Musim Mas Group and Golden Agri Resources) of palm oil in the region. They are the three biggest buyers of palm oil on the planet and supply what RAN dubs the Snack Food 20: the 20 largest players in the palm oil industry. Two years ago, RAN launched its Snack Food 20 campaign, and this summer released a report on their progress.
“These corporations, many of whom Rainforest Action Network pressures through our Snack Food 20 campaign, use palm oil to make everything from chips, cookies, chocolate bars, ice cream, instant noodles and ready-to-eat or frozen meals, to lipstick, shampoo, toothpaste, laundry detergent and more,” Lierley said. “Found in over half of all packaged goods in a local supermarket, the blind growth in demand for palm oil has recklessly pushed massive, industrial-scale plantations deeper and deeper into the heart of Indonesia’s rainforests, including the vital Leuser Ecosystem.”
Many companies have been making commitments to sourcing sustainable palm oil, including some of the Snack Food 20. The report on the Snack Food 20 found that some of the 20 companies are front-runners while others are laggards. However, there are no true leaders among the 20 companies. RAN recommends that the Snack Food 20 companies ensure they don’t source conflict palm oil or contribute to destroying the Leuser Ecosystem. Other recommendations include:

  • Rapidly implementing a global responsible palm oil procurement policy.

  • Only purchasing palm oil from suppliers that can demonstrate they are not at risk of sourcing conflict palm oil, namely within the Leuser Ecosystem.

  • Working with their suppliers to eliminate any palm oil growers that contribute to destroying rainforests and peatlands within the Leuser Ecosystem.
RAN also has recommendations for the Big Three Buyers, including:

  • Driving the transformation of the palm oil sector in the Aceh province by providing incentives for their suppliers to comply with a higher standard for responsible palm oil production and severing ties with any that fail to stop the destruction of rainforests and peatlands or continue to violate the rights of local communities and workers.

  • Ensuring that all of their suppliers fully respect the rights of communities when it comes to palm oil development on lands where they.

  • Investing in long-term programs to help smallholders comply with their policies.

There is no time to waste for the Leuser Ecosystem is “at a tenuous crossroads,” Lierley said. Its rainforests and peatlands are “disappearing before our eyes," she added. And what is driving the destruction in the Leuser Ecosystem is the “skyrocketing global demand for palm oil." Companies need to put the RAN recommendations into place as soon as possible to save this irreplaceable piece of earth.

Photo: Flickr/gbohne

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshotGina-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.

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