project news

Stop deforestation for palm oil

News item submitted by Holly Alsop
News item dated 7 Feb 2011


2011 has been declared the Year of the Forest by the United Nations in an effort to increase awareness of sustainable management and conservation of the world’s remaining forests. Unfortunately, deforestation is still a major problem and a huge threat to forest wildlife.

Currently, Indonesia has the fastest rate of deforestation in the world which contributes significantly to greenhouse gases. The reason for deforestation in this part of the world is a result of corrupt political and economic systems that see natural resources as an extremely lucrative business opportunity. And they’re not wrong. The resulting product of deforestation is palm oil and you will find it in almost every product on a supermarket shelf.

The Indonesian forest provides the economy with palm oil but it also provides a luscious and profitable habitat for some of the world’s most unusual wildlife. Deep in these tropical forests live the tiniest of tarsiers, exotic komodo dragons and the ever-flamboyant birds of paradise. Look high up in the trees and the world’s most colourful ape, the orangutan can be found. Unfortunately for orangutans, their forest homes are continually diminishing as a result of deforestation.

The central Kalimantan province of Borneo is home to approximately 45, 000 orangutans who are constantly under pressure from the palm oil industry. The industry has impacted greatly on the number of wild orangutans whose populations have seen decreases of 50% over the last 20 years. Consequently, this has resulted in their inclusion on the IUCN’s red list of endangered species. 

In recent reports, Indonesia admitted that 891 out of 967 plantations and mine companies operate illegally in the central Kalimantan province. Deforestation in this region is run by a ‘forest mafia’ made up of forest miners, planters and officials and are all financed by the Indonesian Military.

Often labelled as vegetable oil, palm oil is most commonly found in biscuits, chocolate and packaged food. Head into the bathroom and palm oil will also be found in shampoos, soap and moisturisers. Palm oil however is also labelled as sodium stearate, sodium palmate or sodium lauryl sulphate, which for environmentally conscious consumers may prove misleading. Whilst the need for palm oil is unlikely to decrease, large corporations and conservation groups have recently raised awareness of the industry and its issues. In Australia, two supermarket chains agreed to ensure that products stocked on their shelves would be correctly labelled by 2015 whilst another supermarket signed an agreement stating that palm oil products would be sourced from sustainable plantations in a bid to decrease the mounting pressure on orangutan habitats.

As a result, consumers will have the option to purchase products free from palm oil with hopes that this will decrease its demands. However, awareness is high in Australia with a strong public backing for the need to conserve Indonesia’s wildlife. With enough publicity, global pressure on the Indonesian government could well see tighter restrictions imposed on logging and an increase in sustainable farming practices.

At Frontier, we are heavily involved with capacity building and the development of sustainable farming in many regions worldwide. These projects seek to ensure the protection of the world’s remaining forests and endangered habitats. You can help protect vulnerable forests and wildlife by joining us on one of our forest projects in Madagascar, Costa Rica or Cambodia, or contribute to the development of sustainable farming on our Community Development project in Indonesia.