THERE'S A HUMAN IN MY FOREST
Sustainable palm oil has been a hot topic since the launch of the 2018 advert by Iceland and Greenpeace (the one quickly banned from TV for being ‘too political’)! Like many others, I was moved by the devastating advert and inspired to find out more about how my choices as a consumer affected the lives of people and animals half a world away.
Though the palm oil tree originated in Africa, palm oil plantations now carpet Indonesia - reported to cover an estimated 146,776 sq. km – an area bigger than England! (2019)
Palm oil is Indonesia’s most lucrative export, one which has helped to lift millions out of poverty.
However, with foreign sales ballooning over the past 20 years, even industry leaders are sounding the alarm. In a 2019 interview, Tiur Rumondang, Indonesia’s Director of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) told CNN’s Ivan Watson that she is calling for stricter governmental enforcements, stating the industry has got so big it’s “now out of our control [leading to] unnecessary land clearing”. She spoke of the need to focus on sustainable and responsible agricultural practices, such as smallholding.
Large international companies and corporate greed lead to unlawful fires, lit for quick and easy land clearing. These rage out of control, leading to mass destruction, habitat loss and danger to the human population too, with smog reaching as far as neighbouring Singapore and Malaysia. An estimated 1 million people have suffered respiratory problems as a direct effect of these fires. What’s more, they’re not just burning the forest, they’re destroying the peatlands beneath - the world’s largest natural carbon sink – leading to disastrous consequences for the world in years to come.
Kalimantan is the Indonesian portion of the island of Borneo. It comprises 73% of the island's area. Here, many of the plantations are on the once virgin rainforest, which was home to a number of magnificent, and now endangered species. The known inhabitants include pygmy elephants, clouded leopards, sun bears, mouse deer, flying fox bats, pangolins, and most famous of all, the Bornean orangutan. These are the helpless victims of the palm oil crisis.
So, what can we do to help?
Boycotting palm oil isn’t the answer – and as it’s in nearly 50% of packaged products, from chocolate to soap, and sweets to gravy granules, it’s pretty hard to do. Palm oil is actually the most productive vegetable oil around. It comes from the fruits that grow on oil Palm trees and they can produce more oil per square metre than sunflower, rapeseed or soy. If we boycott Palm oil and switch to other oils, more land would be needed to produce it, meaning more forests could come under threat.
Industry-wide change is what’s needed! Growing Palm oil without further destruction is possible, and there are growers working this way. But, until leading brands stop working with suppliers and traders linked to deforestation, nothing will change. The largest trader in question is Wilmar – who still work with the worst forest destroyers. By publicly exposing brands, through campaigns, online, in the media and by direct communication, it will send a message to the entire industry – stop destroying forests to grow palm oil.
When shopping, look for RSPO certified products. To find out how your favourite brands fare, search WWF Palm Oil Buyer Scorecard online.
The above images show my niece and nephew - Lucy (5) and Henry (3) - who, inspired by the advert and the book ‘There’s a Rang-tan in my Bedroom’, wrote to sweet giant Swizzles, questioning their palm oil supply chain. © Danielle Daggett.