Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Why Palm Oil Isn’t the Enemy

If you watched last night’s premiere of “Years of Living Dangerously,” the new Showtime series about the impacts of climate change, you likely found yourself thinking palm oil’s pretty bad stuff.

Oil palm fruit in Malaysia. Palm oil may be found in half the products on an average supermarket shelf. (© Benjamin Drummond)

As CI vice chair Harrison Ford flew over scorched patches of former forest being planted with palm oil and visited orphaned orangutans in Indonesia, it’s hard not to have a visceral reaction to this devastation.
So you may be surprised to hear an environmentalist say that palm oil itself isn’t the enemy — it’s where and how it’s grown that we ne
ed to change.

As far as edible oils go, palm oil is actually quite good. For starters, the oil palm tree, which is the source of palm oil, is highly productive. Oil palm yields 4–10 times more oil per hectare than other oilseed crops, including soybean and canola.

Put another way, this means more oil produced on less land. In fact, palm oil represents about 38% of the world’s supply of edible oil, but it’s grown on only 5% of the land dedicated to oilseed crops globally. With international demand for edible oils growing steadily, more oil from less land is a good thing.
Odds are you consume palm oil every day — you just don’t know it. In Asia, where the vast majority of palm oil is produced and consumed, it is a common cooking oil. Here in the U.S., it’s estimated that palm oil or ingredients derived from it are used in half of the products on the average supermarket shelf.

So yes, it’s in your cookies, your baked goods, your margarines, your lipsticks and skin lotions, your shampoo and toothpaste and a wide range of other packaged foods and personal care products. In part, that’s because palm oil is a highly versatile product that lends itself well to food products and processing, and is naturally free of trans fats. That’s good.

It’s also valuable. Palm oil generates tens of billions of dollars in revenue for producing countries, and is estimated to employ more than 6 million people globally. That’s good, too.

Man harvests oil palm fruit near Malaysia’s Pasoh Forest Reserve. (© Benjamin Drummond)

So, is it all good news? Definitely not.
Deforestation, draining and planting palm on peat lands, land disputes with rural communities — all of these have been major consequences of the global palm oil boom. Many problems stem from the fact that too much oil palm has been planted at the expense of tropical forest.

These forests are a critical source of food, medicines and other materials; they are vital to regulating weather patterns and buffering local communities from storms and floods, and are home to many of the world’s most unique and threatened species (including orangutans). Forests also play a critical role in maintaining healthy watersheds and river systems that are essential for communities and downstream agriculture.
And loss of forests doesn’t just impact local communities. Deforestation is one of the leading sources of greenhouse gas emissions that are driving climate change.

So now what? Do you have to walk away from your cookies and doughnuts? Do I think Indonesia, the world’s largest producer of palm oil, should stop planting oil palm? No.
Palm oil and deforestation do not have to go hand in hand. In fact, there are massive efforts underway to break this cycle and put the palm oil sector on a path to sustainability.
For example, I sit on the board of governors of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).  This is a network of hundreds of organizations with interests in the global palm oil supply chain, from oil palm growers to consumer goods manufacturers to NGOs including CI.

The RSPO has developed a set of sustainability standards for the industry, and in just six years, the group has certified 16% of global production. In addition, several major producers are voluntarily exceeding these standards, and the Indonesian government has developed a national standard with the Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) initiative.

Here’s more good news: Indonesia and other palm oil-producing countries can produce more without cutting down additional forests. The World Resources Institute estimated there may be 14 million hectares (more than 34.6 million acres — an area about twice the size of Ireland) of previously cleared or “degraded” land in Indonesian Borneo alone that could potentially be suitable for palm oil. Compared to the roughly 9 million hectares (22.2 million acres) currently covered by oil palm in Indonesia, that’s room for a lot of growth without clearing more forest.

Mature palm oil plantation in Borneo. (© David Gilbert/RAN) 

There are also opportunities to significantly increase productivity on existing palm plantations. Indonesia’s smallholder producers represent approximately 40% of palm oil cultivation, but their yields per hectare are half the Indonesia national average.

Efforts like CI’s Sustainable Landscapes Partnership in North Sumatra are working to help growers increase productivity on existing lands while simultaneously working with local government and communities to protect critical forests in the production landscape.

Is the palm oil industry sustainable? Not yet, but it’s heading in the right direction.
Indonesia has a critical opportunity to build a better industry while protecting its remaining forests. The government has some good initiatives and policies in place, but they need better and stronger enforcement.
As a consumer, you too have a voice — and you should use it. If your favorite product contains palm oil, contact the manufacturer and ask them to use certified sustainable palm oil from suppliers that have made a clear commitment to halt deforestation. If the manufacturer already uses sustainable palm oil, ask them to indicate this on product packaging to help consumers make the best choice to protect the environment.
The RSPO Shopping Guide lists products that carry the RSPO logo. You can also check here to find out if a company is a member of the RSPO and see what actions they are taking to improve the sustainability of their supply chains.

There are good things happening in the palm oil sector, and consumers should support those leading the charge.

John Buchanan is senior director of sustainable food and agriculture markets in CI’s Center for Environmental Leadership in Business. He is also on the board of governors of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. Learn more about CI’s efforts to make the palm oil industry more sustainable in this fact sheet (PDF–556 KB)

Original story posted at: http://blog.conservation.org/2014/04/why-palm-oil-isnt-the-enemy/

Monday, January 13, 2014

Palm Oil Company fined Millions as Indonesian Court delivers historic ruling against illegal destruction of Tripa Peat Swamp Forests.

Indonesian courts have found palm oil company PT Kallista Alam guilty of illegally burning forests within peat swamps. The ruling is a huge milestone for those working to protect native wildlife within the peat swaps, and Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s palm oil team is excited for this legal precedent to be set. Read the full story below. 

January 9th, 2014
[Banda Aceh / Indonesia] Setting a landmark new precedent, Indonesian courts yesterday found palm oil company PT Kallista Alam guilty of illegally burning forests within the Tripa Peat Swamps, part of the  protected Leuser Ecosystem, resulting in a fine of 114 billion Rupiah, approximately 9 million US dollars.  
“This is a clear message to companies working in Aceh who think they can destroy protected forests and get away with it” said Muhammad Nur, Chairman of WALHI Aceh (Friends of the Earth Indonesia).
According to Senior Judge, Rahmawati SH, PT Kallista Alam was found in breach of National Law No 32/2009 on Environmental Protection and Management, for illegal use of fire to clear forests, and ordered to pay Rupiah 114.3 billion (approx. USD 9.5 million) as compensation and Rupiah 251.7 billion (almost 21 USD million) for restoration of the affected forests.
Kamaruddin, a lawyer working with communities in the Tripa region reiterated, “This decision should serve as a wake up call to any company thinking of investing within the Leuser Ecosystem, a National Strategic Area, that they could suffer the same fate as PT Kallista Alam. It should also be a reminder to others who deliberately burn forests or allow forest burning within their concessions, regardless of whether or not they are working inside the Ecosystem’s boundaries, that they could also be prosecuted. The Judge’s decision in this case clearly illustrates a move towards improved law enforcement against environmental offenders in the region.” He added.
The company, PT Kallista Alam, first came to international attention in August 2011, when former Governor of Aceh Province, Irwandi Yusuf, issued a new 1,605 ha oil palm concession permit within the legally protected Leuser Ecosystem, an area renowned for hosting the highest densities of orangutans found anywhere on earth, sparking an international outcry.
Subsequently, over 1.5 million people signed online petitions calling for greater protection of Aceh’s Forests, currently under enormous threat due to a controversial new spatial planning law issued by Aceh’s Parliament on December 27th. These petitions are further supported by some of the world’s leading scientists and conservation experts, who have written to Aceh’s present Governor, Zaini Abdullah, urging him to nominate the Leuser Ecosystem as a World Heritage Site, due to its unique and irreplaceable biodiversity. The Leuser Ecosystem is the only place on earth where tigers, elephants, rhinos and orangutans can be found living together in the wild and was listed by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) as one of the ‘World’s Most Irreplaceable Protected Areas’ in an article in the journal Science, in November 2013.
Dr Ian Singleton, Director of the Sumatran Orangutran Conservation Programme, highlighted the critical importance of the area. “Tripa is one of only 3 remaining peat swamp forests left containing orangutans in Sumatra and its impossible to overstate the importance of protecting every last hectare of each of them. Orangutan densities can reach as high as 8 per square kilometer in these areas, compared to an average of around only 1 or 2 per square kilometer in dryland forests. These peat swamps have justifiably been referred to as the ‘orangutan capital of the world’. The Leuser Ecosystem too, offers the only real hope of survival for Sumatra’s other key iconic megafauna, the Sumatran tiger, rhino and elephant, as well as its orangutans. Yesterday’s ruling is of course extremely welcome, but the level of interest in Tripa and the Leuser Ecosystem worldwide shows clearly just how seriously concerned the international community is right now about  the fate of these forests and their globally important biodiversity”, he emphasised.
“The Leuser Ecosystem provides countless locally and globally important environmental services too”, explained Graham Usher, Landscape Protection Specialist with the Swiss based PanEco Foundation. “For Aceh alone these have been valued in excess of 400 million dollars per year, and the region’s contribution to mitigating climate change, through its carbon sequestration function probably stretches into billions of dollars. It is very encouraging that companies and decision makers destroying these services in Indonesia are finally being held accountable for the economic damage their illegal activities cause, and all credit is due to the Ministry of the Environment for their efforts in prosecuting this case. The court’s decision is indeed a huge victory, and represents one significant step in the right direction. But I think many more such steps are needed before we will really see a change in the behaviour of companies and officials.” added Usher.
“Aceh’s Parliament is right now pushing a new spatial land use plan which they recently legalised with a new Provincial Government Regulation, known locally as the Qanun RTRW Aceh”. Explained Muhammad Nur. “The Qanun completely ignores the protected status of the Leuser Ecosystem, simply so they can open up large areas of protected forests for road building, mining, palm oil and timber concessions. This will, in effect, end Aceh’s chances for long-term sustainable development, as it will cause further destruction of critical watersheds, leading to ever more frequent flash floods, landslides, and other environmental disasters. The companies lobbying for this new plan, and the Aceh Government themselves, should be held accountable for all the damage that will ensue. We hope yesterday’s result will serve as a strong warning that if you destroy our forests, we are not afraid to fight back” he stressed. “We thank the judge for delivering a just and fair verdict in this case, and all the people around the world who have been calling for enforcement of National Laws protecting the Leuser Ecosystem. This will be a long battle, but it is one we simply cannot afford to lose, no matter what the cost.” He concluded.
Yesterday’s groundbreaking verdict is the result of just one of several civil and criminal prosecutions underway against PT Kallista Alam and four other oil palm companies with concessions in Tripa, namely  PT. Surya Panen Subur II, PT. Dua Perkasa Lestari, PT. Gelora Sawita Makmur and PT. Cemerlang Abadi. Each faces the possibility of serious financial consequences as a result of their illegal clearance, burning and drainage of Tripa’s unique peat swamp ecosystem. Some of the company Directors and senior management also face the prospect of prison terms in cases against them for their actions on the ground.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Traveling to Indonesia: Part Two

We are now well rested and caught up from being gone for over two weeks, but we wanted to share a few highlights from the rest of our November Indonesia trip.

Dina planting a tree at OIC.

Our first stop during this portion of the trip was near Besitang.  We visited an area that once was clear cut for palm oil trees and has since been reclaimed for reforestation. The reforestation site has changed greatly since we last saw it two years ago; it has been mostly left alone to grow, and the trees are getting tall!  Due to the success of this site, reforestation efforts have now grown and moved to nearby areas. The project is run by an organization called OIC (Orangutan Information Centre).  OIC staff has reported seeing elephants and orangutans using the reforested area, which is a true sign of success for this project.

Tracey planting a tree at OIC.

We were lucky that the timing of our visit to the reforestation site allowed us to see drone technology being used to help monitor deforestation. Researchers are programming drones (Styrofoam airplanes that are about four feet long) with GPS, grid routes, and cameras built in to map and monitor forest areas. They are also using the drones to count orangutan nests (to gather population data) and check for forest encroachment, deforestation and fires. We were able to watch drones take off and talk with the researchers involved with the drone project, which was very educational.  Learn more about conservation drones at: http://conservationdrones.org/our-story/.

Drone plane about to take off.

Our next destination was Bukit Lawang. There we saw five wild Sumatran orangutans – two mothers, two older offspring and one baby. The most exciting sighting was spotting a mother, – who we’ve been able to observe on two previous trips to Sumatra. Her daughter, Catherine, was also with her. This area –Bukit Lawang –is very important because it is the most successful ecotourism area involving the Gunung Leuser National Park.  Unfortunately there has been encroachment in many other areas of the park, but there has been almost no encroachment of the original park boundaries near Bukit Lawang.  This is most likely because the local people have economic incentive to keep the forest and ecosystem intact.


The highlight of our trip to Indonesia, and our next stop, was a visit to an orangutan reintroduction site in Jantho, north Aceh which was established by SOCP (Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme).  Many of the orangutans that are released at Jantho had lost their homes due to deforestation and non-sustainable palm oil production.  After spending time in a quarantine and rehabilitation center the healthy orangutans are released at sites like Jantho.  The project’s base camp was in a very remote area, so it was about a 1.5 hour 4-wheel drive adventure just getting there.  On a forest hike at the release site, we saw two juvenile orangutans very high up in a tree and were glad to see that they had no interest in coming down to see us.  This was living proof that they are thriving and are not reliant on humans.  We also saw a variety of other wildlife around camp such as wild pigs, long-tailed macaques, a family of four white-handed gibbons, fruit bats and hornbills flying overhead, and Sumatran tiger tracks! 

Sumatran tiger footprint in Jantho.

Upon returning to Medan, Indonesia, we were able to tour the location where a really exciting conservation project will be created in the next several years: Orangutan Haven.  Not only will it provide a more natural home for non-releasable orangutans, but it will also be a wonderful place for Indonesians to make a connection with these critically endangered great apes and hopefully inspire them to take action to save them.  To learn more, visit http://www.earth4orangutans.com/e4o/index.htm.

On the last day of our trip we met with a sustainability specialist from a palm oil company that is very involved with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). We talked about the reforestation and sustainability practices of the large company he works for, and the logistics of being on an RSPO task force.  We hope to get more involved in the RSPO by joining a working group or task force.

Harvesting fruit bunches.

During our journey we accomplished several of our goals – voting at the RSPO General Assembly which included a very important resolution on requiring palm oil growers to map their plantations boundaries. This resolution, which was passed, is very important because it keeps RSPO grower members accountable for activities that happen on their land and ensures they are not expanding beyond their property boundaries. (i.e. National forest).  We were able to discuss important sustainability topics with other Zoos and environmental conservation organizations as well as representatives from the palm oil industry from various points along the supply chain. We visited reforestation sites, saw wild orangutans and furthered our knowledge of certified and non-certified palm oil plantations. Upon returning to Colorado, we are continuing our mission to inform Zoo guests about the importance of supporting RSPO plantations, companies and manufacturers by purchasing their products. To download the sustainable palm oil Smartphone application, or to learn more about the palm oil crisis, visit www.cmzoo.org/palmoil