The International Union for the Conservation of Nature estimates the number of orangutans living in Borneo dropped by 60 percent between 1950 and 2010 alone.
This is because of the extensive land clearings that have taken place over the past 4 decades in Indonesia. Between 1989 and 2000 the area covered by oil palms in Indonesia more than tripled, and the country now has over 6 million hectares of oil palm plantations. There are more than 15 million hectares of oil palm plantations worldwide.
Much of this expansion has been at the expense of lowland rainforests – some of the most species-rich areas on earth.Think critically endangered populations of Sumatran orangutan, rhino, elephant and tiger.
Palm oil is a compound used as a foundation ingredient of just about every household product you can name, we in the privileged developed world are dangerously reliant on palm oil. Many people remain completely oblivious to the devastation it’s doing to the beautiful animals of Indonesia.
Facts about the Palm Oil industry
- Palm oil is now the world’s most widely consumed vegetable oil with current global production (62 million metric tonnes a year) set to double by 2020.
- Over 85% of it is produced in Indonesia and Malaysia. Here illegal deforestation to grow it is decimating vital rainforest ecosystems that act as the lungs of our planet, and driving wildlife species like orangutan, tiger, rhino and elephant towards extinction.
- Not only that but palm oil plantations can have a major impact on global greenhouse gas emissions, especially when they are established on land converted from peat swamp forests, which release huge amounts of carbon dioxide and methane when they are cleared.
The problem with Palm Oil
New Zealanders and Australians are generally singing from the same song-book when it comes to an urgent call for transparency around palm oil in products.
It’s clear, that both Australia and New Zealand want a win for wildlife and for the right to choose what’s in their food, and they expect ministers to vote in favour of consumers.
So far lobbying from the ‘Ask for Choice’ campaign with Auckland Zoo, Hamilton Zoo, Wellington Zoo, and Orana Wildlife Park and a parallel Australian zoos campaign has to date seen over 83,000 people sign online letters or printed postcards calling on their ministers to vote for mandatory labelling. Although so far….it’s a no go from the New Zealand and Australian governments, due to pressure by grocery unions. Even though in the UK and EU – this has been the law now for a couple of years.
The campaign also had strong support from public health and consumer interest organisations and independent polling shows 92% of New Zealanders and 84% of Australians support transparent labelling on products that contain palm oil.
While labelling of palm oil is already a legal requirement in Europe, the United States and Canada, in New Zealand and Australia it only has to be labelled generically as vegetable oil, making it impossible to identify.
The Answer? 1. Sustainable Palm Oil, 2. Clear labelling on products and 3. Public education in rural communities about Orangutan preservation.
It’s estimated that around 500 orangutans lose their lives every week due to the deforestation of their native habitat in Indonesia and Malaysia. And while some environmentalists call for boycotting the palm oil industry all together, this could actually be completely counter-productive for the cause.
Manufacturers in those countries will instead plant other vegetable oil crops. These other vegetables will require at least ten times as much field space for crops. Oil palms can produce up to ten times the yield of alternative vegetable oils, making them a highly efficient crop. If we need more land, that might actually lead to increased deforestation and species loss. If companies in Australia and elsewhere stop demanding sustainable palm oil, growers will simply replace it with a crop requiring even more devastation to these areas.
This drive to change needs to come from consumers demanding products with 100% certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO).
CSPO is certified using criteria established by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The regulatory body was developed to provide safeguards against deforestation, habitat loss and social conflict. The RSPO brings together palm oil growers, processors, manufacturers, retailers, NGOs and investors to transform the way that palm oil is produced, traded and consumed globally.
The RSPO standards are not perfect, but they are improving the sustainability of the palm oil industry. In 2014 around 16% of the world’s palm oil production is certified sustainable. If palm oil isn’t labelled, how do you know if a product contains CSPO? You have to go back to the manufacturer and ask them what they are doing about palm oil.
Labelling empowers consumers to make informed health based decisions and demand Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO), which certifies palm oil plantations to ensure they are deforestation-free.
Labelling is a powerful driver for positive change as subsequent to mandatory labelling coming into force in Europe in 2014, there was a 67% spike in the uptake of sustainable palm oil.
How you can make a positive contribution
Ok, so you’re a mere mortal who can’t dictate the power plays between NGOs and industrial complexes in the third world. Well you can also make a difference and feel good about your contribution!
I decided to sponsor a little orange girl of the forest. Katy is a 3 year old Orangutan who was orphaned and estranged from her mother in a village in Kalamantan in Borneo, where forests had been cleared to make way for palm oil plantations. A mother orangutan would never abandon her baby. Therefore, sadly it’s thought that her mum was captured and killed by poachers. Katy arrived at the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation’s Nyaru Menteng Centre after she was found wandering as a one year old, alone in a burned out forest. She was severely dehydrated and malnourished and suffered from an acute respiratory infection from the thick smoke covering the area.
Early on, Katy required daily intensive treatment from the Borneo Oranguatan Survival (BOS) team and after many weeks of love and care, Katy flourished and now plays with other babies in her group in a kind way. She made a remarkable transformation into a little orange ball of joy for the team and her playmates.
It gives me so much joy and satisfaction that I can help little Katy on her way. The team at Borneo Oranguatan Survival (BOS) work tirelessly and are busy changing the world. You can make a difference and provide some safety and security to one of these beautiful, gentle, human-like and adorable creatures of the forest and ensure that you are contributing to their conservation. It costed me $120 AUD (tax deductable) to adopt Katy for the year. Now my boyfriend is going to do the same. I recommend that all of you get out there and adopt one of these beautiful creatures.
Adopt a beautiful Orangutan today ($120 AU per year) and contribute to preserving a critically endangered species. You will receive regular updates about how he or she is doing, along with a certificate and magazine.