Every minute, a forested area the size of five football fields is cleared on the island of Sumatra, to make way for a new palm oil plantation. This oil can be found in about 50 percent of consumer goods including everything from snacks to lipstick and laundry detergent. Surprisingly, although this oil is incredibly destructive and pervasive, most consumers do not even know it exists.
While the convenience and versatility of palm oil are seen as extremely beneficial traits to the industries that use it, unfortunately, this is not the case for the animals that live on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra who are losing their home for the sake of its production.
Deforestation for palm oil has destroyed 90 percent of the habitat that Borneo and Sumatra’s endangered animal species rely on for survival. The orangutan species is predicted to go extinct within our lifetimes due to this destruction with the Sumatran tiger and elephants following closely behind. While this is all incredibly depressing to learn, there is hope that all might not be lost for the rainforests and animals of Borneo and Sumatra.
One village in Borneo has decided to turn the tide against this destructive crop. The people of Tanjung village, in Kuapas Hulu region of West Kalimantan, have decided to focus instead on diversifying their agricultural practices and moving toward their goal of becoming green and self-sufficient.
Dingo Markus, head of the village, explained, “Although our natural resources are abundant, we are, ironically, a poor village. We rely on our fields and trees. However, space is limited as the areas around our village are protected.” Traditional agricultural methods in the area have involved clearing away a section of the forest, using it to grow crops for a few years, then leaving it to lie fallow and cutting down another section of the forest. Dingo hopes to end this practice by improving the economic standing of the village, and helping the residents to become more self-sufficient.
He is now helping to lead community enterprises, in addition to establishing a new ecotourism industry as an alternative source of income.
In 2010, Tanjung was offered what appeared to be an easy – but environmentally devastating – way to generate wealth, when they were approached by a palm oil company who wished to clear the protected areas of the forest to make way for a palm oil plantation. “We are not sure where they were from,” Dingo said, “but fortunately, the majority of our citizens rejected their offer. Some people say that money flows in with the palm oil, but we don’t believe that. Instead, we considered the environmental impact, the loss of our forest, and the certain pollution of our river.”
Luckily, Tanjung was then approached by two environmental conservation groups – World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Indonesia, and the People Resources and Conservation Foundation (PRCF) – both of whom wanted to help the villagers in their efforts to protect the forest. With the help of these organizations, the village farmers received training in how to increase rubber yields without sacrificing an excessive amount of trees. They adopted organic farming methods and mastered a variety of high-yield management practices.
A further goal of the villagers was to gain official recognition of their right of ownership of their forests … and this was achieved in 2014, when Tanjung was granted sole management authority over 2,520 hectares!
The people’s decision to refuse the palm oil industry’s offer has paid off. Agricultural families in Tanjung now grow a variety of crops – including rubber, coffee, and chocolate – while the development of an ecotourism industry has been a further cause for optimism. Dingo credits this turnaround in Tanjung’s fortunes to the assistance of WWF Indonesia and PRCF, as well as the villagers’ ingenuity and willingness to learn. “It was like a breath of fresh air,” he said. “We realized that without the help of outside parties it would be difficult to solve the issues of Tanjung.”
Stories like these demonstrate that there is hope for the future of Indonesia’s rainforests, but we shouldn’t forget that our consumption habits here in the U.S. are driving the demand for palm oil. We can help to reduce the impact of this harmful ingredient by striving to avoid it at all costs.
To find out how to reduce or eliminate palm oil from your life, read some of the articles below.
- Why You Should Avoid Palm Oil, and How to Do It
- Put Down the Palm Oil: Planet-Friendly Alternatives For Your Home
- How to Wean Yourself Off Palm Oil
- Did You Know? These 8 Vegan Foods Contain Palm Oil
All image source: MongaBay.com