Orangutans or Palm Oil: Do We Have to Decide?

Currently, palm oil production and the success of orangutans both require the same resources and habitat to be successful. The issues that arise include limited space for both and the orangutans cannot speak for themselves.

“The oil, which is used for cooking and as a food additive, now accounts for about 30% of all vegetable oil used worldwide,” International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis reveals.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) works with global stakeholders throughout the palm oil supply chain to lead the way to more sustainable production of palm oil for people, the environment and wildlife. RSPO has created a certification process with enforcement (Certified Sustainable Palm Oil, CSPO). This effort provides hope for a solution.

“Unfortunately, the palm oil industry has caused extensive deforestation as sensitive rainforests are cut down or burned to make room for new oil palm plantations.” Demand for palm oil is massive, since it is used heavily in many of the everyday products in our local supermarkets like soaps, shampoos, snacks, and much more. In 20 years, the industry has expanded its resource collection from 6 to 16 million hectacres.

A Sumatran orangutan at   Bukit Lawang  , Indonesia.

A Sumatran orangutan at Bukit Lawang, Indonesia.

Palm oil plantations have not only taken over forests and habitat, but have pushed people out of their homes and moved communities. This is one of the ways that palm oil is considered unsustainable. “Some palm oil plantations were developed without consulting local communities over the use of their land,” Roundtable on sustainable palm oil revealed.

As individuals are removed, others are making a living. “In Indonesia and Malaysia, a total of 4.5 million people earn their living from palm oil production.” How can palm oil be produced in a fashion that individuals keep their jobs and others are not kicked off their properties.

Palm Oil Production in Jukwa Village 

Palm Oil Production in Jukwa Village 

Dr. Marc Ancrenaz, co-director of the Kinabatangan Orangutan Conservation Project in Sabah Malaysia, shares, “this downgrade in status (of the orangutan to critically endangered) is an urgent call to reconcile people and wildlife and to reinvent ways for people and orangutans to share the same environment.”  

If we look at this issue on an even larger scale, the deforestation that goes into palm oil production is contributing immensely to climate change. With all the palm oil plantations in this location, Indonesia is a large contributor of greenhouse gas emissions.

Fortunately, Indonesia may not be the only place that production can occur. “A growing group of producers are working to protect these areas where palm oil is harvested, and the animals that live there” and researchers have created a global map for areas that are suitable for palm oil production.

Palm Oil Plantation in Indonesia 

Palm Oil Plantation in Indonesia 

Researchers on the issue discovered, “1.37 billion hectares of land globally are suitable for oil palm cultivation, in Africa, Central and South America, and Asia.” From that number, they eliminated areas that are already being used for farming or protected by law. They discovered 19.3 million hectares are available for future production. But can it be done fast enough and in a sustainable manner? How can adjustments be made to make this land reliable and accessible? Can these changes be done in a manner that does not threaten other species, habitat and communities of people? These forests are a hike from current production plants, but might be more eco-friendly and would certainly help slow the orangutan decline.

At this rate of forest destruction in Indonesia, orangutans and other animals will lose their homes and ability to survive. If companies cut palm oil and use other supplies in their products, even more land would require clearing since “palm trees produce 4-10 times more oil than other crops per unit of cultivated land”.

The IOI group, a palm oil trader in Malaysia, has been suspended from its certification. According to The Examiner article, some major corporations have subsequently “cut ties with the controversial palm oil trader,” (IOI). These companies include  Dunkin’ Donuts, Unilever, Nestlé, Mars and General Mills. Dunkin’ has already followed through with their pledge to use an alternative agreement. In 2014, Krispy Kreme made a pledge to move to deforestation from palm oil by the end of 2016. Will Krispy Kreme meet its pledge this year?

With awareness and compromise, the palm oil industry may adjust their methods of mass production and migrate to other areas that might be more sustainable. It might not be an issue of removing palm oil from products, but making a pledge to only source palm oil from sustainable plantations that do not take the quality of life from communities, orangutans and forests.





Photo Credits: 

A Sumatran orangutan at Bukit Lawang, Indonesia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_and_environmental_impact_of_palm_oil

Palm Oil Plantation in Indonesia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palm_oil

Palm Oil Production in Jukwa Village: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Palm_oil_production_in_Jukwa_Village,_Ghana-03.jpg

Madison VerroneComment