Next big idea in forest conservation? Privatizing conservation management
(03/07/2014) Is it possible to equitably divide the planet’s resources between human and non-human societies? Can we ensure prosperity and rights both to people and to the ecosystems on which they rely? In the island archipelago of Indonesia, these questions become more pressing as the unique ecosystems of this global biodiversity hotspot continue to rapidly vanish in the wake of land conversion (mostly due to palm oil, poor forest management and corruption. For 22 years, Dr. Erik Meijaard has worked in Indonesia. Now, from his home office in the capitol city, Jakarta, he runs the terrestrial branch of an independent conservation consultancy, People and Nature Consulting International (PNCI).
Peatlands biosphere reserve facing severe encroachment in Sumatra
(03/06/2014) An important reserve that contains a block of fast-dwindling lowland swamp forest in Riau Province is facing an onslaught of encroachment for illegal oil palm plantations, worsening choking haze in the region, reports Mongabay-Indonesia.
Clash with palm oil company leaves one indigenous community member dead in Sumatra
(03/06/2014) A member of the Suku Anak Dalam indigenous community was killed and five others were injured during a clash with security forces on an oil palm concession owned by PT Asiatic Persada in Sumatra, reports Mongabay-Indonesia. The incident occurred Wednesday evening in Bungku, Jambi.
Dietary diversity: key to defending tropical ecosystems
(03/06/2014) A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of
Sciences (PNAS) points to the homogenization of global diets over the past
fifty years. It shows that worldwide production of traditional staples
such as millet, rye, sorghum, yams and cassava have been in decline.
Instead, the world's population increasingly relies on a relatively
small number of 'megacrops' like wheat, corn and soy, raising
serious concerns for global food security, human nutrition, and the
genetic diversity of crops.
Fast food companies are laggards on palm oil sourcing safeguards
(03/05/2014) Fast food companies are lagging behind other consumer products companies in efforts to establish policies that favor deforestation-free and conflict-free palm oil, finds a new assessment published by the Union of Concerned Scientists, an advocacy group. The report, titled 'Donuts, Deodorant, Deforestation: Scoring America's Top Brands on Their Palm Oil Commitments', looked at palm oil sourcing policies of 30 of the largest fast food, personal care, and packaged food corporations in the United States. It found leadership by a handful of firms.
Pakistan to launch palm oil industry with Malaysia's help
(03/05/2014) The government of Pakistan is in negotiations with the Federal Land Development Authority of Malaysia to establish industrial oil palm plantations in Sindh and Balochistan.
Greenpeace stunt targets Procter & Gamble’s Cincinnati headquarters over palm oil
(03/04/2014) Several Greenpeace activists were arrested after they scaled Procter & Gamble's headquarters in a demonstration against the company's use of palm oil linked to deforestation in Indonesia.
After GAR expands policy, over 50% of world's palm oil bound by zero deforestation commitments
(03/03/2014) Over half the world's palm oil traded internationally is now bound by zero deforestation commitments after Singapore-based Golden-Agri Resources (GAR) extended its forest conservation policy across all palm oil it produces, sources and trades. In a filing posted Friday Singapore Stock Exchange, GAR announced its breakthrough forest conservation policy now applies to all the palm oil it trades.
Can palm oil move past its bad reputation?
(03/02/2014) Indonesia’s palm oil industry has gained a notorious reputation in recent years. Palm oil companies are routinely accused of clearing primary forests, destroying the habitats of endangered species, releasing massive amounts of carbon by draining peat swamps and fueling land conflicts with local communities. In the face of this widespread criticism, some palm oil companies are exploring ways to clean up their operations by implementing innovative programs to minimize harm to the environment and ensure local communities benefit from palm oil investments, according to a new study.
NASA photo reveals ongoing haze problem in Sumatra
(03/01/2014) A new satellite image released by NASA highlights Indonesia's ongoing problem with haze caused by land-clearing fires set across carbon-dense peatlands on the island of Sumatra.
THE SOCIAL IMPACT OF OIL PALM IN BORNEO
For most of its history Borneo was scarcely populated by humans. The unforgiving climate and dense rainforest kept populations small and scattered. In the past half century this has all changed. The influx of more than half a million transmigrants into Borneo over the past thirty years has doubled the island's population and created tremendous demand for jobs. Initially the rubber and logging industries provided employment, but when this collapsed in the mid- (Malaysia) to late-1990s (Kalimantan), work opportunities dried up for most of the local population. Despite this, hundreds of new arrivals continued to show up in Borneo on a weekly basis.
Rising unemployment was a serious concern in Borneo in the late 1990s and early 2000s and ethnic conflict raged in parts of Kalimantan during this time. The sudden rise of the oil palm in the late 1990s and early 2000s was seen as a welcome opportunity for many residents and local governments. Observers are only now seeing the full-cost of rapid growth in the sector.
Beyond the obvious deforestation that results from clearing lowland rainforest for plantations (86 percent of deforestation in Malaysia from 1995-2000 was for oil palm plantations), there are other environmental impacts of oil palm cultivation. Several studies have found a significant reduction (on the order of 80 percent for plants and 80-90 percent for mammals, birds, and reptiles) in biological diversity following forest conversion to oil palm plantation. Further, many animals will not move through plantations while others, like orangutans, become crop pests putting them at risk of defensive poaching by plantation managers. The use of herbicides and pesticides can also impact species composition and pollute local waterways. Drainage systems required for plantations (oil palm plantations in Borneo are often established in swamp forest) may lower water tables, affecting neighboring forest areas. Further, destruction of peat lands increases the risk of flooding and fire. Land-clearing fires set by large oil palm plantation owners were the single largest cause of the massive 1997-1998 fires in Borneo.
For more see Why is oil palm replacing tropical rainforests?
The social impacts of oil palm plantations are just beginning to be understood, in a large part thanks to the work of Dr. Lisa Curran. While there is no doubt that oil palm plantations provide much needed employment opportunities in Borneo there are questions on the fairness of the existing system which appears to sometimes lock small plantation owners into conditions akin to slavery.
Given the scarcity of timber in parts of Borneo, much of its population has few economic options at present. Oil palm seems to be the best alternative for communities that are just eking a living off rubber cultivation, subsistence rice farming, and fruit gardens. When a large agricultural firm enters an area, some community members are often eager to become part of an oil palm plantation. Lacking legal title to their land, deals are often structured so that members of the community acquire 2-3 hectares (508 acres) of land for oil palm cultivation. They typically borrow some $3,000-6,000 (at 30 percent interest per year) from the parent firm for the seedlings, fertilizers, and other supplies. Because oil palm takes 3-4 years to bear fruit, they work as day laborers at $2.50 per day on mature plantations. In the meantime their plot generates no income but requires fertilizers and pesticides, which are purchased from the oil palm company. Once their plantation becomes productive, the average income for a 2 hectare allotment is $682-900 per month. In the past, rubber and wood generated $350-1000 month, according to Curran. The low level of income combined with large start-up costs and relatively high interest payments virtually ensures that small holders will be perpetually indebted to the oil palm company.
Curran said this debt, combined with almost total dependence on entities they barely trust, has a psychological impact on communities. Because there are no ways to contest actions by the company, conflicts invariably arise within communities, especially when a large part of the community (Dayaks often oppose oil palm schemes) has opposed the plantation. At times under-the-table means are used to sway a community. For example, a gift of a motorbike can win over influential community leaders. Once the oil palm firm gets the approval, it may negotiate on a one-on-one basis with each household, eliminating any sort of bargaining power of the greater community.
Surveys by Curran suggest that communities in West Kalimantan are deeply concerned about flooding after the establishment of oil palm plantations. They also worry about loss of forest resources and culture -- older community members don't always like the idea of women and children working on plantations. Oil palm cultivation also makes local people more dependent on agricultural firms since they no longer grow their own food. Finally, some communities have expressed dissatisfaction for working for Malaysians. They would rather be working independently, according to Curran. While they have a litany of complaints, few see other alternatives.
Meanwhile oil palm firms are making a fortune. By Curran's calculations, some firms in West Kalimantan are seeing a 26 percent annual internal rate of return over a 25-year period, an astounding number. Because of booming demand for biofuels, they have little downside risk.
"Firms are making a lot of money without a lot of accountability," said Curran, speaking at Stanford University in January 2007.
For more see Oil Palm
PICTURES OF OIL PALM IN BORNEO
Lisa Curran, personal communication
WWF Germany, Borneo: Treasure Island at Risk, June 2005 [pdf, 773 KB]