March 23, 2010
Proving that the issues surrounding oil palm and deforestation are nothing if not complex: Facebook protestors say they will boycott Nestle if it doesn't cut out all links to Sinar Mas, a company that Greenpeace has linked to deforestation, whereas the Indonesia Palm Oil Growers Association are preparing a boycott if Nestle stops buying from Sinar Mas, according to the Jakarta Globe.
Oil palm plantation near Gunung Leuser National Park on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
Adding fuel to fire, Antara News reports that Indonesian and Malaysian palm oil producers are threatening to stop exports of crude palm oil to the US and the EU if negative campaigns over their environmental practices continue. Palm oil, the world's most productive oil seed, has come to be used in everything from food products to cosmetics.
Nestle has already promised it will stop purchasing from Sinar Mas due to a report from Greenpeace showing that the Indonesian company was involved in destruction of rainforests and peatlands for oil palm plantations. However, Nestle still buys indirectly from Sinar Mas, since one of its suppliers, Cargill, buys from the Indonesian company.
Greenpeace and thousands of online protestors are demanding that Nestle sever all ties with Sinar Mas, direct or indirect. The company has responded that it will purchase only sustainable palm oil by 2015—a comment that angered most.
Oil palm seed. Palm oil is used widely in processed foods. By virtue of its high yield, palm oil is a cheaper substitute than other vegetable oils. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.
At the crux of the conflict is the importance of the world's rainforests for mitigating climate change and preserving biodiversity. Indonesia is the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world due largely to deforestation. Between 1990 and 2005, Indonesia lost more than 28 million hectares of forest, including 21.7 hectares of virgin forest. The country's forest cover has declined from 82 percent in the 1960s to less than fifty percent today.
One of the world's most biodiverse countries, many of Indonesia's species are gravely threatened by deforestation, including both the Bornean and Sumatran orangutans; Asian elephants; Sumatran tigers; Javan and Sumatran rhinos; several species of tarsiers; the small wild cattle, anoa; and the proboscis monkey to name a few.
In all, Indonesia is home to over 30,000 recorded species of plants and over 3,000 mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. Yet, the deputy assistant of biodiversity conservation at the State Environment Ministry, Utami Andayani, recently told the Jakarta Post that likely only half of Indonesia's species are known to science.
For more information on the protest: Video: Nestle's attempt to censor Greenpeace palm oil ad backfires.
For a commentary on the possible ramifications of the protest:A new world?: Social media protest against Nestle may have longstanding ramifications.
A new world?: Social media protest against Nestle may have longstanding ramifications
(03/20/2010) The online protest over Nestle's use of palm oil linked to deforestation in Indonesia continues unabated over the weekend. One only needed to check-in on the Nestle's Facebook fan page to see that anger and frustration over the company's palm oil sourcing policies, as well as its attempts to censor a Greenpeace video (and comments online), has sparked a social media protest that is noteworthy for its vehemence, its length, and its bringing to light the issue of palm oil and deforestation to a broader public.
Video: Nestle's attempt to censor Greenpeace palm oil ad backfires
(03/19/2010) In a bold online video, the environmental group Greenpeace cleverly links candy-giant Nestle to oil palm-related deforestation and the deaths of orangutans. Cleary angered over the video, Nestle struck back by having it banned from YouTube and replaced with this statement: "This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Société des Produits Nestlé S.A." However Nestle's reaction to the video only spread it far and wide (see the ad below): social network sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit were all flooded with the ad as well as rising criticism against Nestle—one of the world's largest food producers—including calls for boycotts. BBC documentary leads Unilever to blacklist Indonesian palm oil company
(02/24/2010) Unilever has told Indonesian suppliers to stop sourcing palm oil from Duta Palma due to concerns over deforestation, reports Reuters.
Commodity trade and urbanization, rather than rural poverty, drive deforestation
(02/07/2010) Deforestation is increasingly correlated to urban population growth and trade rather than rural poverty, suggesting that measures proposed to reduce deforestation will be ineffective if they fail to address demand for commodities produced on forest lands, argues a new paper published in Nature GeoScience.
EU: rainforests can be converted to palm oil plantations for biofuel production
(02/04/2010) The European Union may be planning to classify oil palm plantations as forests, raising fears among environmental groups of expanded conversion of tropical rainforests for biofuel production, reports the EUobserver, which cites a leaked document from the European Commission. The draft document shows that policymakers are considering language that would specifically allow use of biofuels produced via conversion of rainforests to oil palm plantations.
Half of Indonesia's species remain unknown
(02/02/2010) Incorporating 17,000 tropical islands, Indonesia is one of the world's richest areas of biodiversity. However, according to the Jakarta Post, over half of this biodiversity remains unrecorded with only 20 of the more than 400 regencies in the country recording species.
Cheerios maker linked to rainforest destruction
(01/19/2010) An activist group linked General Mills to destruction of rainforests in Southeast Asia in dramatic fashion on Tuesday, when it unfurled a giant banner, reading "Warning: General Mills Destroys Rainforests", outside the company's Minneapolis headquarters building.
Orangutans vs palm oil in Malaysia: setting the record straight
(01/16/2010) The Malaysian palm oil industry has been broadly accused of contributing to the dramatic decline in orangutan populations in Sabah, a state in northern Borneo, over the past 30 years. The industry has staunchly denied these charges and responded with marketing campaigns claiming the opposite: that oil palm plantations can support and nourish the great red apes. The issue came to a head last October at the Orangutan Colloquium held in Kota Kinabalu. There, confronted by orangutan biologists, the palm oil industry pledged to support restoring forest corridors along rivers in order to help facilitate movement of orangutans between remaining forest reserves across seas of oil palm plantations. Attending NGOs agreed that they would need to work with industry to find a balance that would allow the ongoing survival of orangutans in the wild. Nevertheless the conference was still marked by much of the same rhetoric that has characterized most of these meetings — chief palm oil industry officials again made dubious claims about the environmental stewardship of the industry. However this time there was at least acknowledgment that palm oil needs to play an active role in conservation.
Company seeks to log forest reserve for palm oil in Uganda
(01/15/2010) A company in Uganda is pressuring the environment ministry to allow it to log a protected forest reserve to establish a palm oil plantation, reports The New Vision.
India becomes largest buyer of palm oil
(01/14/2010) India surpassed China as the world's largest buyer of palm oil in 2009, reports Bloomberg.
Consumers should help pay the bill for 'greener' palm oil
(01/12/2010) Palm oil is one of the world's most traded and versatile agricultural commodities. It can be used as edible vegetable oil, industrial lubricant, raw material in cosmetic and skincare products and feedstock for biofuel production. Growing global demand for palm oil and the ensuing cropland expansion has been blamed for a wide range of environmental ills, including tropical deforestation, peatland degradation, biodiversity loss and CO2 emissions. In response to these concerns, a group of stakeholders—including activists, investors, producers and retailers—formed the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to develop a certification scheme for palm oil produced through environmentally- and socially-responsible ways. It is widely anticipated that the creation of a premium market for RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) would incentivize palm oil producers to improve their management practices.
Indonesia to plant and restore vast area of forest to reach emissions target
(01/07/2010) Indonesia will rehabilitate degraded forests and plant millions of hectares of new forests to meet its target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 26 percent from projected levels by 2020, reports Reuters.
Unilever suspends palm oil contract after supplier found to be destroying rainforests
(12/12/2009) The world's largest user of palm oil, Unilever, has suspended its $32.6 million contract with the Indonesian group Sinar Mas after an independent audit proved that Sinar Mas is involved in the destruction of rainforest, reports Reuters. The audit was conducted early this year after a report by Greenpeace alleged that Sinar Mas was engaged in deforestation and the draining of peatlands, both of which release significant amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Deforestation across Indonesia and Malaysia, in part for oil palm plantations, has also added pressure on many many endangered species, including orangutans, tigers, elephants, and rhinos.
Indonesia could double oil palm plantation area
(12/02/2009) Indonesia has 18 million hectares of land suitable for oil palm cultivation, nearly twice the 9.7 million hectares that have already been allocated for plantations, said Agriculture Minister Suswono said at the opening of the 5th Indonesian Palm Oil Conference in Bali.
Oil palm workers still below poverty line, despite Minister's statements
(11/19/2009) On October 19th, Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Tan Sri Bernard Dompok told parliament that oil palm harvesters and rubber tappers are living above Malaysia's national poverty line, according to a story in the Malaysian Insider. But now representatives of the workers are saying Dompok lied.
"Responsible" palm oil producers pledge not to develop endangered Sumatra rainforest
(11/13/2009) Members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an initiative developing criteria to improve the environmental performance of palm oil, agreed to declare the Bukit Tigapuluh Ecosystem in Sumatra a 'high conservation value area'. The decision, voted on by RSPO General Assembly members at the group's annual meeting earlier this month in Kuala Lumpur, effectively bans oil palm development of the endangered forest ecosystem by RSPO members.
Palm oil developers push into Indonesia's last frontier: Papua
(11/10/2009) Oil palm developers in the Indonesian half of New Guinea are signing questionable deals that exploit local communities and put important forest ecosystems at risk, alleges a new report from Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Telapak.
40% of lowland forests in Sumatra and Indonesian Borneo cleared in 15 years
(11/10/2009) Forty percent of lowland forests in Sumatra and Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) were cleared from 1990 to 2005, reports a new high resolution assessment of land cover change in Indonesia.