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.
Bukit Tigapuluh Ecosystem has been under threat by Asia Pulp & Paper’s plans to log its forests for timber. The logged areas would be converted for industrial timber and oil palm plantations.
Conservationists have decried the plans, warning that the destruction of the unprotected forest areas near Bukit Tigapuluh National Park would endanger threatened species like the Sumatran elephant and the Sumatran tiger as well as undermine an orangutan reintroduction project that has returned more than 100 critically endangered orangutans to the wild. The region is also home to three forest-dependent indigenous tribes: the Talang Mamak, the Melayu Tua and the Kubu/Orang Rimba.
Sumatran orangutan in North Sumatra. Photo taken by Rhett A. Butler.
While the move will bar development of oil palm plantations in Bukit Tigapuluh by RSPO members, it does not mean the area will not be logged by Asia Pulp & Paper. Further non-RSPO companies would still be free to establish oil palm plantations in the area.
Separately the RSPO announced record attendance at this year’s conference in Kuala Lumpur. 811 people from a range of organizations — including palm oil producers and marketers, palm oil buyers, scientists, NGOs, and government agencies — attended the meeting, up from 550 last year.