CALLS TO ACTION
Eastern Indonesia’s protected forests are among the latest to be targeted to satisfy a global obsession with palm oil.
Now the forests of Papua are being felled to feed the world’s dependency on palm oil.
AS THE MOST IN-DEMAND VEGETABLE oil, palm oil drives deforestation around the world. Globally, plantations total more than 27 million hectares, an area the size of New Zealand. For years, Indonesia has been the largest exporter, an di tis now turning its attention to the province of Papua, home to about a third of Indonesia’s intact forests. Papua is the country’s largest and easternmost province, home to many rich tribal cultures. But around 4,000 hectares of rainforest were cleared in the PT Megakarya Jaya (PT MJR) concession in Boven Digoel between May 2015 and April 2017, according to a Greenpeace investigation released this April. PT MJR is a subsidiary of the Yemeni-owned Hayel Saeed Anam Group (HSA), which sells palm oil to household names like Mars, Pepsico, Unilever and Nestle. Some of this documented forest clearing was in peatland areas that were zoned for protection by t he government in response to a major forest fire in 2015. A Presidential Regulation of December 2016 extended a 2011 moratorium on forestry concessions, preventing clearance even on concessions already issued. Until recently, Papua has been spared the rapid deforestation seen in the iconic forests of Borneo and Sumatra. From 2011 to 2017 however, 382,272 hectares of land in Papua and West Papua provinces were lost to palm oil. “Papua is home to some of the planet’s last remaining intact rainforest landscapes,” said Bagus Kusuma, Senior Forest Campaigner at Greenpeace Indonesia. “Our investigation documented the clearing of a forest area almost half the size of Paris, by a palm oil company, HSA, which sells to the world’ s biggest consumer brands.” Extracted from the reddish pulp of palm oil fruit, the oil is prevalent in makeup products, soaps, detergents, snacks, cereals and much more. Its ubiquity stems from the trees’ year-round harvest period and their ability to produce, on average, 10 tonnes of fruit per hectare: making it a much more space-efficient source of oil than alternatives like soya, rapeseed and sunflower. According to the European Palm Oil Alliance, global consumption rose from 14.6m tonnes in 1995 to 61.1m tonnes in 2015, with China, India, Indonesia and the EU the biggest consumers. Apart from Indonesia, palm oil cultivation is seen in other tropical countries in Southeast Asia, South America and Africa. Much of it is problematic: threatening indigenous animals and communities, and causing the release of carbon dioxide and methane when the trees are felled and burnt, contributing to climate change. There are voices within the industry advocating for change. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil( RS PO ), evaluates consumer brands’ use of palm oil against principals such as ‘environmental responsibility and conservation of natural resources and biodiversity’ and ‘commitment to transparency’. Since the Greenpeace report, Rspo-certified end users including Unilever, Mars, Nestle and Pepsico have voiced their opposition to HSA’S membership of the body. Unilever – who has disclosed the location of its more than 1,400 palm oil mills since February – has cut ties with the Yemeni group “until the allegations have been satisfactorily addressed by them”. Mars and Pepsico say they’re looking into the situation, while Nestle has simply stated that it’s against deforestation, according to an article in The Telegraph newspaper back in April. None
of these companies could be reached for further comment before publication date. Despite its efforts, RS PO still needs to strengthen its rules and commitments to be more relevant, said Greenpeace’s Kusuma. “Greenpeace has repeatedly found RSPO members destroying forests for palm oil. The RSPO’S standards are too weak, and its response to members who violate them is so slow and ineffectual, that HSA is not alone in getting away with deforestation while remaining an RSPO member.” The Indonesian Government is also defending their palm oil industry, lobbying the EU Parliament into extending its 2021 deadline to phase out palm oil used in biofuels until 2030. The EU is the second-biggest market for Indonesia’s palm oil, much of which of it used for biofuel. “The EU has given itself 12 years to phase out this destructive fuel, which is totally unacceptable,” said Nils Hermann Ranum, head of the policy and campaign department at t he Rainforest Foundation Norway. He pointed out that the extension is long enough to see the destruction of much of the remaining Indonesian forests. Steering away from palm oil is not easy. Opting for public transport or driving a greener car may reduce biofuel use. Otherwise, avoid heavily processed foods and scan labels for lists of ingredients. This is complicated by palm oil being disguised under something like 200 different chemical names–seewww. palm oil investigations. org for a list – and even under general terms such as vegetable oil or vegetable fat, both of which can be predominantly palm oil. – Jackie Kwok