Palm oil firms urged to adopt sustainable practices
The Jakarta Post, 9 September 2008 -- Benget Besalicto Tnb.
Blamed for pushing orangutans out of their habitat, palm oil companies are being urged to help conserve the endangered species in Kalimantan.
Lone Droscher-Nielsen, the founder and project manager of Nyaru Menteng Rescue Center in Nyaru Menteng, Central Kalimantan, said more and more orangutans had left their habitat due to damage resulting mostly from forest conversions to industrial timber estates and palm oil plantations.
Most of the orangutans at the rescue center, located some 30 km south of the Central Kalimantan capital Palangka Raya were saved from palm oil plantations in the province, Lone said.
Central Kalimantan is home to some 32,000 orangutans -- more than half of the world's total orangutan population (61,234), she said.
At the world's largest orangutan rescue center, Lone said, there were about 1,000 orangutan in rehabilitation. Many were ready to be released back to forests, but the center had yet to locate suitable and safe forests for them.
In fact, the problem did not only relate to palm oil plantations but to how they do business, Lone said. "If they ran their agricultural businesses sustainably, there would be no problem," she said, noting that most plantation companies did not adhere to sustainable principles in their work.
Sanjay Upasena, sustainability director of Agro Indomas (a subsidiary of palm oil company Agro Group) said all members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) were required to comply with sustainability principles.
"Since becoming a member of the RSPO last year, our company has been in compliance with sustainability principles. It is obligatory for us," he said.
The RSPO defines sustainable palm oil production as an integration of legal compliance and economic viability, as well as environmentally sustainable and socially responsible management and operations.
In keeping with the sustainable practices, Lone said, palm oil plantations should be grown in degraded forests -- but never in primary forests, as this would endanger the environment, including orangutan habitat.
The development of palm oil plantations caused forests to be fragmented, leaving orangutans trapped in limited areas with food shortages, she said.
Lone suggested palm oil companies develop buffer zones around their plantations to accommodate orangutans and develop forest corridors to connect fragmented forests and allow orangutans to roam freely among plantations.
"If they have the will, it is not difficult for this to be done," she said on the sidelines of a workshop held here mid August on implementing the Forestry Ministry's action plan for orangutan conservation.
Edi Suhardi, the corporate social responsibility (CSR) manager of Agro Group, said not all palm oil plantations were to blame for the degradation of orangutan habitat.
"Agro Group has a policy of only growing oil palms in degraded forests. We never develop plantations in primary forests. Also the government, as far as I know, has never approved plantation concessions in primary forests."
But Lone said there were still different definitions of degraded forests.
"We have different definitions of degraded forests. They say that is degraded forest. But for us, it is still quality forest that can support orangutans. All, including the government, need to adopt the same position on this so that the orangutans can be saved," she said.
Orangutan Foundation International (OFI) chairperson Birute Mary Galdikas said palm oil companies should be made responsible for clearing forests.
"They must be made to contribute financially to the conservation of the orangutans, because they have cleared forests (and destroyed orangutan habitat) for their plantations," she said.