Palm oil plantations displace more than orangutans

Note: Due to copyright reasons we were unable to reprint this article in full, but we were given permission to publish an excerpt from the full article titled “Palm Abhor” printed on Saturday 1st April 2017 in the Saturday Paper which can be read in its entirety at: Below is the introduction and an excerpt from the article.

The Western focus on saving the endangered Borneo orang-utan from palm oil plantations overlooks the industry’s effect on indigenous communities and the climate change impact of the loss of peat forests. By James Norman.

[excerpt].“Many conservation organisations make this momentum ‘conservation business’ where they try to present an orang-utan rescue program,” he [Arie Rompas] says, “but it is not concerned with the destruction of the forest itself.”

Rompas points out that the palm oil plantations have led to further problems for his people. Because the peatland forests are made up primarily of organic matter slowly decaying in the waterlogged environment, once this water is drained and the land cleared it becomes highly susceptible to forest fires that can burn for months.

He says that in 2015 forest fires lit by plantation farmers caused massive smoke hazes over his homeland. “This caused a very broad catastrophe where forest fires and haze have threatened millions of people living in Sumatra and Kalimantan.”

A report from Harvard and Columbia universities stated that these fires had resulted in a “killer haze” that caused more than 100,000 premature deaths and the loss of 2.3 million hectares of peat forests in Indonesia. These fires occurred mainly in Sumatra and Borneo, with monsoon winds blowing the haze over Singapore and Malaysia.

Rompas says many indigenous people are wrongly punished for causing these fires, and are forced into open fields for agricultural activities where they operate in fear. “It ultimately threatens their security of food supply,” he says.

Cam Walker, head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth Australia, tells The Saturday Paper that in the context of widespread and well-documented systemic problems surrounding the palm oil industry in Indonesia, Steve Ciobo’s assertions that Australia will seek to keep trade exports open and rely only on sustainable farmers are “ridiculous”.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 1, 2017 as “Palm abhor”. Subscribe here 

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