Mass production of palm oil: the real cause behind the destruction of Indonesian forests

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Margarine, soap, chocolate, sweets, chips, shampoo, mascara … palm oil is present in countless products that we consume every day. Favored by industry for its low cost (cheap agricultural labour, cheap land) and its chemical properties, this product is causing massive deforestation in Indonesia.

An area of forest equivalent to the size of a football field  disappears every 15 seconds and up to now almost half of Indonesia’s forests have been destroyed to palm trees for oil.

Such industrial practices deprive many animals of their natural habitat and accelerate the disappearance of endangered species such as orangutans. Indonesia ranks fifth as far as biodiversity of species is concerned (12% of mammals, 16% reptiles and amphibians and 17% of birds).

But also 33% of insects, 24% of species of fungi, and 10% of species of the higher plants species. Behind Malaysia and the United States, Indonesia is the third most affected by the loss of biodiversity with 772 species threatened. In comes first, however, with regards to lost species if only mammals are counted, with 147 endangered species.

These industrial practices certainly contribute significantly to climate change. In a few decades, deforestation has made Indonesia the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind China and the United States.

The disaster is not only local. Indonesia’s forests represent about 10% of all tropical forests, covering more than 105 million hectares. According to the European Community, in the 30 years priori to 2001 Indonesia had lost more than 40 million hectares of forests, the equivalent of Germany and the Netherlands combined. While the current rate of deforestation is 2.5 million hectares per year (25.000 km2, almost the size of Belgium), the alarming thing is that this rate is accelerating year by year. Forecasts predict a doubling of global demand for palm oil in 2030 when compared that in the year 2000, and a tripling by 2050.

The sudden increase in the use of palm oil has led to the destruction of Indonesia’s tropical forests to create plantations of palm oil monocultures. Studies in Indonesia have shown that between 80% and 100 species of wildlife in tropical forests cannot survive in this habitat.

Indonesia is now the largest palm oil producer and accounts for 40% of world production of edible oils. What can we do to fight this ecological disaster? One answer is to ensure that palm oil is not present in the products we buy.  This is also a healthy rule to follow as palm oil is not good for us.

RACHEL

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