By IZILWANE–Voices for Biodiversity on August 12, 2013
Your family carefully sorts your trash and composts table scraps weekly and tries really hard to remember to bring cloth or canvas bags to the grocery store. Some of us drive hybrid cars and support wind power, while others ride a bike to work because they want to reduce their carbon footprint.
We do all of this because we want our children and grandchildren to live on a healthy planet. Going through these inconveniences makes us confident that we are doing all the right things and proud of the message we’re sending our kids. That could be the reason for millions of Americans to feel confused and angry when we feel the full impact of global warming and rising sea levels in the next few years.
Those of us who have had the luxury of time and who have been paying attention have done everything we can to stall the steady rise of earth’s temperature, but many of us remain unaware that we all support one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases. President Obama said that climate change is one of the greatest threats facing the world and said, “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.”
But who would have thought that one of the greatest causes of carbon emission is something found in most rooms of our homes? Who would have thought that one of the greatest threats to our well being comes from an Indonesian rainforest? Most Americans can’t even locate Indonesia on a map, and yet about 15 percent of global carbon pollution comes from deforestation – more than the emissions produced from all the cars, buses, trains and airplanes in the world.
It feels as if we are asleep at the wheel, and but sadly we have slept through the alarm, and it is long past the time for America to wake up.
Photo Courtesy of Caroline Braker.
What the heck is Palm Oil?
The oil of palm is a highly versatile, high-yield vegetable oil that is widely used in products, including baked goods, breakfast cereals, cosmetics, personal care and cleaning products; in fact, 51 percent of everything in American stores contains it. It is obtained from the fruit of the oil palm tree and is the most consumed edible oil today. Because of its versatility, the demand worldwide has tripled over the last few decades.
So what is the problem with palm oil?
The problem with palm oil is the way in which it is farmed and manufactured. Current estimates indicate 90 percent of the rainforests in Indonesia and Malaysia will be replaced by palm oil plantations unless drastic action is taken to find ways of producing it sustainably.
The production of palm oil has given rise to deforestation, plant and animal extinctions, child labor, and land grabs. This led to the creation of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in 2003 to address these big issues head on. The RSPO was an initiative of the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), who recognized the need to address some of the larger problems with palm oil.
The standards for sustainable palm oil at the RSPO were set very high. In fact, if applied fully, it could make palm oil one of the most eco-friendly options for vegetable oils in the world. The problem, however, is that the standards are not mandatory for their members. This has led to mass confusion of which RSPO members are working sustainably and which are merely using it to divert criticism.
Environmental groups – including its own founder, the WWF – have declared it a failure, and the WWF went on to join a new certification body, the Palm Oil Innovation Group, in 2013.
Photo Courtesy of Caroline Braker.
What can Americans do then?
We, as Americans with the ability to make an impact – negatively or positively – on palm oil production policies, must make a statement against palm oil that is causing so much global warming. I have created a petition asking Senate to introduce legislation to stop the imports of conventional palm oil – the cause of all that green house gas emissions.
We will not ask for an outright ban, as we understand the jobs of many poor workers in Indonesia and Malaysia depend on palm oil production. We must, however, exercise our own rights for a healthy future for our children and tell these palm oil companies in clear terms that we will not let polluting products to cross our border.
The United Kingdom has created a policy on palm oil use as a government, and this has led to palm oil companies scrambling to lighten their environmental impact. The European Union has made it mandatory to label clearly all products containing palm oil. The expectation there is that any product with palm oil will suffer a drop in sales as Europeans are more aware of the destruction caused by conventional palm oil.
It’s time America spoke up.
To celebrate the first ever World Orangutan Day on August 19, 2013, I will be hand delivering my petition to my senator, Maria Cantwell (D-WA), to introduce legislation to control the imports of palm oil.
You can help by signing the petition here and by writing your own letters to your senator.
– LeAnn Fox, Palm Oil Consumer Action
A resident (R) looks at the carcass of a male Sumatran elephant, its head and trunks mutilated and ivory tusks missing, in Aceh Jaya district on Indonesia’s Sumatra island. According to Natural Resources Conservation Agency the elephant was killed by a booby trap set up by unidentified people.
In the month of May, three elephants were found dead in Tesso Nilo National Park, south of Aceh. Fewer than 3,000 endangered Sumatran elephants remain in the wild, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Rampant expansion of palm oil, paper plantations, and mines, has destroyed nearly 70 percent of the Sumatran elephant’s forest habitat over 25 years, conservationist says, and the animals remain a target of poaching.
The Ecologist/ Jim Wickens June 30
Western consumers are inadvertently driving the Sumatran elephant to extinction by eating, washing and wearing – in cosmetics – the derivatives of a fruit that is destroying the animal’s last remaining forest habitat. Jim Wickens reports
Everyday we read about the tragic death of another African elephant slaughter, the world watching in horror at the sight of desiccated carcasses, dried pools of blood and crudely-hewn stumps where tusks once were;snapshots from distant crime scenes feeding a ghoulish market for ivory in the Far East. The African ‘elephant wars’ make comfortable viewing for Western audiences who assume a moral superiority over the slaughter – a narrative where the rest of the world outside of Africa and China plays little role in the wildlife tragedy unfolding there on a daily basis.
There are around half a million African elephants currently left in the wild, but, by contrast, just 2500 Sumatran elephants remain today. It is – by far – the most endangered elephant in the world, but it is an animal whose fate is largely unreported to the outside world. Coincidence perhaps, or an uncomfortable truth? On my journey into the forested lands of Aceh in Sumatra, I’ve found that it is not poaching that is driving the Sumatran elephant to extinction, but palm oil expansion, and we are eating it, washing with it, and smearing it on our faces every single day.
Crouching low in the vines, I can smell the diesel fumes wafting up from the chainsaw that whines away just metres away from us. The sound stops, a brief pause followed by a towering crash as an ancient hardwood plummets through the canopy. This is the frontline in the struggle against palm oil, a shifting frontier that is eating away at the most biodiverse forest on the planet, and it’s a dangerous place to be. Whispering so as not to be heard, our guides urgently beckon us away. To be spotted could be lethal – loggers here are frequently armed, a melting pot mafia of community members, freedom fighters and army personnel whose rule is the law in these remote stretches of Aceh, the Northern most province of Sumatra. This rarely-visited corner of Indonesia is home to the last great forest habitats of the Sumatran elephant in the world. And it is being destroyed for palm oil.
For years, the land here has remained relatively untouched, with oil palm expansion and road-building spurned amidst a bitter civil war that reaped a bloody toll until a ceasefire gradually came into place after the tsunami in 2001. Because of this isolation, Aceh is the last real stronghold for healthy herds of critically endangered Sumatran elephants, who live alongside rhinos, tigers and orang-utans in significant numbers; a far cry from the isolated, genetically-starved herds further south, whose inter-connected territories have been cut off by palm oil companies and paper concessions into tiny, token national parks. But all this is beginning to change. With peace has come opportunity, and palm oil companies are rapidly moving into the Aceh lowlands, squeezing elephants out of ever-diminishing forests and into conflict with local people.
Communities returning home after the Aceh ceasefire have found themselves facing a new threat to their livelihoods; crop damage caused by roaming herds of elephants, opportunistically-eating their way through croplands and antagonising families already brought to their knees by decades of civil war. And the death toll on both sides of the species divide is rising every month.
Ransomed in frustration
Nicknamed Raja by the people who fed him, the baby elephant cuts a pitiful sight, straining for food at the end of a rusty padlock and chain. Caught in a plantation in Aceh Utara last month, the villagers said they were keeping him here by force. Government vets have tried to remove him, but they refused, demanding compensation for the damage that elephants do to their land first. Farmer Sabaruddin, showed us chewed up banana leaves, missing coco pods and a hut verging on collapse, all surrounded by tell-tale feet marks of thieving elephants, that he says are drastically impacting on the livelihoods of the community here.
‘The people are angry when the elephants destroy the fields, because it is not just one or two years waiting to harvest, but sometimes for many years. When we are about to harvest the elephants had already come and destroyed the field. We plant again and then just when it’s about time to harvest, it’s destroyed again’, he said. Deprived of full time veterinarian care, Raja died two weeks later at the end of his chain. He is not alone.
In Geumpang further North, a village chief took us up a winding lane to the sight of fresh mound of earth. It is all that remains of a young male elephant that was electrocuted by a low hanging cable over crops two nights earlier. It’s not the elephant’s death that worries him however, but the fate of his people.
‘There was a conflict here in which one of our people was killed because the elephant stepped on him when he tried to chase them away…Imagine, he has three children, now they don’t have any more education.’ ‘If we talk about the future of elephants, we have also to prioritise the importance on the future of the people. If the future of the people is good, then, the future of the elephants may also be better’ he warned.
For years the government response to crop-raiding elephants has been to capture and contain animals deemed as ‘problematic’. We visited Saree elephant camp, a government-run containment centre in Aceh, to observe conditions. Despite the best efforts of staff labouring under sparse resources, these holding centres are effectively prisons: barren sites where elephants deemed to be problematic are forcibly taken from the wild and subjected to a life of chained captivity, with no hope of release and little chance of enrichment to break the monotony. Dozens of elephants are living out a life of containment in these camps across Sumatra.
I watched in the dying heat of the day as mahouts barked instructions and scrubbed elephants kneeling to their every word, fearful perhaps of the sharp-pronged bull hooks tucked into the trousers of their masters. One elephant seemed psychologically scarred, repeatedly swinging its head back and forth as it gazed out over rusty barbed wire at life on the outside of the camp.
Elephant containment camps are cruel, say welfare campaigners, but the real tragedy for the elephants may not be so much that individual elephants are contained, but rather that these critically endangered animals have to be removed from the wild, and a rapidly-shrinking gene pool, in the first place.
The question, ask conservationists, is not how to keep wandering elephants away from communities croplands, but why these critically endangered herds are venturing out of their forest homes in the first place.
Mike Griffith’s is a leading conservationist in Sumatra and until early 2013, was the deputy director of the Aceh government department that was charged with forest protection.
‘We have a major problem and the only way to save the elephants, I believe, is to separate the elephants from the actions of man, that means oil palm, gardens and the impacts of roads and so on, that is why you have national parks, the is why you have reserves, that is why you have the Leuser ecosystem.’
A jagged line of towering peaks that run across much of Aceh, the Leuser ecosystem is the most biodiverse forest in S.E Asia, 2.2 million hectares of forested hills that stretch across Aceh and the only place on earth where orangutans, elephants, tigers and rhinos are found together in the wild. It is a cornucopia of biological richness and a sanctuary for hundreds of elephants who live amidst it’s hills and hidden valleys that are protected from development under Indonesian law. But it’s being eaten alive.
Working closely with local rangers from Aceh, we drove close to the Leuser frontier, keen to get a sense of this wildlife sanctuary famed around the world. Hours of driving through endless palm plantations brought us not to forests but to mud-stained hillsides clogged with debris and freshly torn tree roots.
Bulldozers had taken on where chainsaws had done their work, relentlessly bashing through logs and stumps to drive terraces into the hillsides. Navigating our way through the quagmire, we passed two motorbikes, wildlife traders waving cheerfully on their way to check bird traps that they had laid the night before on the newly-penetrated forest edge. Two howler monkeys clung to a tree stump, silent and motionless, overlooking a thousand hectares of devastation. The only green to be seen were tiny seedlings, their leaves fluttering quietly along the newly-cleared terraces. Oil palm.
It was a sight that left the team, the rangers even who deal with destruction on a weekly basis, speechless. A week earlier these rolling hills had been rainforest, home to many of the rarest large animals on the planet. ‘When you replace these forests with oil palm plantations, you create green deserts… Nothing lives there except cockroaches, mosquitos and rats.’ says Mike Griffiths.
In the silence we took in the destruction, a line of brown dotted by bulldozers, a silence broken only by the ceaseless whine of chainsaws eating their way deeper and deeper into the Leuser forest refuge. This expansion is a relentless onslaught taking place every day in Aceh and across Sumatra.
The sticky palm oil trail back to Britain
We eat it as vegetable oil, wash our clothes with it as detergent, we use it in cosmetics, we wash with it as shampoo and soap; soon we will even be burning it in our cars. There are over 30 names for palm oil derivatives, many used daily in the home. According to Leonie Nimmo from Ethical Consumer, companies use palm oil because it’s cheap and incredibly versatile. It is an industrial wonder ingredient which has rapidly been incorporated as an invisible fat and filler into dozens of products that permeate our every day lives.
Under pressure from campaigners, food companies have begun to refer to a plethora of terms which suggest the palm-derived ingredients within are ‘sustainably’ sourced, endorsed by the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an industry-dominated – and heavily criticised – certification body working on palm oil issues.
But this investigation has found that much of the palm oil sold under the guise of sustainability is actually sourced from palm plantations which may not even have passed the weak certification criteria. Two of the four certification methods operating under the RSPO remit allow food companies to use oil from uncertified plantations in food products that are allowed to be mixed or ‘offset’ from plantations that tick the right boxes elsewhere.
Confused? You are not alone. The RSPO is a mess, say campaigners, misleading consumers and allowing multinational brands and industry-backed NGOs who work within the RSPO process to paint little more than a green tinge over an inherently destructive industry.
‘It is criminal that consumer industries are able to hide behind this gross illusion of “sustainable” palm oil when its production is persistently fuelling the wholesale destruction of the world’s most vital forests,’ says Jo Cary-Elwes from the conservation organisation Elephant Family. Lowland habitats in Sumatra – the only areas where critically endangered elephants can survive in the wild, are the same sought-after areas exploited and planted over in palm oil.
Unless palm oil expansion is halted and reversed, conservationists say, it will be game over for the Sumatran elephant, which, alongside the rhino and tiger, teeters close to the brink of extinction. But you wouldn’t know that from palm oil labelling. When you buy organic tomatoes, you get organic tomatoes. When you buy free range eggs, you get free range eggs. But when you buy palm oil labelled as sustainable in some way there is a good chance that what you actually get is oil which has been produced from a plantation built over the habitat of some of the most endangered animals in the planet.
A resistance movement is born
Graham Usher is a man on a mission. We meet on the side of a muddy track high up in the midst of another freshly-planted palm concession that lies within the protected confines of the Leuser ecosystem. Crouching under a tent in the blistering midday heat alongside local rangers, he is busy putting the finishing touches to a an unmanned aerial vehicle, a drone, that he is using to map out fresh incursions into the forest. With a shout and the briefest of run-ups, the self-made drone is in the air and recording high-resolution footage that shows the scale of fresh cuts in the lush trees.
‘It’s a never ending job,’ he says. ‘It takes them half an hour to chop down a 400yr old tree, but if you want to guard it, it’s 24hrs a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks of the year… the use of a drone is a game changer,’ he says. ‘This sort of work, this collection of evidence, provides us with a much stronger case when you go to decision makers and say, look, this is what is going on, these are your laws, why isn’t action being taken?’
Faced with dysfunctional governance and a spineless certification system, local communities in Aceh, fearful of floods caused by land clearance upstream, are fighting back. In 2012 over a thousand hectares of illegally grown palm oil was confiscated and chain-sawed down, the terraces bulldozed back into their natural shape. Within two months elephants had returned; within 2 years, orangutans, says Taesar, one of the rangers leading the regeneration project, ‘and we have over 5000 hectares more that we are trying to win back at the moment.’
It’s heartening to hear that the tide of forest clearance can be slowed, and even turned around, albeit it not by the multi-million dollar ‘responsible’ palm industry or conservation groups based in Europe and the USA who work so closely with the industry, but instead by grass-roots activism and local communities, many of whom are volunteers.
Despite these efforts however, at the moment they are fighting a losing battle. The Governor of Aceh recently issued a controversial ‘spatial’ plan for Aceh, a dryly-worded policy document concerned with reclassifying land use across Aceh. But the details within, say conservationists, are terrifying. The plan effectively green-lights environmental roll-back and decades of forest protection. It’s a carve-up of much of the remaining low-lying forest in Aceh, opening the way for mining and hundreds of thousands of hectares of further palm plantains”.
‘When you look at the needs of the Sumatran elephant, they need lowland forest to live in every time you disturb them, every time you put in plantations, you put in farming, you get conflict. Who is the loser out of that? It is always the elephant, they will disappear if we do not have large areas of lowland rainforest protected for them…’ says Graham. ‘If we don’t take urgent action a few year down the road we will be looking at the leuser ecosystems and saying my god, why didn’t we do more when we had the chance?’
In response to our request for a statement on the Spatial Plan, a spokesperson for the Indonesian government said the plan is a mess, stating that it is largely driven from political interests in Aceh itself. But he stressed that the authorities in Jakarta are trying to balance the needs of the environment with the livelihood needs of 250 million Indonesians.
Death by chocolate
On our last day in Aceh, the news came through that two more elephants have been found dead further south. Our cameraman flies through the night and arrives to record the grizzly scene. The images show two carcasses that seem to writhe amidst the shadows on the forest floor, an army of maggots feasting upon the flesh of the dead elephants that lie there. Elephants disappear quickly in the jungle. A convenience not lost on the oil palm plantation workers who are accused of frequently lacing chocolate bars with rat poison or phosphates, dropping them temptingly on elephant paths that meander close to valuable oil palm plantations.
The young male and female animals we filmed were one of three elephants poisoned in Sumatra last month, the latest casualties in the ever-growing elephant conflict.
Eclipsed in the media by the slaughter of African elephants for Asian ivory consumption, the fragile fate of the Sumatran elephant remains out of sight, hidden amidst the dark recesses of the rapidly disappearing forests that they call home.
It’s not poaching, but palm oil which remains the principle threat to the survival of the Sumatran elephant in the wild. Industrially-produced palm oil from Sumatra is a ‘liquid ivory’, and everybody reading this article inadvertently consumes it every day. Eating, bathing and washing ourselves in a fruit that has displaced forests in the last place on earth where the Sumatran elephant can survive.
Walking away from the chainsaw gangs in Leuser, our ranger turns and confronts me. ‘The world must see this destruction, the world must know what is happening now… see the destruction everywhere, we have to rise up and prevent all of these things from happening before it is too late. What people need to do, people from every part of the world need to think smart, think creatively and never to use any product that contains processed palm products. Palm oil destroys the forests’, he said. Time perhaps to heed his words.
Jim Wickens is an investigative journalist and producer with the Ecologist Film Unit
Banda Aceh. The Banda Aceh Administrative Court on Friday ruled in favor of a palm oil company in its lawsuit against the Aceh governor’s revocation of its permit to clear and operate on a 1,605-hectare land in Rawa Tripa, a lush forest and peatland region in the province’s Nagan Raya district.
Presiding Judge Yusri Arbi said that Aceh Governor Zainal Abdullah’s decision in September 2012 to revoke the permit for plantation firm Kallista Alam, following an order from the Medan High Court, was not legally binding because the court decision was being challenged in the Supreme Court.
Kallista Alam obtained the permit to open the plantation from then Governor Irwandi Yusuf in August 2011. But the governor’s decision was met with protests by environmental activists who said that the area was the habitat of Sumatran orangutans, which are critically endangered, and other rare animals.
The Aceh chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) dragged the governor to the Aceh state administrative court but the court rejected Walhi’s suit on April 3, 2012. Walhi then appealed the ruling to the Medan High Court. On Aug. 30, 2012, the Medan High Court ordered the governor, now Zainal Abdullah, who was elected in April 2012 , to pull the permit.
The Ministry of Environment and the Attorney General’s Office later filed a case against Kallista Alam for crimes conducted in Rawa Tripa.
Kallista Alam, however, as an affected party, filed an appeal against the Medan court decision with the Supreme Court. At the same time, it filed a lawsuit with the Banda Aceh Administrative Court contesting the revocation of the permit.
The head of the legal bureau for the Aceh government, Edrian, said the government would file an appeal against this latest verdict with the Medan High Court.
“The Aceh government’s stance is clearly to file an appeal because the governor’s decision to revoke the business permit of Kalista Alam was to follow the decision of Medan High Administrative Court,” he told Jakarta Globe on Friday.
“The panel [of judges] should consider the environmental impact created by Kallista and the impact to the residents around Rawa Tripa before deciding to grant their lawsuit. Moreover, Rawa Tripa was once under international spotlight concerning forest burning when clearing the land.”
Edrian claimed that based on investigation of the Aceh government, Kallista Alam’s initial operations had damaged the environment and led to conflicts with residents.
Walhi Aceh director T.M. Zulfikar said the verdict was a set back in the efforts to conserve the peatland and protect the orangutans in Rawa Tripa.
“Walhi Aceh will also file an appeal to the Medan High Administrative Court,” Zulfikar said.
He said that Kallista Alam should not have been able to contest the revocation as the Aceh government had full authority to issue or revoke business permits as part of its extended authority as a special region.
“We hope the Supreme Court will issue a verdict as soon as possible on the appeal filed by Kallista [Alam] so the problem won’t drag on,” he added.
Orangutan Outreach has been partners with International Animal Rescue (IAR) since 2009. The orangutans of West Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) now have a safe haven at IAR’s Orangutan Rescue Center in Ketapang. There, they are cared for and rehabilitated by trained professionals until the day comes when they can be released into a safe forest or island sanctuary.
At a normal supermarket checkout, consumers pay for their selected products. At the Zoopermarket, consumers will get to check out the ingredients in some items commonly found on supermarket shelves.
Knowing what’s what when confronted with an array of products can be confusing, especially since Australia’s labelling laws allow palm oil to be labelled as ‘vegetable oil’.
Scanning selected Zoopermarket items will reveal whether the manufacturer is using palm oil, and if so whether it is being produced sustainably.
The Zoopermarket is the latest stage in the ongoing Don’t Palm us Off campaign, which aims to draw consumer attention to the widespread use of unsustainably produced palm oil and facilitate their communication with manufacturers on this issue to encourage use of sustainably sourced palm oil.
The clearing of rainforest in order to plant vast expanses of palm oil trees is the single largest factor in harming wildlife populations in South East Asia, including the rapidly diminishing orang-utan population.
Palm oil is found in about 40% of the products on supermarket shelves. Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) is an alternative ingredient that is produced without harming local wildlife and communities.
Now Zoo visitors can see for themselves how some common supermarket products rate in terms of their use of palm oil.
Visitors will be able to scan selected products, see where they rate on this three-stage scale, and email manufacturers accordingly, either to congratulate them or to ask for a change in palm oil policy.
The Zoopermarket is located at our Orang-utan Sanctuary giving visitors viewing Asia’s only Great Apes better information about the issue that is pushing them towards extinction.
- Greenpeace statement: RSPO revisions too little and too late (dominicantoday.com)
- Kroger Turns to Sustainable Palm Oil to Protect Forests (sustainablebusiness.com)
- The palm oil industry will be following a challenging – and challenged – path over the next few decades (emgcsr.wordpress.com)
- Palm Oil Advantages and Disadvantages (healthylifestylesliving.wordpress.com)
- Would YOU Kill An Orangutan? Say NO to Palm Oil. (intentious.com)
- Can I get my hot cross buns without palm oil please? (dianlipiarski.wordpress.com)
- Orangatuans Homes Are Being Destroyed (cosanimals.wordpress.com)
- Is Switching to “Green” Palm Oil Even Possible? (greenerideal.com)
- Indonesian forest open for mining, logging (smh.com.au)
Major palm oil producers accused of destroying Indonesia’s forests and driving its iconic wildlife to the verge of extinction are now taking their practices to the relatively pristine forests of the Congo Basin, an environmental group has warned.
In its report “Seeds of Destruction” released this month, the Rainforest Foundation UK said there was “a real and growing risk that some of the serious, negative environmental and social impacts resulting from the rapid expansion of palm oil production in Indonesia and Malaysia, such as widespread deforestation, social conflict and dispossession, could be repeated in the Congo Basin.”
“This report shows that some of the same major players behind oil palm production in Southeast Asia [such as Sime Darby, Goodhope, Wilmar and FELDA] are now turning their attention to Africa,” RFUK said.
The report said the companies were turning to the Congo Basin region, which includes Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo, among others, because of lower land and labor costs and preferential access to the European Union market.
It warned that unless the African governments were fully aware of how these companies were operating in Indonesia and Malaysia, they could suffer from the same problems seen in Indonesia.
“Of the companies which have been identified as being behind specific developments, or are otherwise known to be seeking oil palm land in the Congo Basin, three — Cargill, Sime Darby and Wilmar — have been found in the past to be involved in illegal and destructive oil palm development in Indonesia,” the report said, citing independent claims made by the environmental groups Rainforest Action Network, Greenpeace and AidEnvironment.
It added that the negative environmental and social impacts “typical of [palm oil] developments in Indonesia have already been well-documented at … Sime Darby’s concession in Liberia.”
RFUK listed the negative impacts as deforestation and loss of biodiversity, increased carbon emissions from the clearing of primary and peat forests, conflicts with indigenous residents over land rights, pollution of local water resources and poor working conditions for local laborers.
To avoid these problems, it recommended greater transparency in the palm oil contracts, ensuring respect for local communities and empowerment of smallholder farmers, among other measures.
The increased expansion into Africa by Southeast Asian palm oil firms grabbed headlines last month when farmers in Liberia denounced the “modern slavery” visited upon them by an Indonesian company, Golden Veroleum Liberia.
“The Indonesians came here for the first time in September 2010,” resident Benedict Manewah told AFP.
“They said, ‘We have a concession agreement, your president has sold it to us.’ Three months later they came back … and they started to destroy the properties, farmlands, crops, livestock and houses.”
Sime Darby, from Malaysia, was the subject of similar complaints in Liberia.
- Indonesia’s palm oil blues spreading to Africa, report says (eco-business.com)
- Capitalists amping up destruction of Congo rainforests for palm oil plantations (dgrnewsservice.org)
- The REDD contradiction: Deforestation and oil palm plantations in the Congo Basin (climate-connections.org)
- Felda Urges Tax-Free Palm Oil to Combat Reserves: Southeast Asia (bloomberg.com)
- Video: Environmental crime: In pursuit of the palm oil industry in Liberia (climate-connections.org)
- Starbucks Will Source Only Sustainable Palm Oil By 2015 (triplepundit.com)
- The Perils of Palm Oil (familysurvivalprotocol.com)
- Palm oil casualty? 14 pygmy elephants fall prey to pesticides in Borneo (csmonitor.com)
It is a tradition in mass media to compile an end-of-the-year list. While the Jakarta Globe has covered “Indonesian Stories That Raised Eyebrows in 2012” and “The Biggest News Stories of 2012 Have Only Just Begun,” do not forget to take a moment to review environmental issues.
Indonesia is often dubbed as a country plagued with amnesia. Hence, here are a few of environmental stories that made headlines over the past year — those that still need to be followed up in 2013.
Illegal Wildlife Trading
Indonesian Police arrested a Depok resident in possession of dozens of stuffed rare animals and pelts in July — after a long hiatus on breaking down illegal wildlife trading.
At least 25 stuffed animals and pelts of rare and protected species were seized by the police, in Cimanggis, Depok, West Java, in the July raid.
The items confiscated included 14 tigers, two leopards, one clouded leopard, a lion and three bears. There were also two sacks full of tiger pelts, as well as a stuffed tiger head and four deer heads. This was considered as the biggest bust involving animal body parts.
In August, the Forestry Ministry arrested an antique dealer selling the skin of an endangered Sumatran tiger. At least four people were caught red-handed in Cilandak, South Jakarta, while attempting to sell a Sumatran tiger skin and a Javan leopard pelts.
Both cases violated the 1990 Natural Resources Conservation Law, for which the perpetrators could get up to five years in prison and up to Rp 100 million ($10,325) in fines.
The suspect in July bust, identified as Feri, was charged under the aforementioned law but was later released on bail. Both cases triggered fierce campaigns on major online shops in the country to stop facilitation transactions on rare and protected animals.
Orangutans Let Free
In 2012, there were still news about orangutans being kept as pets. But over the past year, at least 44 orangutans have been released and brought back into the wild from the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundatio’s Nyaru Menteng Rehabilitation Center in Central Kalimantan.
Meanwhile, another six orangutans were set free from the Samboja Lestari Orangutan Reintroduction Program and Land Rehabilitation in East Kalimantan. The orangutans were sent to the Kehje Sewen forest, an ecosystem restoration area in the province.
There are still at least 600 orangutans waiting to be released. This release will contribute to the target set by the presidentially-mandated Indonesian Orangutan Conservation Action Plan 2007-2017. The plan was announced by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at the Climate Change Conference in Bali in 2005.
The Birth of Andatu, Rare Sumatran Rhino
2012 was dubbed as the International Year of Rhino. A critically endangered Sumatran rhinoceros gave birth in captivity in June in more than a century.
The birth was recorded in history as the first successful breeding outside its natural habitat. The male calf was named “Andatu,” an acronym from his father “Andalas” and his mother “Ratu.” In Bahasa Indonesia, Andatu means “Anugerah Dari Tuhan” or Gift From God.
Andatu was born at the Sumatran Rhino Sanctuary in Way Kambas National Park, Lampung.
Indonesia, where one of only 11 nations where rhinos are found, is lucky to be the birthplace of Andatu. The country has two kinds of rhinos: the one-horned Javan rhino with only 35 left in Ujung Kulon National Park in West Java and the two-horned Sumatran Rhino, which only 200 left in the wild.
Tripa Peat Swamp and Environmental Crime
The Tripa peat swamp was the highest profile case in Indonesia since 2011. The debacle caught intense attention both from the Indonesian authorities and the international world.
The case was brought into attention by local people in Aceh in late 2011 revealing issuance of a permit to clear 1,605 hectares of forest inside the Leuser ecosystem in Nagan Raya district by then-governor Irwandi Yusuf to a plantation company Kalista Alam in the Tripa area. The permit issuance was a breach to Indonesia’s commitment on forest moratorium, which was pledged in 2009.
The Aceh chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) then filed a lawsuit against Irwandi to revoke the permit. The Indonesian authority, under the REDD (Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Degradation) task force, also took action by requesting the Ministry of Environment to conduct investigation over the case.
Both institutions have claimed that the permit was violating the moratorium agreement. In September this year, Walhi won the lawsuit at the Medan State Administrative Court, North Sumatra, which called for Aceh administration to scrap the permit awarded for the company.
The ruling was then followed through by the now-elected Aceh governor Zaini Abdullah in September, who finally revoked the permit of the company in Tripa.
The Tripa forest, part of the rich Leuser Ecosystem, is home to the world’s densest population of critically endangered Sumatran orangutans and one of the few places on earth where orangutans, Sumatran tigers and sun bears can still be found living side-by-side.
There is still ongoing court process over the Ministry of Environment.
Hazardous Toxic Waste
The beginning of 2012 started off with 113 containers of dangerous and hazardous waste mixed with scrap metals entered Tanjung Priok harbor shipped from England and Netherlands.
This hazardous waste was said to be the “largest shipment” ever transported into the country and became an important issue from Environment Minister Balthasar Kambuaya and Finance Minister Agus Martowardojo at that moment.
The 113 containers were sent back to its original country: 89 containers to England and 24 containers to Netherlands. It did not stop there. The customs widened its inspection and targeted an additional 3,446 containers from Tanjung Priok, 130 containers at the Tanjung Perak port in Surabaya, 11 containers at the Tanjung Emas port in Semarang and 77 containers at the Belawan port in Medan.
As a result, the ministry was bombarded with protesters claiming from scrap metal association and demanded to release the containers as they might lose their income.
From the law enforcement side, the ministry is currently investigating 254 containers and preparing for legal actions based on the 2009 Law on Environmental Management and Protection, the 2008 Law on Waste Management and the 1995 Customs Law for violating the documents. Currently, eight people were declared as suspects: two Chinese and the rest were Indonesians.
JAKARTA: Indonesia’s Supreme Court ordered a major palm oil company to pay more than $390 million to the state for tax evasion, a judge said on Friday, in a case likely to set a precedent in the graft-ridden nation.
The court found Asian Agri and more than a dozen of its subsidiaries guilty of “deliberately not filling tax forms properly between 2002 and 2005″, marking the country’s first prosecution in a major corporate tax case.
Head judge Djoko Sarwoko told AFP said the company was ordered to pay back state losses of 1.26 trillion rupiah ($130.5 million) and was fined an additional 2.52 trillion rupiah to be paid within a year.
The case is seen as breakthrough in Southeast Asia’s largest economy, where sweeping tax reforms introduced in recent years have been met with hostile resistance from big business.
Sarwoko said that the ruling – made on December 18 but only publicised this week – would set a precedent for at least nine major tax crime cases in the pipeline.
Asian Agri is one of Asia’s biggest palm oil producers, exporting three million tonnes of palm oil in 2011 with more than 160,000 hectares of plantations on the island of Sumatra, according to its website.
It is a subsidiary of Royal Golden Eagle (RGE), a Singapore-based conglomerate of palm oil, pulp and oil and gas firms owned by Sukanto Tanoto, Indonesia’s seventh-richest tycoon, according to Forbes.
Environmental groups have also long accused RGE’s pulp and paper company Asia Pacific Resources International (APRIL) of logging on protected carbon-rich peatland in Sumatra.
The Asian Agri case began in 2006 when a former financial controller at the company accused of embezzling money from the firm reported that the company had evaded tax.
The case was thrown back and forth between the Tax Office and the Attorney-General’s Office, raising criticisms that government institutions and law enforcers were reluctant to address major tax crimes.
“Big multi-national companies are not unattached to political and business operations. That’s why tax cases have proceeded at a snail’s pace,” Firdaus Ilyas from Indonesia Corruption Watch (ICW) said.
Ilyas said that ICW research showed resource-based companies were the most likely to evade tax in Indonesia.
A report released this month by Washington-based Global Financial Integrity ranked Indonesia ninth for illicit financial outflows among the world’s developing nations, losing $109 billion in crime, tax evasion and corruption between 2001 and 2010.
Transparency International ranks Indonesia 118 in its transparency index, one of the lowest of 174 countries, assessed on par with Madagascar and Egypt.
- Indonesian court fines palm oil giant for tax evasion (rappler.com)
- Fears over Indonesia’s thirst for palm oil (endoftheicons.wordpress.com)
- Indonesia’s race to turn palm oil into cash has taken it’s toll on Human and Wildlife alike. (familysurvivalprotocol.com)
- How the “Nutella tax” and the China slowdown may force Malaysia and Indonesia to wean off palm oil (qz.com)
- Environmental hangover from Indonesia’s palm oil thirst (seeddaily.com)
- France considers big tax hike on key ingredient in Nutella (pri.org)
December 2012: The Sumatran orangutan is losing habitat fast. Pristine forest in Indonesia is being carved up, set on fire and converted into palm oil plantations at a shocking pace. The drive for profit is seeing palm oil companies also move into areas of protected forest – like the Tripa Peat Swamp Forest in Aceh. Home to many iconic species, including the densest population of the last remaining 6,600 Sumatran orangutans, Tripa is also a critical carbon storehouse for the planet.
The destruction of Tripa is having disastrous consequences: for the wildlife and biodiversity which is perishing with it, for the local communities whose livelihoods depend upon it, and for all the rest of us as carbon emissions escalate. Tragically, over 80% of orangutans in Tripa forest are estimated to have perished as a result of this habitat destruction.
But in a case that could make history, two palm oil companies are now facing court for operating illegally in Tripa. The tireless efforts of local and international NGOs have pushed this issue forward and it is about to become a real test case for Indonesia. If the law is upheld and the law-breakers are punished then there is hope for protecting other areas of forest in Indonesia in the future. If not, the law loses even more ground and greed gets the green light. International public pressure is urgently needed to help uphold Indonesia’s environmental laws and to take a stand against this blatant exploitation for the benefit of so few. Please add your voice and help show that the world is watching this case.
What you can do right now:
1. Sign this petition to demand that the law be upheld in the Tripa case:
2. Find out more and donate to the campaign at:
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