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Rogue Palm Oil Company, Fearing Negative Ruling, Initiates Conflict with Indonesian Court


Illegal loggers taking timber from Singkil Wildlife Reserve utilising illegal developed roads built with Government budgets. Although plans are still in discussion for Aceh Province many projects are already being implemented, often without permits to do so. Photo Credit: Paul Hilton


Photo Credit : Paul Hilton / Forest, Nature and Environment Aceh


[MEDAN, NORTH SUMATRA] A large demonstration initiated by controversial palm oil company Pt Kalista Alam, who is accused of illegally destroying some of the world’s most important remaining orangutan habitat on the west coast of Sumatra, has disrupted the Meulaboh district court today where the Indonesian Ministry of Environment is prosecuting the company for environmental crimes. The potentially precedent-setting case has received international attention and is being monitored closely by NGOs, scientists, the government and industry alike.

The court was temporarily delayed as an estimated 150 palm oil workers, who arrived by busses believed to be paid by Pt Kalista Alam, conducted a noisy demonstration before the court, demanding the court find in favour of the controversial company. The same company had one of its palm oil concessions cancelled in September 2012, after administrational courts found the permit had been granted illegally, and last week its assets were frozen by the civil court as its process draws to an expected close. The final hearing has now been scheduled for December 5th where now the judges are expected to deliver a final ruling.

“PT Kallista Alam is one of several palm oil companies illegally burning forests on deep peat within the Leuser Ecosystem during the last few years” Said Dr Ian Singleton, Director of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, speaking at a packed media event outside a major international RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) conference in Medan earlier today. “We congratulate the Indonesian Ministry of Environment on its action against PT Kallista Alam, but also remind people that a potentially devastating new spatial plan being proposed by the Provincial Government still threatens huge swathes of Aceh’s forests and their incredibly unique biodiversity, in addition to Aceh’s people and their economic livelihoods. If approved, this new plan is likely to lead to an upsurge of new legal cases due to the massive increase in environmental damage it will undoubtedly cause.”

“If the new spatial plan goes through it will be the the end of the Sumatran Elephant” Dr Singleton concluded.
“There can only be one word to describe the situation for the Leuser Ecosytem, and it’s emergency.” warned Kamaruddin SH, an Acehnese lawyer who represented communities in Tripa with their complaints against PT Kallista Alam. “The Leuser Ecosystem is a Nationally Strategic Area protected for its Environmental Function, It is currently illegal for any district, provincial or national leader to issue permits for palm oil, mining or any other activity that would degrade the environmental function of the Leuser Ecosystem, but powerful business lobby is currently trying to undo this, not to support community, but to line their pockets with the assets of Aceh. Todays show of intimidation by Pt Kalista Alam outside the court in Meulaboh is just one example of many companies attempting to intimidate the legal and political processes of Aceh, it deserves close scrutiny from anti corruption and legal agencies.

Landscape planning and GIS specialist, Graham Usher, showed satellite information and data analysis that highlighted the extreme sensitivity of Aceh’s environment. “Much of Aceh’s remaining forests are on steeply sloping terrain, that should be off limits to development under existing spatial planning regulations. Clearing forests and building roads in such areas is simply not safe, and potentially disastrous.

“What will happen if these forests are cleared is very clear, and easy to predict. We will see a collapse of the ecosystem, and the loss of the environmental benefits they provide to Aceh’s people. This will lead to food security problems in the future, in addition to a huge increase in flash floods, erosion and landlsides. It’s not rocket science”, he stressed. “it’s simply cause and effect. To open new roads and exploitive industrial concessions in the heart of Aceh will only result in even further destruction, and lead to a rash of new, entirely avoidable, social conflicts. It’s not only unique biodiversity that will suffer, Aceh’s people will suffer greatly as well!”

“Aceh is currently suffering from environmental anarchy, there is next to no law enforcement, and local elites are left to take what they want without monitoring or fear of legal consequences.”

“The community of Aceh feels that promises have been broken” stated TM Zulfikar, former Chairman of Friends of the Earth, Aceh. While many supported Governor Zaini in his election, there is now increasing frustration and anger being expressed towards his administration. “If we’d known Aceh was going to be carved up, cut down, and sold to the highest bidder most would probably have voted differently.

“Recently the Aceh Government told us at a public meeting that there is no budget left for the development of the Province’s spatial planning and that it therefore needs to be approved and ratified before the end of December. But they have still not completed any environmental sensitivity analysis and key data and information has failed to be shared. I seriously worry what the Government will do in the next two months. If things happen as we hear, he will forever be recorded in history as the Governor who returned Aceh to social conflict and environmental destruction.” Concluded Mr Zulfikar.

Gemma Tillack with Rainforest Action Network called on international consumer companies who use palm oil in their products to demand that their suppliers verifiably guarantee that the oil they supply is not connected to rainforest destruction like that taking place in Tripa. “Tripa and the Leuser Ecosystem are globally important areas. It is imperative that consumer companies take responsibility for the fact that Conflict Palm Oil like that produced at the expense of the Tripa peat swamp is making its way into the global marketplace. Companies like the “Snack Food 20” targeted by Rainforest Action Network (RAN) urgently need to engage with their supply chains and implement truly responsible palm oil procurement policies that demand palm oil be produced without contributing to rainforest destruction, climate pollution or human rights abuses.”


For further information please contact:

Dr Ian Singleton
Conservation Director, Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program (SOCP)

Graham Usher
Landscape Sensitivity Analyst, PanEco Foundation

T.M. Zulfikar
Aceh Communications Officer, Yayasan Ekosistem Lestari (YEL)

Kamaruddin SH
Lawyer for Tripa Community Coalition

Gemma Tillack
Senior Agribusiness Campaigner, Rainforest Action Network

The Tale of Papa Genk

The slaying of a mighty tusker by villagers in Indonesia’s Aceh province may have become a national scandal, writes Cortlan Bennett, but it has made the predicament of elephants being squeezed out by deforestation and mining even more precarious. Pictures by Paul Hilton


South China Morning Post/Post Magazine – October 2013

Elephants mourn their dead. They are the only creatures apart from man known to ritualise death; touching, cradling, burying the deceased … sometimes crying and moaning in grief. To those who know and work with elephants, they are very much like ourselves. And, of course, they never forget. So perhaps it isn’t hard to believe the legend of Papa Genk.

A mighty bull with magnificent tusks, his name meant simply “The Boss”. At 22, he was a dominant beast – a giant, even among Sumatran elephants – and well known to the villagers of Ranto Sabon. The surrounding jungle, in a remote part of Indonesia’s northwest Aceh province, was home to his wild herd. It was here, in July, that Papa Genk was butchered.

Frustrated by raids on their crops, some villagers had long targeted Genk. Poison didn’t kill him. Traps didn’t hold him. But a tripwire – attached to a giant spear log that fell from a tree and drove through his skull – finally put Genk to rest. His eyes and ivory tusks were removed, his trunk sliced off at the brow. His grey corpse was left to rot on a damp jungle trail and there, many thought, his story would end.

Soon after the killing, however, a young male appeared from the jungle. Smaller, less defined than The Boss, the bull still resembled his father. He walked into an elephant sanctuary and approached a resident female and calf.

“The male elephant lifted his trunk and whispered into the mother’s ear,” a young Acehnese woman recalls. “He said: ‘Genk is dead,’ and when she heard that, tears rolled down her face. She was Genk’s wife.”

The mother, Suci, is now housed in another refuge with her young calf, Rosa – fathered by Genk – near the provincial capital, Banda Aceh. They were removed for their own protection. Genk’s death drove Indonesian President Dr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to call for the punishment of his killers. Few people in Indonesia have not heard the elephant’s story.

THERE MAY BE AS FEW as 400 wild elephants in Aceh, an equatorial oasis at the tip of Sumatra, Indonesia’s largest island. It is home to the world’s third-largest tropical rainforest and is the only place on Earth where endangered tigers, rhinos, orang-utans and elephants are found together.

“We’ve probably got less than 100 tigers in the whole of Aceh,” says New Zealand zoologist Mike Griffiths, who has lived and worked in the province for 30 years. “Maybe 100 rhinos, 400 elephants – it’s the last days.”

Griffiths is acutely aware of Aceh’s competing interests. As a geologist and former oil explorer, he recognised its biodiverse value, first documenting Aceh’s dazzling array of wildlife in a book, Indonesian Eden, while pioneering camera trapping, before turning to conservation full time.

Like those in much of the developing world, Aceh’s forests are threatened by mining, poaching, logging, plantations and farms. The land squeeze has all but wiped out the Sumatran tiger and rhinoceros while bringing wild elephants into ever-increasing conflict with humans.

Aceh is no stranger to conflict, having waged a 30-year separatist war that ended with the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, which claimed 130,000 local lives. Now autonomous – and the only part of Indonesia to legislate Islamic sharia law – it is opening up and rebuilding, carving roads and infrastructure into the unscathed forests that once hid Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (GAM; the Free Aceh Movement) guerillas.

Many in Aceh are proud of their forests, which are renowned for their rich wildlife and minerals. But those who profess to look after them don’t always do so. In 2007, former governor Irwandi Yusuf, a United States-trained veterinarian and conservation worker, banned logging and established a carbon sink to protect the 740,000-hectare Ulu Masen Ecosystem, in Aceh’s central-west. He also oversaw the installation of a new management authority to govern the 2.6-million-hectare Leuser Ecosystem, in the southwest, which was granted national protection the same year.

As one of the last refuges of Sumatra’s orang-utans and home to much of the country’s remaining biodiversity, Leuser is considered the most valuable ecosystem in Indonesia and one of the most important conservation areas in the world. It was formally recognised by the people of Aceh as far back as 1925, when they lobbied the colonial Dutch to protect it.

After having signed away 1,605 hectares of native peat swamp to a local palm oil company in 2011, Irwandi lost power last year. The management authority, Badan Pengelola Kawasan Ekosistem Leuser, was disbanded, leading to immediate illegal clearing and mining, and new governor Zaini Abdullah is now considering opening 1.2 million hectares of virgin rainforest, much of it in the Leuser Ecosystem, to mining, logging and palm oil.

It’s a proposal that cuts to Griffiths’ heart, for he was instrumental in defining the Leuser Ecosystem and its boundaries, and established the Leuser International Foundation in 1994 to help protect it.

“The Leuser Ecosystem boundaries are based on the natural migration patterns of all these large animals and the minimum size required to support viable populations,” he explains. “It’s a natural entity – it can’t get any smaller. If you lose just 10 per cent of Leuser, you lose half of what’s inside.”

You also lose more than US$400 million a year in ecological services, according to Griffiths – not to mention much of Aceh’s rice production.

“Water’s a huge issue. There’s barely enough to keep the industrial heart of Aceh running – and it all comes from Leuser. The peak rice-growing season is during the dry season, using irrigated water. If you cut down the trees and drain the peat swamps, there’s not enough irrigated water to grow year-round. You lose all that rice for a few palm-oil plantations.”

But by far the biggest threat to Aceh’s forests is infrastructure. “Roads open the area to logging and poaching. Migration is widespread and irreversible. That is far more devastating,” says Griffiths.

SULAIMAN IMAM MUKIM feels like the last man standing. The district chief is fighting for his tiny village of Mane, in Aceh’s central highlands.

“Can you help us?” he pleads. “All around us are gold mines. They use mercury and poison the rivers. There are no fish – the people are sick – but all they can see is gold. Even the buffalo have died from drinking the water.”

The frustration in Sulaiman’s voice needs no translation. He is locked in battle with the neighbouring village of Geumpang, the site of large-scale illegal gold mining inside the Ulu Masen Ecosystem. The wildcat miners dig deep shafts, which they line with timber cut from the forest, and process the ore with mercury, which extracts the gold. The toxic tailings are dumped nearby. Mercury is water soluble and causes irreversible brain damage and cognitive degeneration. It builds up in fish and can taint irrigated crops.

Sulaiman says most of the mine technicians are from Jakarta and other parts of Java while the gold is sold through Chinese networks. Local labourers are paid up to 300,000 rupiah (about HK$200) a day – a fortune in Aceh, but only a fraction of the value of the gold being extracted.

“The local villagers know they’re not going to be rich – they’re not the ones who end up with the gold,” Sulaiman says, adding there are an estimated 900 shafts in the area, each supporting up to 30 miners.

“There are 50,000 miners up there,” counters 42-year-old Muchtarruddin (who, like many Indonesians, goes by one name), the self-proclaimed biggest gold retailer in Geumpang. “I sell up to 2.5kg of pure gold a month.”

Muchtarruddin pulls three 200-gram ingots of white amalgam from his safe. Each ingot is about 50 per cent pure gold, he says. The white colour comes from other metals, such as silver. “And mercury,” he says. “We choke [melt and process] the ingots to separate the gold to make it pure.” The mercury vapour is released into the air.

The gold dealer offers to take us to his own mine, which is “a day and night’s travel from here”, but we don’t have time. Earlier, we tried to enter the mining zone 16 kilometres from Geumpang, but were refused. We were told to get permits from those controlling the area: former GAM separatists, backed by the military and police.

Muchtarruddin confirms GAM controls the permits but is reluctant to say how much they cost. “It depends on who you are,” he smiles.

In a nearby village home, five farmers in their early 30s sit on the floor drinking coffee. They’ve been mining in their spare time for the past eight years.

“We know about the dangers,” one says. “We produce the gold with chemicals. We don’t know exactly how dangerous they are, but all the fish are dead. We’re not foolish, though – we’re not sick. I’ve made 100 million rupiah in three months.”

Back in neighbouring Mane, Sulaiman shakes his head: “They don’t realise they are slowly getting sick. They’ve already poisoned five rivers – that’s why we have to protect this area. We have one river we depend on for drinking and irrigation.”

The illegal mining has led to other dangers for Mane’s villagers, including conflict with wild elephants.

“The elephants migrate during different seasons,” Sulaiman says. “But their forest is being cut down. They come here looking for food and we turn them back. Then they run into the miners in the mountains and they turn them back. The elephants are caught in the middle.”

Sulaiman has tried reasoning with the miners and provincial government, but to no avail. His village is powerless against the military and former freedom fighters.

“The world depends on Aceh,” he says. “There aren’t many forests like this left. The environment protects us. That’s what we have to make people see. Once the forest is gone, it’s gone.”

YOU CANNOT FATHOM the power of Asia’s largest land beast until you feel it. As we push through the jungle, mud sucking us down, fat leeches on our skin and the ever-present buzz of chainsaws in the distance, a trumpet suddenly tears through the vines.

Arjuna is a big Asian tusker; 27 years old and more than 3,000kg. His mahout, Amrizal, is 25 and a fraction of his weight. His power comes from his lungs and an unflinching self-confidence. It is hard for a novice not to betray their nerves in front of a full-sized bull elephant – even a tame one – and we are warned not to approach Arjuna head on.

“Male elephants don’t like it,” Amrizal explains. “They see it as a challenge.”

The mahout unlocks the thick chain that has held Arjuna overnight. The surrounding flat jungle looks like … an elephant has slept in it. With a command, Arjuna picks up the slack chain and hauls it in with his trunk. Another command and the elephant kneels, then rolls on to his side with a tremorous “thud” and crunch of vegetation. Arjuna lets out a guttural growl of protest.

Amrizal ignores the sound and uses a switch to sweep mud off the elephant’s hide. He gently pats Arjuna’s cheek, plucking at his long lashes as the pachyderm blinks with faint pleasure. Grooming over, Amrizal orders Arjuna to kneel so he can climb onto his back. They lumber off to join the rest of the herd.

It takes an elephant to stop an elephant, and that’s the idea behind Aceh’s national-sponsored Conservation Response Units (CRU): teams of local mahouts who capture and train problem elephants, which they use to ward off wild elephants that come into conflict with humans.

At the Mane CRU, in the highlands behind Sulaiman’s village, five elephants have left the jungle – where they are tethered each night to feed on fresh vegetation – and are being ridden to the river. The routine is the same each morning: groom, swim, train.

The valley echoes with another ear-splitting trumpet as Arjuna enters the clear mountain water. While the other four elephants – two cows, another bull and a juvenile male – settle in together, tussling and spraying each other with water, Arjuna rocks gently by himself against the current.

“Arjuna’s a stubborn elephant,” Amrizal says as he relaxes near the water. “He was difficult to train and always tried to run away. He doesn’t like the other elephants. But he’s very clever and easy to read.”

While there is clearly a rapport between Arjuna and Amrizal, the elephant’s human-like behaviour can be testing. As Amrizal rode to the river that morning, Arjuna suddenly reached up with his trunk, grabbed the mahout’s ” thotti” – a metal hook used for prodding – and flung it into the bush. Incensed, Amrizal made Arjuna search for the thotti and hand it back up to him, before hitting him on the head as punishment.

“He has to know who’s boss, or you will never control him,” says the mahout, a little embarrassed.

Life for the mahouts is isolated; they spend three out of every four weeks living in small jungle cottages, training and caring for their charges. They used to patrol the forests regularly for illegal loggers, sometimes responding to elephant conflicts in nearby villages. But the mood has changed.

“A lot of the villagers hate elephants because they raid their crops,” says Zainal, who looks after Adi, a sociable 30-year-old bull. “And they hate us, too. I feel very sad, sometimes, because when some of the villagers find a dead elephant they spread rumours that it is one of ours that has been raiding them.”

It was another CRU patrol in Ranto Sabon – five hours away – that discovered Papa Genk’s corpse. That unit was forced to close – its elephants relocated to Saree and Mane – after Yudhoyono tweeted to the nation on July 15 that there would be a full investigation into the death. The villagers blamed the CRU for bringing them trouble. The mahout who discovered Genk’s body still lives in Ranto Sabon and still receives death threats. He is too frightened to talk. Despite 20 villagers admitting to the killing – including the village chief – no one has been prosecuted.

“The mahouts are being unfairly blamed,” says Mane CRU director Hasbala. “The villagers say it’s just an elephant. But everyone knew Genk.”

Hasbala is disappointed, but philosophical. Despite setting up the Mane CRU on his own land, using his own money – such is his love of elephants – he also understands the villagers’ point of view.

“The solution is don’t issue palm-oil contracts where elephants roam,” he says. “But it’s hard to say don’t mine here or don’t develop there, because people need to eat. Development brings jobs. But we need a solution for humans and animals to co-exist. The only way to do that is to protect the forest and be smart about where we develop.”

TRACKING WILD ELEPHANTS through the jungle, marching in mud-crater footprints, a single thought comes to mind: what to do when we find them?

Led by Nalis, our guide, we return to a spot in which a herd was sighted the day before and set out early, following an elephant trail of fresh dung and flattened trees. After two hours, we find ourselves walking up a dry creek bed, flanked by dense forest.

Suddenly there is a mammoth tusked head poking out from the bush just metres ahead. The elephant – a young male – turns and flees into the jungle. There is a panicked trumpet as he alerts the others … and that’s it, the one and only time I see a wild Sumatran elephant.

Elephants share the jungle with tigers. They have no natural predators, yet I cannot help thinking their learned fear of man is more telling than our ingrained fear of them.

ROSA WANTS TO PLAY. She’s like a dog. A 200kg dog with a tail at each end. But she’s small for a 12-month-old Asiatic elephant. The stress of being raised and moved from one sanctuary to another has taken its toll. Behind Rosa, mother Suci is flapping her ears in agitation. In the wild, this would be a warning sign. But at the government-run Saree Elephant Clinic, about an hour’s drive from Banda Aceh, Suci can only tug at her chains and watch.

The elephant relaxes as a familiar figure approaches. Vet Rosa Rika Wahyuni is careful not to encourage little Rosa to leave her mother’s side until Suci recognises her. Elephants have a fantastic sense of smell, but their eyesight is poor.

It’s no coincidence little Rosa and Wahyuni share the same name: the baby elephant was delivered by the vet and named after her. Wahyuni also knew Rosa’s sire, Genk.

“He only stole a bit of food. He didn’t destroy the village. He didn’t deserve to die like that,” she says.

It’s been a stressful few months for the elephants, but also an emotional time for the vet. In the preceding six weeks, five Aceh elephants were killed or died of neglect, including two orphaned calves held to ransom by villagers.

The refuge in Saree is flat, dry and has little vegetation. Four tamed elephants are housed here, including an adult female, Amoy, and a young orphaned male, Agam.

Agam is only a month younger than Rosa, but is lean and weak. Elephants may be social creatures, but mothers almost never share their milk with calves that are not theirs. Wahyuni says there is no way to extract the vital fluid from Suci, so Agam is being raised on a diet of soya milk, supplements and antibiotics. Without natural milk, his immune system will not develop properly and it will be harder to keep him alive.

“Everyone calls him Agam, but to me he will always be Aneuk – my ‘son’,” Wahyuni smiles. “They said he couldn’t be saved – he was sick and depressed after his mother died – but he’s doing better. We tried to socialise him with the other elephants, but they all rejected him.

“I know Saree isn’t a good place for the elephants. There’s no river, nowhere to bathe and no natural food for them. But I hope the government can help us move them somewhere else like Mane. It has everything elephants need.”

And that is the story of these animals’ lives. Pushed from their natural forests, shunted from refuge to refuge, they are fast running out of places to go. What’s left of their environment is slowly being poised by mercury and, Wahyuni believes, it’s just a matter of time before it affects the wild elephants’ fertility and health.

“I hope you can help us,” she starts to cry: “I’m so emotional. I don’t know why.”

It’s Not All Bad: Americans and Palm Oil (Nat Geo)

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.

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.

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


Indonesian fires highlight weak governance and corruption

By Ben Bland in Jakarta, Financial Times  6/23

Thick, stifling smoke clouds are an annual blight in the dry season on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, when forest and peatlands are illegally set alight to clear space to grow lucrative oil palm and trees for paper production.

Usually it is the millions of Indonesians who suffer the health consequences of these bad environmental practices, which are sustained by weak governance and corruption at a time when global demand for palm oil, used in everything from shampoo to biofuels, and paper products is soaring because of rapid economic growth in markets such as China and India.

Over the past two weeks, the wind blew north and east concertedly, wafting the haze to neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore, where air pollution levels soared to the highest on record, angering residents and rekindling a long-running diplomatic dispute that has ensnared some of the world’s biggest plantation companies.

The blame game intensified over the weekend, with the Indonesian government and NGOs trading accusations over responsibility for the fires with some of the large plantation companies operating in the region

With plantation owners, small-scale farmers, local officials in Sumatra and the national governments of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore all pointing the finger at each other, environmental scientists say little has changed since the last major regional haze outbreak in 1997-98 and that hopes for a co-ordinated solution to the enduring haze problem are distant.

That raises serious doubts about the ability of Indonesia, one of the world’s biggest emitters of the greenhouse gasses that are believed to cause climate change, to achieve its ambitious target to cut carbon emissions by 26 per cent by 2020. READ MORE

Tödliches Palmöl Die letzten Orang-Utans von Sumatra | WDR Weltweit

Tödliches Palmöl Die letzten Orang-Utans von Sumatra

[ENGLISH Translation will be available soon]

Große braune Augen schauen Ian Singleton an: es sind die Augen eines geretteten Affenbabies, eines Orang Utans in der Quarantäne-Station des Tierschützers. Er und sein Team versuchen auf der indonesischen Insel Sumatra so viele Orang Utans wie möglich vor dem Tod zu retten. Ihr Feind: die Palmölindustrie, sie raubt den Tieren durch Brandrodungen ihren Lebensraum. Indonesien ist der weltgrößte Produzent, der Weltmarktanteil liegt bei 44%, denn fast die Hälfte aller Produkte im Supermarkt enthalten Palmöl. Es befindet sich zum Beispiel in Backwaren, Waschmittel und Süßwaren.

Der Boden und das Klima auf Sumatra sind für die Palmölindustrie ideal. Hunderte von Brandrodungen gab es bereits in diesem Jahr, dabei sind sie in Indonesien verboten. Konkret bedroht: der Torfsumpfwald von Tripa an der Westküste, das hochsensible Ökosystem gehört zum UNESCO-Weltkulturerbe. Die Konzerne interessiert das wenig, für sie zählt der Profit. Das hat dramatische Folgen für die Affen: ihr Lebensraum wird vernichtet, viele Tiere finden kaum noch Nahrung und verhungern, andere werden getötet, weil sie auf der Suche nach Futter den Palmölfeldern zu nahe kommen. Die Orang-Utan-Babies werden häufig auf dem Schwarzmarkt verkauft und landen oft als Haustier im Käfig – auch das eigentlich verboten auf Sumatra.


Weltweit– Autor Norbert Lübbers hat sich mit seinem Team auf den Weg nach Tripa gemacht, die brennenden Wälder gesehen und einen Palmöl-Produzenten damit konfrontiert. Aber er hat auch gesehen, wie den Affen in der Quarantäne-Station geholfen wird: Die Tierschützer peppeln die verstörten Oang Utans auf und wildern sie später aus, sie werden umgesiedelt in einen entfernten Regenwald – dorthin, wo die Palmölindustrie noch nicht vorgedrungen ist.

Eine Weltweit-Reportage von Norbert Lübbers

Redaktion: Swantje von Massenbach


Meet PanEco (Ian Singleton) – the environmental charity being featured in the Wheel2Wheel Indonesia episode this Sunday night on National Geographic Channel

Orangutans die after clearing by burning | Der Spiegel

The perpetrators are threatened through high sentences:  One must pay a lot of fines and count up to 10 years in prison for burning Indonesian forest. Yet, two palm oil companies in Sumatra have set a large area of peat swamp on fire. More than a hundred orangutans could find their ends.

Jakarta – Dozens of orangutans could have died after clearing by burning in the northern part of Sumatra – Indonesian authorities have now initiated an investigation against two palm oil companies. Those were accused to have set a large area of peat swamp forest on fire in order to gain more space for their plantation, said a spokesman of the Ministry of Environment on Tuesday.

According to local environmentalists, about hundred orangutans died in Tripa Forest, only 200 were alive. All great apes in this area could by the end of this year eliminated.

A total of 6600 orangutans are estimated in Sumatra. Environmentalists have sent warning for months. Only 14,000 of an initially 60,000 ha forest in this region were intact.

Clearing by burning is restricted in Indonesia and can be penalized for 10 years in prison and fined up to almost 800,000 Euro. Still, burning of forest is common to rapidly clear large areas. Thereby, climate damaging carbon dioxide emerges in peat swamp forest such as in Tripa, since not only tress but also the soil of meters deep are burned out.

The accused companies should have burned 1600 ha (16 km2). The companies Die beschuldigten Unternehmen sollen 1600 Hektar (16 Quadratkilometer) abgefackelt haben. The companies reject the allegations and make local farmers responsible.

Just by the beginning of April failed a lawsuit filed by the environmentalists. They have tried to stop a permit through the court that allowed palm oil producer PT Kallista Alam to clear 1600 ha of Tripa Forest for oil palm plantation. The court declared of being unauthorised. The parties would first have to reach an amicable agreement, so stated in the verdict.

“If the court had explained this earlier that it is not authorised, the case could have been filed in higher court,” criticised the biologist Ian Singleton, who leads the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) and fights for years for the preservation of the forest. “One can call the Judges’ behaviour as ridiculous, if it was not so fatal for at least 200 critically endangered orangutans.”

“Les orangs-outans de Sumatra auront disparu d’ici la fin de l’année”

“Les orangs-outans de Sumatra auront disparu d’ici la fin de l’année”

Par: Caroline Albert

Les incendies font rage dans la forêt indonésienne et ont déjà tué un tiers des orangs-outans de Sumatra. Et le sort des survivants ne serait pas plus rose puisque, selon certains écologistes, ceux-ci pourraient avoir disparu d’ici la fin de l’année.

© reuters.

La forêt Tripa, dans la province d’Aceh, rassemble la plus importante population au monde de cette espèce menacée. Au dernier décompte, on comptait encore environ 200 de ces orangs-outans, sur une population mondiale de 6.600.

Hélas, 12.000 des 60.000 hectares de la forêt sont partis en fumée depuis décembre, a expliqué Graham Usher de la Fondation pour un écosystème durable. Un désastre qu’il faut à nouveau attribuer aux entreprises d’huile de palme qui assèchent les marais afin d’y faire pousser leurs cultures.

Un total de 92 incendies ont été enregistrés entre le 19 et le 25 mars dans plusieurs plantations. “S’il y a une sécheresse prolongée et que le feu continue, les orangs-outans, mais aussi les tigres de Sumatra seront exterminés avant la fin de 2012” a-t-il ajouté.

Le nombre d’orangs-outans tués ces derniers mois pourrait être d’une centaine d’individus ou plus. Selon Ian Singleton, directeur du Programme de conservation des Orangs-outans de Sumatra, il reste moins de 200 orangs-outans sur Tripa, qui en comptait 3.000 au début des années 1990. “Il ne leur reste que quelques mois à vivre. Nous sommes en train d’assister à une tragédie mondiale”.

L’an dernier, le gouverneur de la province d’Aceh, Irwandi Yusuf, a accordé une licence à PT Kallista Alam, une entreprise d’huile de palme, afin de convertir 1.600 hectares de la forêt de Tripa, exactement là où vivent les orangs-outans,  les tigres et les ours. Difficile dans de telles conditions d’avoir encore un peu d’espoir pour ces espèces en danger.

Animal rights group responds to permit for palm oil company

Medan – The former governor of Aceh who granted a permit to a palm oil company, said he did so to bring attention to failing climate change policies, but SOCP in a response to the governor today, called his actions “completely reprehensible.”
Digital Journal first reported the plight of Indonesia’s Sumatran orangutans on March 31, after learning that an estimated 100 apes had been killed in 92 fires, burning out of control in the Tripa forest on the coast of Aceh province.

The fires, illegally started by palm oil companies, are devastating prime habitat areas and killing orangutans said conservation groups, who challenged the legality of the permit granted by Aceh governor Irwardi Yusuf in court. The permit issued to PT Kallista Alam, allowed for the development of a 1,600-hectare (3,950-acre) oil palm plantation in the heart of the Tripa swamp.

After 5 months of hearings in the court case, the Banda Aceh Administrative Court said last week, it had no authority to rule on the case because the parties involved had not tried to solve the case outside of the court room.

It was an act that Dr. Ian Singleton, Director of Conservation at the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) in Indonesia, told us could mean the destruction of the forests, and the extinction of the Sumatran orangutan by the end of 2012.

Yet Dr. Irwardi, who denied the permit was illegal, told Australia’s The Age a few days ago, that the permit was “morally wrong,” but he signed it as, “a wake-up call to the international community over its failing climate change policies.”

Irwardi also denied that orangutans were in jeopardy from the land clearing, an allegation that SOCP is now strongly refuting. In a press release issued to Digital Journal this morning, SOCP said:

While we appreciate the former Governor of Aceh’s admission that issuing the permit was “morally wrong”, we completely refute his claims that the remaining Orangutan population has been unharmed by recent clearing and burning of the remaining peatland forests of Tripa.

The former governor, said SOCP, had been been “informed on numerous occasions of the presence of an important Orangutan population in the Tripa peat swamp forests.” Furthermore, the group added, while they appreciated the governor’s frustration over insufficient funding:

“We also find his method of drawing attention to the problem, namely sacrificing carbon-rich deep peat swamp forests and a population of the Critically Endangered Sumatran Orangutan, completely reprehensible.”

What has confused many about Dr. Irwandi’s so-called cry for help, is that the man himself has a history of strong conservation policies, yet by signing the permit, he has sacrificed a critical habitat for Sumatran orangutans. One that as part of the Leuser Ecosystem, is one of the largest remaining natural habitats for orangutans in the world.

SOCP is now insisting that the Indonesian government enforce their own laws to prevent the extinction of Tripa’s orangutans. The group also highlights several law-breaking incidents in the Tripa swamps conducted by other concessions besides PT Kallista Alam , including PT Dua Perkasa Lestari and PT Surya Panen Subur 2.

Yet despite a massive push through petitions and correspondence signed by thousands of people from around the world, “no responsible Government official has made a public statement about the case since early December 2011,” said SOCP, who adds that this doesn’t bode well for Indonesia’s global image.

The conservation group said it will continue to lobby the Indonesian government for protection of the Tripa forests and the orangutans who inhabit them. “We would be betraying the Sumatran orangutan and all our many supporters, if we do not continue to lobby for this using all means at our disposal.”

And SOCP has vowed strong action if necessary, adding that it would push for a suspension of Norway’s Letter of Intent on emissions reduction with Indonesia, including its $1,000,000,000 aid package, and ask for a global suspension of all purchases of Indonesian palm oil that is not fully certified by the Round Table for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

Finally, said the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme said, it would completely reject the Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) certification scheme, until the rogue companies operating in Tripa are prosecuted.

Orang-Utan-Wald steht in Flammen

Orang-Utan-Wald steht in Flammen

Von Simone Utler

Torfsumpfwald Tripa: Brandrodung gefährdet Ökosystem


Eine der letzten Zufluchten für Orang-Utans auf Sumatra ist gefährdet: Der Torfsumpfwald in Tripa brennt seit Wochen, eine Palmölgesellschaft will das Gebiet roden, ein Gericht hat eine Klage von Naturschützern zurückgewiesen. Die ziehen vor die nächste Instanz – und aktivieren die Öffentlichkeit.

Banda Aceh – Die Gefahr droht von mehreren Seiten. Vor Ort ist sie in Form von Flammen und Rauch zu sehen: Seit mehreren Wochen brennt es im Torfsumpfwald Tripa an der Westküste der indonesischen Insel Sumatra. Mehr als hundert Brandherde zählen Umweltschützer inzwischen. Außerdem wurden nach Angaben von Greenpeace und der indonesischen Naturschutzorganisation Walhi illegale Gräben ausgehoben, über die Wasser aus dem Sumpfgebiet abfließt und so die Brandgefahr noch weiter erhöht wird.
Doch die eigentliche Bedrohung wurde in der vergangenen Woche in einem Gerichtssaal deutlich: In der Provinzhauptstadt Banda Aceh ist eine Klage von Naturschützern gescheitert. Diese hatten versucht, gerichtlich die Genehmigung stoppen zu lassen, wonach der Palmölhersteller PT Kallista Alam eine 1600 Hektar große Fläche in Tripa roden und eine Plantage anlegen darf. Das Gericht erklärte sich für nicht zuständig. Die Parteien hätten sich zuerst um eine außergerichtliche Einigung bemühen müssen, hieß es zur Urteilsbegründung.
“Wenn das Gericht früher erklärt hätte, dass es nicht zuständig ist, hätte man den Fall gleich an eine höhere Instanz reichen können”, kritisiert der Biologe Ian Singleton, der das Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) leitet und seit Jahren für den Erhalt des Walds in Tripa kämpft. “Man könnte das Verhalten der Richter als lächerlich bezeichnen, wenn es nicht so fatal für mindestens 200 vom Aussterben bedrohte Orang-Utans wäre.
“Indonesien steht kurz davor, dem Tripa-Wald den Todesstoß zu versetzen – und damit sind auch die vom Aussterben bedrohten Sumatra-Orang-Utans in Gefahr. Insgesamt gibt es nur noch rund 6600 Menschenaffen auf Sumatra, in Tripa lebt die dichteste Population, die auch für die Forschung extrem wichtig ist. “Sie könnte Aufschluss über den Ursprung der menschlichen Kultur geben”, sagt Regina Frey, Leiterin und Gründerin der Schweizer Organisation PanEco, die sich seit Jahrzehnten in Sumatra engagiert. Die Population in Tripa habe die Fähigkeit entwickelt, Werkzeuge zu benutzen. “Wenn Tripa wieder aufgeforstet werden könnte, können dort 2000 bis 3000 Orang-Utans leben”, so Frey.

Zerstörung des Moors setzt enorme Mengen Kohlendioxid frei

Doch nicht nur die Orang-Utans sind in Gefahr. Der Torfsumpfwald ist außerdem die Heimat von Elefanten, Tigern und Nashörnern und versorgt die lokale Bevölkerung mit Trinkwasser, Fisch sowie Nahrungs- und Heilpflanzen. “Tripa ist ein Hotspot an Biodiversität und als solcher von Unesco und Unep anerkannt”, betont Frey. Außerdem komme dem Wald eine wichtige Schutzfunktion bei einem möglichen Tsunami zu: “Der Wald könnte einströmende Wassermassen absorbieren.”

Tripa ist einer der letzten drei Torfsumpfwälder an der Westküste Sumatras und gehört zu dem unter Naturschutz stehenden Leuser-Ökosystem. In den vergangenen Jahren mussten der Organisation Rettet den Regenwald zufolge bereits drei Viertel des geschützten Tripa-Waldes Palmölplantagen weichen. Nur noch 12.000 der ursprünglich 60.000 Hektar seien noch unversehrt. Einer der Hauptakteure ist die Palmölfirma PT Kallista Alam, die eine offizielle Genehmigung zum Abholzen erhalten hat, obwohl eigentlich ein zweijähriges Moratorium auf Rodungen besteht.

Zur landwirtschaftlichen Nutzung der Sumpfwälder ziehen Palmölfirmen zunächst Kanäle, um die Böden zu entwässern und das wertvolle Holz zu schlagen. Ist der Boden erst entwässert, trocknet der Torf aus. Der Kohlenstoff aus der Erde oxidiert und wird zu CO2. Dies wandert in die Atmosphäre und heizt das Klima an. Durch Abholzen und Entwässern werden laut Rettet den Regenwald bis zu 25 Prozent der weltweiten Treibhausgase produziert

“Die Zerstörung dieses Moors setzt enorme Mengen an Kohlendioxid frei, was gegen internationale Abkommen verstößt, die Indonesien unterschrieben hat”, betont Rettet den Regenwald. Schon jetzt gehöre Indonesien aufgrund der ungezügelten Entwaldung zu den größten globalen Klimasündern. Insgesamt könnte die Freisetzung von 120 Millionen Tonnen CO2 vermieden werden, wenn in Tripa in den nächsten 30 Jahren keine neuen Plantagen errichtet würden, so die Naturschützer. Schließlich habe das Land angegeben, seine Emissionen um 26 Prozent zu reduzieren.

Nach Einschätzung von PanEco riskiert Indonesien mit dem Urteil zu Tripa das eine Milliarde Dollar schwere Paket, das Norwegen für den Klimaschutz zugesagt hat. Indonesien hatte sich in einer Klimaschutzvereinbarung im Rahmen des Uno-Waldschutzprogramms REDD+ gegenüber Norwegen verpflichtet, im Gegenzug weniger Bäume abzuholzen.

“Das Urteil ist sehr ärgerlich, war aber zu erwarten”, sagt Frey. “Schließlich gibt es in Indonesien einen ständigen Widerspruch zwischen dem Gesetz und der Palmöllobby, den diese leider meist für sich entscheiden kann.” Ihrer Organisation gehe es aber nicht nur um die Konzession für Kallista Alam, über die gerade das Gericht entschieden hat und die ein relativ kleines Terrain betrifft – sondern um das gesamte Gebiet von 60.000 Hektar.

“Quasi gesetzlose Zeit” in der Provinz Aceh

Nach Einschätzung von Frey spielt den Konzernen in die Hand, dass sich Aceh in einer “quasi gesetzlosen Zeit” befindet. Am Montag fanden in der Provinz Gouverneurswahlen statt – der bisherige Gouverneur Irwandi Yusuf stellte sich der Wiederwahl. Obwohl er selbst vor einigen Jahren für die Provinz ein Moratorium erlassen hat, wonach keine Abholzungskonzessionen vergeben werden dürfen, erteilte er Kallista Alam die Erlaubnis zur Abrodung in Tripa.

Yusuf dementierte am Wochenende, dass mindestens hundert Orang-Utans gestorben seien, seit das Gebiet in Tripa gerodet wird. Seine Inspektoren hätten das Gebiet untersucht und “kein einziger Orang-Utan war da”, sagte er einem Bericht der australischen Website zufolge. Gleichzeitig räumte er ein, dass seine Entscheidung, PT Kallista Alam eine Konzession zu erteilen, “zwar nicht gesetzlich, aber zumindest moralisch falsch” gewesen sei. Er sagte, er hasse die Palmölfabrik und habe zwölf Monate lang ihrem Drängen widerstanden. Die Vergabe der Konzession begründete Yusuf mit einem sehr kruden Motiv: Er habe auf internationale Missstände hinweisen wollen.

Naturschützer Graham Usher, der auf Sumatra lebt und arbeitet, kritisiert diese Strategie: “Das ist in etwa so, als setzten wir unser eigenes Haus in Brand, um auf Versäumnisse bei der Feuerwehr aufmerksam zu machen.”

Frey ist überzeugt, dass die derzeit schwelenden Brände von Menschen gelegt wurden – um Fakten zu schaffen: “Wenn der Wald erst einmal zerstört ist, können sich die Firmen zurücklehnen und sagen: Hier ist nichts Schützenswertes mehr.”

Die Aktivisten von Walhi wollen nun vor das Verfassungsgericht ziehen. “Aber je länger wir warten, umso schlimmer wird die Situation in Tripa”, sagte Kamaruddin, der Anwalt der Kläger. Die Umweltschützer setzen inzwischen auf die Unterstützung der Öffentlichkeit und haben eine Online-Petition ins Leben gerufen. Weltweit haben bereits mehr als 30.000 Menschen unterschrieben.

Besonders erschreckend an dem ganzen Fall: Das Gebiet von Tripa eignet sich den Umweltschützern zufolge überhaupt nicht für Palmölplantagen. “Wenn das Gebiet einmal abgeholzt ist, versalzt es und kann nicht als Agrarland genutzt werden”, so Frey.