Orangutans are in trouble in the wild. Their forest homes are being destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations. Palm oil plantations are responsible for the clearing of hundreds of thousands of acres of orangutan habitat.
What is Palm Oil?
Palm oil is the most widely produced edible vegetable oil. It is harvested from the African oil palm tree, a tree that flourishes wherever heat and rainfall are abundant. It is mostly grown in Indonesian and Malaysia - the only places on earth where wild orangutans live - although this crop is expanding into Africa and South America.
Palm oil plantations are NOT a natural part of the rainforest. Palm oil is an introduced agricultural crop. Over 30 million tons of palm oil are produced in Indonesia and Malaysia per year. This demand is increasing rapidly due to recent trans-fat health concerns and bio-fuel development.
The Palm Oil Problem
Supply and demand pressures are driving the production of palm oil up to an all-time high. Millions of acres of rainforest in Borneo and Sumatra are cut down each year to plant African oil palm trees. Instead of using already cleared land, some companies choose to cut down healthy rainforest and use the profits to fund the planting of new plantations. After logging rainforest habitat, palm oil companies often use uncontrolled burning to clear the land or peat swamp. In 1997, a devastating fire killed almost 8,000 orangutans in Borneo.
The increased demand for palm oil is fueling destruction of the rainforest habitat of Sumatran and Bornean orangutans, pushing those endangered species even closer to extinction. Estimates show that if something isn't done soon to stop the spread of palm oil plantations into the forests that house these orangutans, they will be extinct in ten to 15 years.
Why Boycotting Isn't the Answer
Boycotting palm oil is a choice consumers can make to try and help orangutans and other wildlife in Indonesia and Malaysia. However, using certified sustainable palm oil is a more effective and responsible choice.
Oil palms are the most productive type of all the edible oil plants. Oil palms produce five to ten-times more oil per acre than other crops like soy or canola. If grown sustainably, palm oil can be a more environmentally friendly oil because less land has to be cleared to get the same amount of product.
Certified Sustainable Palm Oil
Certified sustainable palm oil isn't just any palm oil. It comes from a plantation that has made a commitment to produce palm oil in a way that minimizes its impact on wildlife, indigenous people and the planet.
Palm oil is a huge industry, employing millions of people. Native people often lose their land and livelihoods to large palm oil companies. Most of the money from non-sustainably produced palm oil does not trickle down to local people. On certified sustainable plantations and mills, the workers have decent housing and wages as well as schools and health clinics. At plantations and mills that are NOT certified, conditions for workers and their families are not regulated.
Palm oil plantations and mills that are certified as sustainable by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) have met many criteria to achieve certification. Palm oil plantations and mills that are NOT certified as sustainable by the RSPO do not have to adhere to RSPO regulations. Therefore, consumers can't be sure whether or not the palm oil coming from non-RSPO producers has harmed native wildlife, violated the rights of indigenous people or had other negative environmental impacts.
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)
The RSPO was formed in 2004 in response to the urgent and pressing global call for sustainably produced palm oil. The main objective of the RSPO is to promote the growth and use of sustainable oil palm products.
Companies who are members of the RSPO are required to abide by RSPO principles and guidelines. In November 2007, the RSPO launched a certification system, establishing a definition and criteria for certified sustainable palm oil.
We believe it is critical for consumers to support the RSPO's efforts, and show consumer preference for products made by RSPO members, and ultimately demand certified sustainable palm oil.
How You Can Help Orangutans
Support companies that have joined the RSPO.
Write to your favorite companies and restaurants. Ask them to use sustainable palm oil in their products and to join the RSPO if they haven't done so already.
Promote better labeling. Encourage RSPO companies to label products with an "Orangutan Friendly" label, just like the "Dolphin Safe" tuna labeling.
Use recycled paper products like paper towels, bathroom tissue, notebooks, stationary and printer paper.
Recycle paper and cardboard.
Ask for FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified wood and lumber products.
To Learn More
Visit www.rspo.org to learn more about certified sustainable palm oil.