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Initiatives are being undertaken by a number of groups, including the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (www.rspo.org), to encourage crucial changes in the industry. Palm oil is here and here to stay. It’s nearly impossible to avoid or boycott, and such practices are not endorsed by the Sumatran Orangutan Society. “Boycotting palm oil is not the answer. There are also serious social and environmental problems associated with growing other vegetable oils, such as soy” (Buckland, 2005). The palm oil industry employs millions of people, of which the oil is used in millions of our everyday products. And just as we in the west are either not aware of, or do not want our products to lead to the detriment of ecosystems (and the orangutans within), Indonesian and Malaysian plantation employees either are not aware, or do not want their work to lead to that detriment. So, talk of boycotting, or even limiting our use of palm oil (as there’s already such a glut of oil available), well, it’s not really going to help in the long run.

What we can do is support initiatives such as the RSPO, through choosing to only support corporations that choose to only support plantations adhering to RSPO principles.

That’s a simplistic way to describe the situation, and there’s always more that all of us could do. But, the basic chain from harvester/producer- refiner/packager- seller/consumer is there. So, if the consumer wishes to support only said companies, the rest of the chain has to follow if it wishes to persist and continue making a profit (which, need we remind them, is why they exist).

It’s nothing terrible to demand, either. As there is more than enough land already cleared and able to be neutrally planted with palm oil. There have been palm oil plantations in this country for centuries, taking advantage of the country’s natural resources just the same as many of the western nations (who, need I remind, did a much more complete job of destroying their ‘natural’ environment). It’s just that now it is becoming exponentially worse.

However, as said, it is not to say that the whole process of land transformation to plantation agriculture cannot be done more sustainably. Though, to be fair, I’m not so sure it can ever be anything more than done more sustainably, as opposed to being done sustainably. Monocrop agriculture where there once was a biodiversity hotspot teeming with life, it’s hard to call it sustainable (though, in order to advance that we have to admit all our own country’s violations against their natural environments).

Right, I got well off point, I meant to introduce and document our latest programme, the Palm Oil Roadshow Initiative.

But perhaps this will serve better to have an introduction, and to announce that whilst all these issues of sustainability are being discussed and debated internationally, in the meantime there are still problems occurring every day on the local level here in Indonesia (and of course in Malaysia – unfortunately it’s a shared problem) between wildlife and plantations.

Thus our Palm Oil Roadshows aims to help mitigate the frequency and severity of these everyday conflicts. This is done through 1. screening and distributing a health and safety-style training film targeted at plantation workers, describing best-practise guidelines for dealing with orangutans when they venture into plantations 2. Hosting discussions about conflict and conservation 3. Describing and demonstrating possible mitigation techniques in detail.

More details to come!

Buckland, H. (2005) The Oil for Ape Scandal: How Palm-oil is threatening the orangutan, A report produced for Friends of the Earth UK and the Ape Alliance.

(which can be acquired here – http://www.foe.co.uk/campaigns/corporates/news/orangutan_report.html)

First published on http://sos-oic.blogspot.com/2008/06/palm-oil-introduction.html