Indonesia and Malaysia account for about 85% of the world’s production of palm oil, with demand and therein supply rising each year; with Indonesia overtaking Malaysia as the world’s number one producer (link) . Ideal land for oil palm plantations unfortunately happens to be land once covered by lowland forest, the habitat preferred by orangutans and countless other species (high conservation value forest – HCVF).
The land clearing and development necessary to create an oil palm plantation severely alters the ecosystem, so that most species both plant and animal can no longer live in these areas.
As is becoming more and more common, orangutans are entering oil palm plantations (and other human developments) searching for food, causing damage to plants and eating the fruit. This results in a high level of human-wildlife conflict, as the plantation is concerned with maintaining its profits, which may be lessened by orangutans and other wildlife raiding food crops. The cause of this conflict is the rapid loss of the biodiversity-rich tropical rainforest that serves as ranging/foraging habitat for the species living within.
Rather than trying to go into deeper detail on the problems with palm oil here – I recommend reading:
1. The previously referenced report written by Helen Buckland, SOS’s UK Director, The Oil for Ape Scandal, available from: here
2. Eye on Aceh’s ‘The ‘Golden’ Crop? Palm Oil in Post-Tsunami Aceh’ available from: here
The SOS-OIC has therefore started the Palm Oil Plantation Roadshow Initiative, in conjunction with The Great Ape Film Initiative (GAFI), and therein Films4Conservation (http://www.films4.org/) and the work of Patrick Rouxel (Patrick Rouxel), along with one of our regular partner NGOs, the Orang Utan Republik Initiative (OUREI).
The objectives of the project are as follows:
- To alleviate human-orangutan conflicts on oil-palm and rubber plantation estates through the distribution of a training film targeted at plantation workers, combined with workshops and focus groups.
- Through the use of the film ( some of which can be viewed in full at Cockroach Productions), in conjunction with workshops, change the perception of orangutans held within the palm oil industry
- Use education to improve the prospects of a sustainable industry and the survival of orangutans in expanding agricultural landscapes.
- To provide information on forest loss and degradation, and to examine the perceptions of local communities through visualization of the issues.
- To gather data on the attitudes of local communities towards human-orangutan conflict, forest degradation and conservation issues through focus group discussions, questionnaires and semi-structured interviews.
- To gather data on the scale of human-orangutan conflicts in plantation estates surrounding orangutan habitat areas.
- To make environmental films available to audiences in great ape range states through distribution of film copies to relevant stakeholders
- To introduce and promote “mobile environmental cinema” to local forest and agricultural communities.
- To expand the capacity of field educators to communicate crucial messages about human-orangutan conflict
Roadshows are being conducted in North Sumatra, primarily visiting oil palm and rubber plantations. The schedule of activities includes screening top-quality conservation films produced in local language, conducting mitigation workshops, and focus-group discussions and debates to try and better understand the conflict from the perspective of the local community themselves.
In terms of what we teach at plantations – well, it’s all very new, currently being tested material. Former SOS employee and now consultant, PHd student Gail Angela Campbell-Smith, is the only person conducting research on human-orangutan conflict; and we have been spreading her devised tactics – using a cannon like apparatus that only makes a loud bang to scare orangutans away (no projectiles!), spreading nets that have been soaked in chili oil across fruit trees, and using other noise making tools to frighten orangutans away (which has actually proven rather effective, and easy to do since many people stay inside the plantations and can intercept orangutans).
Also whenever people encounter orangutans in plantations we tell them to contact the government (of which we’ve been given permission to give personal contact details of an official in the nature conservation department in Indonesia), and/or the Sumatran Orangutan Society, or also our friends at the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP).
In addition to information from Gail’s research, I have spoken with other farmers (one in Tangkahan at last week’s conservation camp (a post soon to follow!) who said he has orangutans in his area that occasionally raid his crops. And it’s somewhat surprising the level to which people CAN be largely tolerant of these losses from orangutans. A lot of people like and respect orangutans for being closely related to us, and so long as they don’t become destitute themselves they co-exist with the orangutans. Though for how long, and how many of the total people on the island are tolerant, unknown.
Ultimately though orangutans living in areas that have become too far isolated in areas of human development, with no forest corridor present to return to the larger forest blocks, are most likely going to have to be moved if they are to survive into the future. So the solution is to get them away from people, which is not only going to be very costly, but also how does one safely move a 150 or so kg adult male orangutan? Or even a 70kg female orangutan for that matter (not much easier!)? And also where do we move them to, with forests in Sumatra shrinking by the day?
So, again, it’s a very new field and there is not a simple solution. Well, there is – stop cutting down all the forests and/or planting crops so close to them. But… that’s not really simple either (a good time to remind ourselves that if we lived on farms and something were negatively affecting our productivity, how would we respond? / also, it’s easy to tell the people here not to cut down their forests, but what have we already mostly done with our native lands?)!
… So as not to end here on a negative note – progress is being made!
The SOS-OIC is very busy currently in its tree replanting efforts throughout North Sumatra (with potential plans to spread into the Aceh Province)! We are working in close collaboration with the Gunung Leuser National Park, and are ‘putting back’ some of the forest that has been lost to time and development.
Also every day that our staff is out here working and talking with the communities, we are making things better. We are constantly learning more and devising new plans and strategies to help save the orangutans. And of course, such a big part of that is dependent on the whims of the people living adjacent to orangutan populations; such that if they choose that orangutans are worth fighting for and saving, they will work to ensure that happens.
Although this programme mostly focuses on adults working in these plantations, there is also a session held just for the children of those adults, whom also stay on the plantations.
Everyone has to be involved – we’ve got to learn from whilst at the same time educate all of the relevant stakeholders (on past mistakes that we’ve made that can be avoided, the importance of the forest/orangutans in providing natural ecological services to mankind, etc).
So, it’s up to ALL of us. Let’s keep up the good work and do something then!
First published on http://sos-oic.blogspot.com/2008/07/palm-oil-roadshows.html