The oil for ape scandal: how palm oil is threatening orang-utan survival

The oil for ape scandal: how palm oil is threatening orang-utan survival

Palm oil plantations threaten extinction of the orang-utan in Malaysia and Indonesia

This report discusses the imminent threat of extinction to orang-utan in Malaysia and Indonesia bought about by the production of palm oil (a source of vegetable oil). The orang-utan is a flagship species whose decline is an indicator of the wider destruction of natural environments vital to the existence of countless other birds, animals and insects.

Malaysia and Indonesia are racing to become the world’s largest supplier of palm oil and allowing the logging of rain forests and destroying of species-rich habitats. Both logging and palm oil production are intertwined in a process of forest clearance and plantation development.

Considering a number of case studies the report argues that orang-utan extinction can be avoided. International governments, supply chains, consumers and producers could play a significant role in saving the species:

  • Supermarkets need to join the Roundtable on Sustainable palm oil considering the source and nature of palm oil production. At present they appear unwilling to tackle the source of palm oil which is used in 1 of every 10 of their products.
  • Redirection of palm oil production onto readily available abandoned and degraded land would enable production to continue. This can only be achieved through legislative means and a move to tackle corruption within government which allows the continuation of illegal logging.
  • Illegal logging is only possible due to the theft of land from indigenous people. They must have their customary claim to the land recognised and give informed consent to any plantation proposals.
  • Market buyers must use their influence to ensure that palm oil is produced using non-destructive methods. Switching to another oil such as soy oil is not the solution, as the production of alternatives is invariably as damaging as that of palm oil.
  • The international community must take responsibility for the destruction of such natural environments. A transparent supply chain is required. Also a commitment within the British Government’s draft Company Reform Bill, requiring companies take ‘reasonable and practical steps’ to reduce negative impacts on people and the environment.
  • A number of measures are recommended for palm oil producers. These include the reduction of pesticide use, banning of forest clearance by fire and use of environmental impact assessments.

The report argues that orang-utan extinction will not be due to a lack of knowledge but corporate greed and a lack of political will.