Conservation News: How Palm Oil Cultivation in Borneo is Threatening the Ecosystem Everywhere

To make way for an oil palm plantation, land in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo, is stripped of trees, then burned. (Mattias Klum/Tierra Grande AB)
To make way for an oil palm plantation, land in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo, is stripped of trees, then burned. (Mattias Klum/Tierra Grande AB)

by Nicole Crowder for the Washington Post

During the past 20 years, the area under palm oil cultivation in Indonesia and Malaysia has roughly tripled, helping to accelerate — along with logging operations and bauxite mining — the destruction of the region’s remaining rain forests. The loss of these ecosystems, extraordinarily rich in biodiversity, has not only eliminated wildlife habitats, it has also undermined local communities, which depend on the rain forest for small-scale agriculture, forest management and fisheries.

Most people living in the Borneo rain forest get their protein not from the forest itself, but from the rivers flowing through it. Palm oil plantations load up the rivers with sediment caused by soil erosion, gradually destroying the waterways with nutrient overload and pesticides. This degrades fish stocks, which undermines the local people’s access to protein. If salaries aren’t high enough for workers to afford legal food sources, what happens next is an increase in the illegal bush meat trade and, in time, a severe threat to vulnerable and endangered species.

Until recently, such stories didn’t mean too much to the rest of us. If industrial agriculture disrupted a distant community living off healthy local ecosystems, it was dismissed as a development failure — a local problem. But now this is changing.

This excerpt from a news article appeared in and is courtesy of the Washington Post and can be read in its entirety here.

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