Conservation News: Stop Burning Rain Forests for Palm Oil

from Scientific American

Giant blazes clear forests to make room for oil palm plantations in Indonesia.Image: ROBERT NICKELSBERG Getty Images
Giant blazes clear forests to make room for oil palm plantations in Indonesia.Image: ROBERT NICKELSBERG Getty Images

In the Tripa forest in Indonesia’s Aceh province, the rare Sumatran orangutans were dying. Flames devoured the trees, smoke filled the air and the red apes had nowhere to go. The fires had been set intentionally, to clear the land for planting oil palms—trees whose fruit yields palm oil, a widely used component of biofuels, cosmetics and food. Although the land was supposed to be protected, the Aceh governor issued a permit in August 2011 for Indonesian palm oil firm PT Kallista Alam to develop some 1,600 hectares in Tripa. In September 2012, under pressure from environmental groups, the permit was revoked. It seemed like a significant win for conservation. Yet the controversial Tripa permit was just a small part of the country’s palm oil–driven deforestation crisis.

With its low price tag and long shelf life, palm oil is the cooking oil of choice in many parts of the world. The plant is a major cash crop for poor farmers in developing countries such as Indonesia, the world’s largest producer of palm oil. Palm oil estates there cover an estimated 8.2 million hectares of land—an area the size of Maine—and that number is poised to skyrocket as the country prepares to double its output by 2030. Palm oil exports bring Indonesia and neighboring Malaysia $40 billion a year.

This excerpt from an article appeared in and is courtesy of Scientific American and can be read in its entirety there.

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