Palm Oil – Why DO We Care?

Here in Borneo there is a growing concern for the well-being of local forest dwelling species, due to the rising demand for a substance called Palm Oil.

If you open your kitchen cupboard and check the labels on the foods you’ve purchased you will almost certainly find that a large percentage of those products contain Palm Oil.  Not something most people would give too much thought to, I’m sure, but do you know where Palm Oil comes from?

In Malaysia and Indonesia it’s one of the main exports, because a singular tree can offer such a high yield (depending on the type of plant, about 4 to 5 tonnes of crude palm oil (CPO) per hectare per year and about 1 tonne of palm kernels).  But in order to keep up with the rising worldwide demand, some of the natural rainforest – and therefore the habitats of the wildlife living there – have been destroyed to make room for more of these plantations.

In both 2008 and 2009, Indonesia was entered into the Guinness Book of World Records for having the highest rate of deforestation of any country in the world and in 2014, figures showed that over 30% of Bornean rainforest has been destroyed since 1973.  Due to changes in legislation under Indonesia’s current president, there is now a greater focus on the damage that has been done to the habitats of endangered species and deforestation is now far more closely monitored.  There is now much greater awareness of the plight of the areas endangered species and the Indonesian government are doing what they can to ensure that the Palm Oil which is exported as a source of income is sourced sustainably.  But this doesn’t fix the problem that humans have already caused over the years.

So what can we do to make sure that the high and ever-growing number of endangered and diverse species in these areas are safe?

I am not about to suggest that you boycott all products containing Palm Oil.  Firstly, because you would likely struggle to find suitable alternatives to replace everything you consume and would curse me into an early grave.  Secondly, because people are important, just as animals are, and there’s no need to stamp out a low income country’s biggest export – they are doing what’s needed to survive on this planet and ensuring an income for their families, it doesn’t make them all monsters.

But it may be worth keeping an eye out for the brands who work in conjunction with wildlife conservation projects, to ensure that their oil is from sustainable plantations and doesn’t encroach on the habitats of endangered species.

If you’d like to know more about palm oil and which companies have been buying from sustainable sources, here is a link you may find interesting:

A much more detailed list from BOS Australia (Borneo Orangutan Survival):

And an interactive version from WWF, so you can search for the brands you love, to see how they score:

While being more ‘brand aware’ in your purchases is one way to help, you could also offer your help in far more hands-on ways.

Volunteering with wildlife conservation projects in these areas can provide the help that these organisations need to improve the lives of those animals who have been unfortunate enough to have already lost their homes.

Organisations such as Borneo Orangutan Survival in East Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo, are multitasking to deal with the situation.  Since there is no longer enough natural forest remaining to house all of the animals needing homes, they are working hard to ensure that these habitats are being restored as quickly as possible, planting replacement forests on reclaimed land.  They are also ensuring that the animals who have been pushed out of their homes by both deforestation and fire have somewhere safe to stay, while they work to fix the underlying problem.

Volunteers on these projects work hard throughout the season to ensure that the Orangutans who have no forest left to go back to are comfortable in their temporary homes, and also take part in the restoration of the rainforest which has been lost, to rebuild a future for these endangered species, so that they don’t have to spend their lives in unnatural conditions.

A few of us have recently done just that.

12 Days

10 Volunteers

1 Mission

To show you that absolutely anybody from anywhere can get involved in a project like this, ten volunteers recorded their experiences at the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation in East Kalimantan, to give you an idea of the physical and emotional journey that a volunteer embarks on when they take on a project like this.

Click HERE to read our volunteer profiles!


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