European Oil Palm Market Causing Indonesian Rainforest Loss

OrangutanBelow is an important update on the global campaign to protect Indonesia's ancient rainforests from unfettered oil palm plantation development. It comes from WALHI (Friends of the Earth Indonesia), an important Indonesian NGO. Their new report importantly links the rapidly expanding European market for oil palm for biofuels (which EcoInternet was amongst the first to publicize) and other products with wholesale Indonesian rainforest destruction from oil palm plantations.
They are demanding that the Indonesian government officially cancel the proposed mega oil palm plantation along the Malaysian border that threatens the orangutan and other species with extinction. Earlier loose assurances that the project will not proceed must be followed by formal government statements, and the area given permanent protected status that is enforced. Please continue to take action on this important issue.

Title: European hunger for palm oil triggers expansion of plantations
Source: Copyright 2006, Friends of the Earth Indonesia (WALHI)
Date: April 12, 2006
Friends of the Earth Netherlands * Sawit Watch * Friends of the Earth Indonesia (WALHI) * Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland *
JAKARTA (INDONESIA), LONDON (UK), AMSTERDAM (THE NETHERLANDS), 12 April 2006 — A new report released today shows how the Indonesian government might develop up to 3 million hectares of oil palm plantations on the island of Borneo, threatening wildlife and local livelihoods to cater for international demand for cheap palm oil. [1]
One of the justifications given for this huge plantation project is the increasing international demand for palm oil to be used in food, feed and biofuels.
The report reveals how earlier plans to develop a 2 million hectare plantation on the Indonesian side of the border with Malaysia, are not yet off the table. Indonesia's initial proposals to develop the border area had met with international protest.
The Indonesian president Yudhoyono acknowledged there were conservation concerns to be taken into account. But the Indonesian Ministry of Public Works appears to have responded to this in January 2006 by simply enlarging the area defined as the “border zone”. In this broader area, up to 3 million hectares of oil palm could be planted, according to the Ministry.
The project still threatens mayhem, damaging wildlife and the livelihoods of local people in the Kalimantan region. Friends of the Earth Indonesia (WALHI) and local palm oil organisation Sawit Watch ('Oilpalm Watch') are calling on the Indonesian government to officially cancel the border mega-plantation plan.
The new report reveals that the area deemed suitable for oil palm includes forests used by thousands of people who depend on them for their livelihoods. In new larger border zone, a special regulation (Presidential Decree No. 36/2005) would allow the government to take land away from communities that do not want oil palm plantations in the name of 'public interest'.
The report shows that those communities who are aware of the new proposals are strongly opposed to the plans.
Evidence shows that in the last decade, many areas have been deforested supposedly to make way for oil palm plantations but have then been abandoned after the timber has been sold. In East Kalimantan alone, 3 million hectares of forest disappeared for oil palm concessions. Of those, only 300.000 hectares have actually been planted with oil palm.
Sixty per cent of the forests converted into oil palm plantations in 2004-2005 were still good forests, despite the commitment made by the Indonesian government in 2000 that no more forests would be converted to palm and pulp plantations.
“Communities should not be forced to change their livelihoods simply for the benefit of oil palm companies and consumers overseas. They have not been consulted on these proposals and certainly have not agreed to abandon their land,” said Rudy Lumuru of Sawit Watch, in the Netherlands to present the report.
'European importing countries should not increase their imports of palm oil until environmental and social issues are solved,' added Anne Van Schaik of Friends of the Earth Netherlands. 'This also means we should be very hesitant to embrace palm oil as a biomass-solution to the current energy crisis. To start with, companies and governments should ensure that palm oil used in food and feedstock is in line with the criteria laid out by the so-called Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil as soon as possible,” said Van Schaik.
Sawit Watch: Rudy Lumuru + 62 812 110 1016 Friends of the Earth Indonesia (WALHI) Rully Syumanda + 62 813 199 66998
Friends of the Earth Netherlands (Milieudefensie) + 31 20 5507333 Friends of the Earth in London: Alison Dilworth + 44 20 7566 4084 or + 44 7952 993283
[1] The report “The Kalimantan Border Oil Palm Mega Project” can be downloaded as pdf from and from

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3 Responses

  1. Iain Beath says:

    Hello GlenBarry,
    On a positive note there is huge potential to grow Jatropha bushes on
    poor grade semi-arid land throughout the tropics and sub-tropical
    areas at a price which is competitive with palm oil. This involves an
    improvement in social and environmental conditions. A number of us in
    the renewable energy world are actively pursuing these opportunities.

  2. Almuth Ernsting says:

    I have read quite a lot about tropical palm oils. Yet I have read nothing to suggest that there has been any proper scientific evaluation of tropical biofuels, looking at their life-time greenhouse gas emissions, impact on soils and water, etc. There is simply no evidence to show that tropical biofuels lead to lower climate change emissions than fossil fuels. In my country we get a full Environmental Impact Assessment into any wind farm application – but when it comes to policies leading to millions of acres of the tropics being converted – no assessment whatsoever.
    Yes, jatropha might be better (nobody knows for sure) – but there is the possibility of Indonesia cutting down even more rainforest to plant jatropha, which would hardly be better. I believe we need a proper assessment into the sustainability of biofuels and a moratorium on converting more land until this is done.

  3. No to deforestation diesel! says:

    Joint Statement of NGO-alliance
    No to deforestation diesel!
    We are a broad alliance of human rights and environmental groups who reject oil at the expense of forest ecosystems. the use of fuel gained from palm
    The global boom in palm oil turns out to be a curse for the rainforests and the local communities living there: As a consequence, forests are destroyed, soil, water and air are poisoned by agro- industrial toxins, conflicts over land erupt and the people concerned lose their livelihood. At breathtaking speed, the habitats of species threatened with extinction, i.e. orang utans, forest elephants and tigers on Sumatra and Borneo, have fallen prey to deforestation carried out to make way for palm oil plantations.
    Especially the past fifteen years have demonstrated that for each new development of a palm oil plantation, forests are being destroyed, often by a slash-and-burn practice where rainforests are targeted by the palm oil industry to gain further terrain. This way the palm oil industry, co-financed by Western banks, has joined the ranks as one of the largest contributors to the destruction of the Indonesian rainforest. According to Sawit Watch, an Indonesian NGO working on the problems created by palm oil plantations, such palm oil plantations are by their nature impossible to reconcile with socially or ecologically sustainable ways of cultivation.
    As a result of developments so far, lowland rainforests hardly exist today on Sumatra and Borneo. Therefore, a run on the remaining mountain forests and national parks has begun. Already now, Indonesia is the second largest producer of palm oil.
    Most urgently, we are now faced with the enormous extension of plantations for the exclusive production of palm oil diesel. We therefore reject the production of fuel from palm oil in principle; it happens at the expense of of primary forests or other forest ecosystems which are more aligned to the natural environment.
    The example of Indonesian pulp production demonstrates clearly what such a boom implies. Secured amongst others by credits of German banks and credit guarantees of the German government, the Indonesian pulp industry has increased its capacity eight-fold since the 1990s. For that purpose, on the island of Sumatra alone, 830,000 hectares of rainforests were destroyed, often illegally.
    The fact that banks, business and politicians now favour fuel which might also be derived from palm oil only shows that they have learnt nothing from the disaster of the Indonesian pulp and paper industry or that they consciously close their eyes to it. During the rapid expansion of the Indonesian pulp and paper industry large areas of rainforest were destroyed, and timber plantations often are of very low quality. For many western banks their involvement to the Indonesian pulp and paper industry also resulted in a financial disaster.
    Despite such experiences the EU and the German government presently push the production of biogen fuel on an industrial scale, including those from tropical forest regions. The cultivation of tropical oil seeds for biogen fuel is going to destroy a considerable area of precious rainforest. Already the illegal logging of the Indonesian forests is hard to control. But for new plantations, new roads are being built which in turn attract even more illegal lumberjacks.
    In pursuing such policies the EU becomes co-responsible for the destruction of the last rainforests for supposedly ”renewable” fuel. And we thereby lay the responsibility for the ecological problems we face due to our own consumption patterns at the door of countries with rainforests.
    The purportedly ”neutral” climatic balance in the extracting of energy from palm oil is a naive assumption which doesn’t take into account where the sustainable raw materials are grown. The swamp and peat forests on Sumatra and Borneo are thus important as carbon sinks. But it’s exactly these forests which are being destroyed by the slash-and-burn practice, the resulting space being used for palm oil plantations. It’s not just important ecosystems that vanish thereby, even the advantage of using biogen fuels is reduced due to the destruction of carbon sinks.
    Against this background strict criteria for the use of fuel from plants must apply. Biogen fuel from the ”waste” of European agriculture or from organic cultivation of, for example, rapeseed on fallow land is acceptable. Instead of a simple partial replacement of oil through biogen fuel, we need to fundamentally alter our approach to energy and transport policies.
    This would entail most of all:
    -the promotion of public transport rather than private car- and air traffic;
    -consequent measures to conserve energy, as for example a legal requirement for a maximum petrol consumption of three litres per 100 kilometres for motorcars;
    -the consequent extension of renewable energy sources like solar and wind power.
    Together with human rights and environmental organisations in Indonesia like Sawit Watch or Walhi we demand that strict criteria are applied for the use of tropical products to quell our thirst for energy.
    The main such criteria are:
    -not to turn primary forests into plantations;
    -no burning down of forests for new plantations;
    -no certification of palm oil plantations, as a monoculture based on palm oil cannot be cultivated in an ecologically sustainable way and generally leads to problems rather than any enduring benefits for local people;
    -respecting traditional customary rights and land rights;
    -no violence, no human rights violations, no expulsions of people, no police or military operations;
    -full compliance with ratified international agreements in countries where cultivation takes place like Indonesia (i.e. agreements which relate to indigenous peoples, biodiversity, workers’ rights, protection of plantation workers, health)
    -no financing of and no ”Hermes” export credit guarantees for projects which destroy the environment;
    -no tropical food plants to be used exclusively as sources of energy;
    -no to the competition for land where food production in the cultivating countries is at stake;
    -yes to the promotion of organic farming without the use of artificial fertilizers or agricultural toxins;
    -yes to a promotion of agricultural smallholdings in the cultivating countries
    April 2006
    Watch Indonesia!
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