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Palm Oil Plantations Impact on Forest Conservation

Today we’ve got a really special blog all about palm oil plantations. So, enjoy!

The oil palm tree grows exclusively in tropical areas. Because of the huge and increasing demand for palm oil, vast plantations have been established there, on land previously covered in the high conservation value tropical forests of Indonesia and Malaysia. This means that these areas are home to the most species of trees per hectare in the world, as well as a huge amount of other biodiversity. For example, nearly 80 mammal species are found in Malaysia’s primary forests however, disturbed forests contain on average around 30 species while palm oil plantations contain only 11 or 12. It also badly affects the insect, bird, reptile and soil microorganism populations.

Some of the species most badly affected by the palm oil plantations include:

The Asian Elephant

The Orangutan

The Sumatran Rhinoceros

The Tiger

Princeton University and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology estimate that, between 1990 and 2005, 55-60% of oil palm expansion in Indonesia and Malaysia occurred at the expense of forest previously undisturbed or exploited by man. The palm oil plantations also contribute considerably towards climate change because of the forest fires set to clear vast areas of rainforest for plantations and the carbon released by draining and converting these tropical peatland forests that store more carbon per unit area than any other eco system in the world. In 1997, these fires may well have been one of the main sources of the global CO2 emissions; a year that had more emissions than any other since records began in 1957. An estimated 0.81-2.57 gigatons of carbon were released into the atmosphere by the fires: 13-40% of the mean annual global carbon emissions from fossil fuels that year.

What can we do?

Palm oil isn’t going away but there are ways that we can help:

Some industry leaders are looking into more sustainable palm oil that meets with certain criteria that means it hasn’t contributed to deforestation or harmed wildlife. Products containing this palm oil are certified under the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil or RSPO; these products should be supported to encourage the industry to shift towards more sustainable or greener palm oil.

Another way we can help is to support organizations working to protect orang-utans and other animals being put in by danger by forest clearing and disturbance. Some organisations include the Orangutan Foundation International, the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation and the WWF.

Emily Morrey-McGrath

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