Supply and demand pressures are driving the production of palm oil up to an all-time high. Found in cookies, crackers, shampoo, skin care and beauty products, pet food, and many other products, palm oil is now the second most widely produced edible oil. It is also found in a wide array of products sold in natural food stores. And it is being investigated as a possible fuel alternative.
The increased demand for palm oil, which is obtained from the fruit of the oil palm tree and can be grown only in tropical environments, is fueling destruction of the rainforest habitat of Sumatran and Bornean orangutans, pushing those endangered species even closer to extinction. Estimates show that if something isn't done soon to stop the spread of palm oil plantations into the forests that harbor these orangutans, they will be extinct in ten years.
Understand how palm oil farming affects indigenous people
The increase in demand for palm oil has far-reaching implications for the indigenous people of Borneo and Sumatra.
- Millions of people rely on the palm oil industry for their livelihoods. A boycott of palm oil to preserve orangutan habitat could be devastating for these people. (That is one reason Cheyenne Mountain Zoo does not support a boycott of all palm oil.)
- The land for new plantations is often forcibly taken from the indigenous people who traditionally owned the land, resulting in violent conflicts.
- Local people can and should be trained in environmentally sustainable agriculture (including palm oil and other food sources) and other sustainable trades, crafts and professions.
The Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a multi-stakeholder group with many members from businesses, social organizations and government institutions, was formed to combat the effects of increased palm oil production.
In November 2007, the RSPO launched a certification system, establishing a definition and criteria for certified sustainable palm oil (SPO). The RSPO projects that evidence of certified SPO on the market could be seen as early as the first quarter of 2008.
This is encouraging news, and we ask you to work with us in this critical conservation effort.
What Can You Do?
If you are concerned about the effects of increased palm oil production on orangutan habitat, we encourage you to:
- Educate yourself and everyone you know about the palm oil crisis. (An education handout pdf)
- Read product labels to become familiar with companies that use palm oil in their products.
- Write to these companies about the importance of obtaining palm oil from certified sources. Encourage them to participate in the RSPO's certification process. (See Speak Out for letter suggestions.)
- Write to your favorite supermarkets to educate them on the importance of carrying products that contain only certified sustainable palm oil (when it becomes available).