People often look upon the efforts of palm oil campaigns and see cold hearted environmentalists wanting to destroy a job rich industry for the sake of some trees and a few animals. What we are actually trying to achieve is quite different.

The problem…

Deforestation is being caused by a decision the industry and government faces. The decision is simply how to meet the excess demand for palm oil. They face two choices:

  1. Expansion: slash and burn rainforests and put more oil palm plantations in their place
  2. Intensification: stop expanding and produce more off current plantations

The industry is choosing expansion, the consequences off this short term thinking are well known: death of wildlife, indigenous human rights abuses and carbon emissions.

Our campaign and campaigns all over the world exist to see a change from expansion to intensification. This would mean the preservation of jobs and the preservation of the environment. We CAN have the best of both worlds.

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Photo: The palm oil industry faces a choice (photo source)

Why the status quo is not an option…

Those who argue we should continue to allow expansion for the sake of jobs need to consider a few things.

First, the reality is that the status quo means the decimation of rainforests. Without the worlds rainforests to act as the earths lungs it is virtually impossible to stop climate change.

Indonesia currently releases 1.8 billion tonnes of carbon emissions every year from its deforestation, a figure exacerbated by it having the world’s second most carbon rich soil, all of which is released by slash and burn. With current plans to continue the status quo, climate change will escalate and hurt the very poor communities that advocates of the status quo are trying to help.

“…palm oil is not a golden path to prosperity for everyone.”

Secondly, palm oil is not a golden path to prosperity for everyone. Indigenous human rights abuses and land conflicts with companies are escalating as the palm oil industry expands further and further into rainforest occupied by indigenous communities. Along with this there are a string of issues relating to workers pay, health and safety and the treatment of migrants who come to work on plantations.

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Photo: The expansion model (photo source)

Expansion versus. Intensification

An intensification model is a realistic way of meeting extra demand for palm oil. Plant selection alone can result in a two or three fold increase in production just by choosing the right plant. Changes in mechanisation, pest and disease control and better plantation management can all help achieve the increase in palm oil the world wants. This way workers keep their jobs and the negative environmental effects of the industry stop.

In a nutshell…

A boycott on a large enough scale will force palm oil companies to rethink slash and burn and shift towards intensification. Once this shift occurs consumers can buy palm oil in confidence that it is grown sustainably.

Destroying the industry will result in renewed poverty for many, while continuing as we are will result in escalating land conflicts and rampant climate change. Neither option is ethical or desired so we must work to create an industry that can grow in a way that is not at the expense of rainforests and indigenous communities.