Palm oil & environment

Palm oil responsible for a massive deforestation

By Manon Godot, 16th of July 2010

Plantations in Indonesia

Nowdays the world leader in the production of palm oil is Indonesia, with 44 % of the worldwide production; the major oil producing provinces being Sumatra, Riau, and West Kalimantan on the island of Borneo. Indonesia is directly followed by Malaysia, which produces 43 % of the global production of palm oil, the two countries remaining until now the two largest producers and exporters of palm oil in the world. Elaeis guineensis is also grown for its oil in Colombia (2 %), Nigeria (2 %) and Thailand (2 %), Benin, Ghana, Kenya, Brazil, India, China and New Guinea.

Indonesia already grows 6 millions of hectares of palm oil plantations, and the country is planning to expend to 10 millions in 2015. According to the NGO Forest Watch Indonesia, only on the Island of Borneo (malaysia & Indonesia), the surface of palm oil plantations replacing rainforest got multiplied by 400 during the past 20 years. In 2006, 816.000 hectares of forests were cleared in order to plant oil palm. In Sumatra (Indonesia), 38.5% of the rainforest was converted into plantations in 2007. The same year, the UN declared Indonesia as being to largest forest logger, with an average 2 % of deforestation per year. In Papua (New Guinea), 480.000 hectares of rainforests were destroyed for growing oil palm. According to the 2007 report of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), most of these countries’s forests might be destroyed by 2022, considering the spread of palm oil plantations as one of the greatest threats to forests in Indonesia and Malaysia.

In February 2009, Indonesia’s Minister of the environment also approved a decree which allows the conversion of peatlands into oil palm plantations. These peatlands however store large amounts of carbon, which will be released into the atmosphere when the lands will be drained, cleared and planted. Even if the conversion remains forbidden for peatlands exceeding 3 meters deep, scientists consider that the destruction of peatlands allowed in Indonesia will generate about 8 % of the global green house gas emissions in some years, making the country the third largest responsible of emissions (after USA and China).

Plantations in Colombia

In Colombia, oil palm is also widely grown, especially in the departments of Meta, Cesar, Santander, Magdalena, Nariño, Casanare, Bolívar, Cundinamarca, Chocó and north Santander. Colombia loses between 2000 and 3000 km2 of rainforest each year for economical purposes, one of the largest cause of deforestation being the plantation of sugar cane and palm oil.

Loss of biodiversity

The deforestation caused by the expension of oil palm plantations has dramatic effects on the green house gas emission, but also on the worldwide biodiversity, these rainforests being home for thousand of animal and plant species.

The forests of Chocó, the most affected by palm oil production in Colombia, are among the most biodiverse forests on earth, with 7000 to 8000 species, more than 2000 native plant species and 100 endemic bird species.

On the more than 400 land mammals of Indonesia, 15 are critically endangered by palm oil production, and 125 threatened. In Sumatra and Borneo, the last remaining Sumatran Orangutans, Sumatran tigers, Asian elephant and Sumatran Rhinoceros are greatly endangered by the expension of palm oil plantations. In Malaysia, 6 land mammals species are in the way of desapearing, and 41 are threatened.

Logging and fires in the forests; destruction of the rainforests habitat; hinder migration patterns; block of travel corridors; fragmentation of the rainforests by roads, facilitating the access to illegal hunting and poaching; fire accidents while clearing; and killing of the animals found in the plantations, are so many factors which contribute to the extinction of all these species.

“Plantations also polute the earth and water with pesticides and untreated palm oil-mill effluent, cause soil erosion and increased sedimentation in rivers, and cause air polution due to the forest fires.” (CSPI)

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