Palm oil, an edible vegetable oil derived from the mesocarp of the fruit of the oil palms, is an ingredient that can be found in many of the products that we use every day. Palm oil can be found in shampoo, toothpaste, chocolate, detergent and even in car fuel.
“It’s virtually everywhere,” explains an animated video that was created by Greenpeace to highlight the issues surrounding palm oil production.
So, what problems does this common ingredient cause? Well, a significantly large percentage of palm oil production is responsible for deforestation. Indonesians rainforests, some of the most bio-diverse forests in the world, are being cleared to make way for palm oil plantations.
Indonesia is home to up to 15 percent of all know species of plants mammals and birds, making it a treasure trove of biodiversity. However, as deforestation plagues the region, many of the species that call the area their home are disappearing. There are less than 400 Sumatran Tigers, a rare tiger subspecies that inhabits the Indonesian island of Sumatra, left in the wild today.
Since 1990, Indonesia has lost nearly 25 percent of its forests and could potentially lose all remaining forests by 2056, according to Conservation International, a nonprofit environmental organization. The forests, which have been turned into rubber, palm oil and pulp plantations, are a source of crucial resources that local communities depend on for survival.
The forests in the Gedepahala region, for example, which are located just 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the city of Jakata, is home to some of the island’s last remaining forests. These forests help filter and provide a reliable flow of water to over 30 million people on the island of Java. However, when the forests are cut down, the water stops flowing.
Restoring and safeguarding Indonesia’s rainforests is crucial to the populations survival and the survival of the world itself. Indonesia’s vast peatlands store about 35 billion tons of carbon. “When these peatlands are drained, burned and replaced by plantations, carbon dioxide is released and the conditions are set for devastating forest fires, which were responsible, for instance, for Singapore’s ‘haze wave’ in 2013,” writes Greenpeace.
Every year, the burning of these forests sends vast plumes of smoke across Southeast Asia, a practice which climate officials describe as a “crime against humanity.” However, the country has recently prohibited palm oil firms from using new land for production. Earlier this month, President Joko Widodo pledged to tackle the forest fires, and said that palm oil firms must raise yields in existing plantations instead of clearing more forests.
So, what can we do to help stop deforestation in Indonesia?
As mentioned earlier, palm oil is an ingredient in many of our household products, whether they be food, cosmetics or biofuels. As a result, it is our responsibility as the consumer to make sure that all of the products we purchase are sourced sustainably. By making this commitment, consumer companies will be placed under pressure to source their ingredients—particularly palm oil—with sustainable methods.
Image: Flickr, Wakx
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