Researchers urge sustainability as palm oil tightens its grip on Latin America [11/20/2019]
- Hindered by deforestation restrictions in Southeast Asia, palm oil producers are looking farther afield to West and Central Africa, and Latin America, where conditions are conducive to oil palm cultivation and land is easier to come by. - Four Latin American countries already fill out the list of the world’s top 10 palm oil producers, with Colombia coming in at number four, and Ecuador, Brazil and Honduras placing seventh, ninth and tenth, respectively. Mexico may soon join the list, with a plan to cultivate an additional 100,000 hectares of the crop in the coming years. - While these countries have vast areas of land that have previously been deforested for agriculture and are suitable for growing oil palm, plantation expansion is still coming at the expense of rainforest. Researchers and the residents of areas that have been turned into plantations also allege human rights violations at the hands of palm oil producers. - Researchers and conservationists call for tighter regulation of the industry and more study of how oil palm production may impact the surrounding environment.
Indonesian politician at heart of permit scandal dies ahead of graft trial [11/20/2019]
- Darwan Ali, a former politician from Borneo who was charged in a corruption case and at the center of a palm oil licensing scandal, died on Nov. 18 before he could stand trial. - Darwan’s death in Jakarta at age 64, from heart disease, came a month after he was charged in connection with embezzlement of district funds for a port construction project in Seruyan district, which he led from 2003 to 2013. - Darwan was also the central figure in an extensive investigative report by Mongabay and the Gecko Project in 2017, which uncovered how he presided over an elaborate scheme to use shell companies as vehicles for selling oil palm plantation permits to firms owned by the billionaire Kuok and Rachmat families for millions of dollars. - His children, who participated in the palm permit scheme, continue to hold key positions in local political office.
‘Timebomb’: Fires devastate tiger and elephant habitat in Sumatra [11/15/2019]
- Another heavy fire season in Indonesia has taken a toll on the country’s remaining forest. In Sembilang National Park, on the island of Sumatra, fires raged into primary forest that provides vital habitat for critically endangered Sumatran tigers and elephants. - Satellite data and imagery indicate the fires may have had a big impact on tigers in the park. In total, around 30 percent of tiger habitat in Sembilang burned between August and September. The fires also encroached into the park’s elephant habitat. - Fires have also reportedly ravaged elephant habitat in Padang Sugihan Sebokor Wildlife Reserve, which lies southeast of Sembilang and serves as a corridor for wild elephants in South Sumatra. One report estimates that half of the reserve has suffered fire damage. - Researchers say slash-and-burn clearing techniques likely started most of fires in the area, which were then exacerbated by drier-than-usual conditions and underground peat stores left unprotected by policy rollbacks.s
Mexico plans huge increase in palm oil production in sensitive ecosystems [11/14/2019]
- The government seeks to plant an additional 100,000 hectares (almost 250,000 acres) in the state of Campeche, half of which is under conservation protection. - Scientists, conservationists, and residents say existing oil palm plantations have already damaged important wildlife habitat and water sources, and worry what may come from an influx of many more. - Local organizations have filed a complaint before the Latin American Water Tribunal, saying the Secretariat of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food is promoting the program to plant 100,000 hectares of oil palm, “without consideration for the researchers, academics, environmentalists, indigenous people, and communities who live in the area where they intend to impose this crop as a development alternative.”
Myanmar risks losing forests to oil palm, but there’s time to pivot [11/13/2019]
- The Myanmar government has to date handed out more than 400,000 hectares (nearly a million acres) of oil palm concessions to 44 companies, some of it overlapping with proposed national parks. - But almost 60 percent of the concessions have not been developed, and remain either forested or occupied by non-rubber tree crops, a new study finds. - The study’s authors say Myanmar could be headed down the same path as Indonesia and Malaysia, two other Southeast Asian countries that sacrificed large swaths of natural forest for oil palm plantations. - Given the change from a military junta to a democratic government since the concessions were handed out, conservationists say there may an opening now for forest conservation policies.
Palm owner charged with ordering murder of two journalists in Indonesia [11/11/2019]
- Five people, including the alleged owner of an oil palm plantation in Sumatra where two journalists were found dead, have been charged with their murder. - The alleged assailants are accused to being paid $3,000 from the company to kill Maraden Sianipar, 55, and Martua Siregar, 42, apparently in retaliation for their advocacy on behalf of locals engaged in a land dispute with the company. - The murders on Oct. 29 occurred in the same month that environmental activist Golfrid Siregar was found dead, also in North Sumatra, in suspicious circumstances. At the time he was challenging the police’s failure to pursue a forgery complaint in connection with a permit for a power plant in an orangutan habitat. - The recent deaths of journalists and activists defending environmental protection have raised concerns among many observers over the state of activism and press freedom in Indonesia.
FSC report on palm giant Korindo lists litany of violations, even with redactions [11/11/2019]
- The Forest Stewardship Council has released a batch of heavily redacted reports on violations carried out by an FSC affiliate, palm oil company Korindo, in the Indonesian region of Papua. - Korindo had earlier issued a cease-and-desist letter to stop the release of damaging information from the investigation, but the redacted reports still paint a “devastating” picture of the company’s wrongdoing, including massive deforestation, activists say. - Among the details omitted from the published reports is the estimated compensation owed to indigenous communities affected by Korindo’s forest-clearing activities, believed to be in the “hundreds of millions of dollars.” - The FSC has proposed remedial measures to be carried out by Korindo, but activists say these are far from commensurate with the company’s “extreme violations,” including the clearing of more than 50,000 hectares (123,500 acres) of rainforests.
Colombian town faces earthquakes, pollution, water shortage as industry expands [11/08/2019]
- Residents of the town of Puerto Gaitán say their water sources are being used for the cultivation of oil palm plantations and the extraction of crude oil. - Studies have found water quality near the town qualifies as “poor” and water reserves have dropped off for many areas, forcing residents to import water from elsewhere. - Locals say seismic tremors induced for oil extraction have damaged houses and soil. - Researchers say wildlife populations have been harmed by agricultural chemicals used for palm oil production and habitat loss caused by expanding plantations.
Democratic values that protected Indonesian rainforests now need saving, too [11/06/2019]
- The people of Indonesia’s Aru Islands fended off a land grab that would have led to the destruction of a vast area of rainforest, through a sophisticated grassroots campaign that held power to account. - The campaign holds lessons for rural communities facing similar threats, but their prospects have been diminished by new legislation that strengthens the hand of the powerful and corrupt. - The legislation has provoked mass street protests in the capital city, Jakarta. As in Aru, it now comes down to civil society to ensure that democracy prevails.
Makers of Oreos, KitKats among brands linked to Indonesia forest fires [11/06/2019]
- Consumer goods companies behind major brands are getting some of their palm oil from producers linked to fires in Indonesia that have burned an area the size of Puerto Rico. - The findings, in a report by Greenpeace, identify Mondelēz, Nestlé, Unilever and Procter & Gamble as among the companies exposed to these producers, along with major palm oil traders Wilmar and Cargill. - These are companies that have committed to sustainable and ethical sourcing of palm oil, and in many cases have blacklisted problematic suppliers. - Greenpeace attributes their repeated exposure to tainted palm oil on the opacity of plantation ownership in Indonesia, which leads big consumers not to recognize that many producers are part of producer groups with a record of environmental and labor rights violations.
Indonesian journalists critical of illegal palm plantation found dead [11/04/2019]
- Indonesian journalists Maraden Sianipar and Martua Siregar were found dead with stab and cut wounds at an illegal oil palm plantation in Sumatra that they had reported on critically. - Police have vowed a full investigation, but it’s not clear whether the deaths were linked to the journalists’ work or a long-running dispute with the local community. - The victims were reportedly part of a community group that had been trying to gain control of the palm crop at the plantation after authorities ruled the company behind it, PT Sei Alih Berombang (SAB), had illegally cleared forested land. - The deaths of Maraden and Martua occurred in the same month that environmental activist Golfrid Siregar died of severe head injuries that police say resulted from a drunken-driving crash but that his associates have linked to foul play.
RSPO questions effectiveness of Indonesian palm plantation moratorium [11/04/2019]
- There hasn’t been any quantifiable way to tell if a year-long moratorium on issuing new licenses for oil palm plantations has been effective, observers say. - Indonesia imposed the moratorium last year, but failed to define baseline data or publish permit details that would have been essential to measuring progress, according to an official from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. - As part of the moratorium, the government also ordered a review of existing plantation permits; however, a lack of sanctions sends the message that violators can keep “making mistakes over and over again.” - An industry watchdog has called on the government to stop thinking about the industry in terms of sheer production volume, and instead to find ways to ensure that the production is sustainable.
Indonesia protests: Land bill at center of unrest [11/03/2019]
- In recent weeks, Indonesia has seen its largest mass protests since the “people power” movement that forced President Suharto to step down in 1998. - Among a variety of pro-democracy demands, the protesters want lawmakers to scrap a controversial bill governing land use in the country. - The bill defines new crimes critics say could be used to imprison indigenous and other rural citizens for defending their lands against incursions by private companies. - It also sets a two-year deadline by which citizens must register their lands with the government, or else watch them pass into state control. Activists say the provision would deal a “knockout blow” to the nation’s indigenous rights movement.
Debate rages over intensive oil palm farming in Gabon [11/01/2019]
- Nearly 88 percent of Gabon is covered in forests, but NGOs fear that the development of oil palm plantations threatens this viable resource. - Local communities accuse SOTRADER, a public-private partnership between the government and the multinational Olam, of land grabbing. - Its defenders say that the project respects the environment and community social commitments. - In September, the government of Gabon signed an agreement allowing the sustainable management of its high carbon stock forests.
Enough is too much: The growing case for investors to drop Golden Agri-Resources (commentary) [10/31/2019]
- Last year, when we published the report High Risk in the Rainforest, it was far from the first time that palm oil company Golden-Agri Resources (GAR) and its subsidiary Golden Veroleum Liberia (GVL) were called out for illegal deforestation, land grabbing, and the destruction of critical wildlife habitats. Our report, which detailed the clearance of dense forests and chimpanzee habitats, came several years into the companies’ serial destruction. - Over a year later, both companies find themselves embroiled in controversies — and GAR’s investors continue to expose themselves and their beneficiaries to significant risks. - The time has come for GAR’s financiers to acknowledge that, despite their engagement, things have gotten worse. If they understand the real material risks of their investments — risks both to forests and to their bottom-line — they need to engage much more aggressively to make GAR change its course. If they can’t do that, they need to get GAR, and companies like it, out of their portfolios. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Indonesian court fines palm oil firm $18.5m over forest fires in 2015 [10/28/2019]
- An Indonesian court has fined a palm oil company $18.5 million for fires that destroyed 970 hectares (2,400 acres) of forest on its concession in Borneo in 2015. - The judgment is the latest in a growing number of cases where courts have taken a zero-tolerance approach that makes concession holders liable for any fires that occur on their land, regardless of whether or not they can be proven to have started the fires. - Observers have welcomed the verdict, but say the challenge now will be to compel the company to pay up. Since 2015 the government has won $223 million in judgments in similar cases, but collected just $5.5 million. - The company in the latest case, PT Arjuna Utama Sawit, is a supplier to Singapore-based Musim Mas Group, a major oil palm trader whose customers include consumer brands such Unilever. Musim Mas said it was seeking an explanation from PT Arjuna Utama Sawit.
Indonesia’s new cabinet a ‘marriage of oligarchs,’ environmentalists say [10/23/2019]
- Environmental activists have expressed disappointment with the new cabinet unveiled by President Joko Widodo for his second and final term in office. - Among those staying on are the environment minister, widely criticized for failing to crack down on companies violating environmental laws, and the coordinating minister for maritime affairs, who has extensive business interests in the mining industry. - The popular and effective fisheries minister, Susi Pudjiastuti, was replaced in favor of an aide to Widodo’s election rival, while the new energy minister has a record of championing fossil fuel and palm biodiesel projects. - Activists warn that the new cabinet consolidates power in the hands of oligarchs, political elites, and military and police generals, making it likely that environmental protections will be unraveled and violations more common in the name of investment and growth.
Uganda’s eco-feminists are taking on mining and plantation industries [10/23/2019]
- Like other protected areas in Uganda, Bugoma Forest has been threatened by encroachment for decades; now up to a fifth of what remains could be cleared to plant sugar cane. - Women, generally responsible for growing food, and collecting water and firewood, feel the impacts of forest degradation acutely. - Despite many obstacles, they are taking up a leading role in defending the environment, particularly against increasing pressure from extractive industries.
Activists call for stronger environmental laws in Widodo’s second term [10/21/2019]
- Indonesian President Joko Widodo has kicked off his second and final term in office with a pledge to boost investment and economic growth, largely through deregulation. - Environmental activists say they fear this focus on investment at all costs will strip away the already scant environmental protections in the country. - They say that, if anything, the government must strengthen regulations protecting the environment and vulnerable groups. - Doing so will ultimately also benefit the economy, they argue, by ensuring that the country attracts high-quality investments.
New flowerpecker species discovered in imperiled lowland forests of Borneo [10/18/2019]
- The Spectacled Flowerpecker wasn’t entirely unknown up until now. Scientists and birdwatchers have spotted the small, gray bird in the lowland tropical forests of Borneo in the past, with the first sighting appearing to have occurred in Sabah, Malaysia’s Danum Valley in 2009. - A team led by scientists at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. collected a specimen and studied the species for the first time earlier this year. The researchers formally described the Spectacled Flowerpecker to science in a study published in the journal Zootaxa yesterday. - The researchers say that it’s likely the bird’s current distribution has “become increasingly fragmented and diminished” thanks to human impacts on Borneo’s forests. They hope that by formally describing the new species of flowerpecker, they can help call attention to the importance of Borneo’s lowland forests.
Indonesian official at center of licensing scandal charged in new case [10/18/2019]
- Indonesia’s anti-corruption agency has charged a former district head from Borneo in connection with a port development project. - Darwan Ali, who was the head of Seruyan district in Central Kalimantan province from 2003 to 2013, is accused of conspiring to inflate the budget to build the Segintung seaport, allegedly causing losses to the state of $1.48 million. - Investigators also allege that Darwan steered the contract for the project to a developer in exchange for the company’s support for his election campaign. - Environmental activists say they hope the investigation will lead the way to probing other, more serious allegations against Darwan, who was the subject of a 2017 investigative report by Mongabay and The Gecko Project into a massive scheme to flip permits for oil palm plantations to multinational firms.
‘Bring it on,’ EU MP says of trade fight over palm biofuel phase-out [10/15/2019]
- A European member of parliament says the bloc isn’t concerned about threats by Indonesia and Malaysia to file a trade complaint over an EU policy to phase out palm oil-based biofuels by 2030. - The two Southeast Asian countries supply 85 percent of the world’s palm oil, and have denounced the EU policy as discriminatory. - The EU has justified its decision on the environmental impact of palm oil production, notably the large-scale deforestation to clear land for palm plantations. - Concerns have also been raised that Indonesia’s response of boosting its domestic production of palm-based biodiesel, which a minister calls “green fuel,” could actually result in a net increase in carbon emissions.
Seeking justice against palm oil firms, victims call out banks behind them [10/10/2019]
- Individuals from Indonesia and Liberia embroiled in land disputes with oil palm plantations have visited the Netherlands to call on the Dutch banks facilitating these companies’ operations to take action. - The companies in question are PT Astra Agro Lestari in Indonesia and Golden Veroleum Liberia, both of which are owned by conglomerates based in secrecy jurisdictions and which have financial links to Dutch banks ABN AMRO and Rabobank. - The banks say their relationship with the companies is only indirect, and as such they say there is little they can do to influence them. - Friends of the Earth, which arranged for the affected individuals to go to the Netherlands, is pushing for the European Union to adopt more stringent regulations that would disincentivize banks and other institutions from investing in environmentally and socially unsustainable businesses.
Indonesian enforcement questioned as fires flare up on the same concessions [10/03/2019]
- Indonesia says it plans to impose stricter punishment for plantation companies with recurring instances of fire on their concessions, including permanently revoking their permits. - Several of the companies whose concessions have been burning this year were also at the heart of the 2015 fires. - Activists say the fact that the problem is recurring on the same concessions highlights the government’s failure to adequately punish the companies. - A Greenpeace report has found no meaningful action taken against palm oil companies guilty of burning since 2015, and inconsistent enforcement against pulpwood companies during that same period.
Report links major brands to illegal oil palm plantation in orangutan haven [10/02/2019]
- Nestlé, Kellogg’s and Hershey are among several global brands sourcing some of their palm oil from an illegal plantation in an Indonesian forest that’s home to the highest density of orangutans anywhere on Earth, a report says. - The findings are based on an investigation by the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), which found that palm fruit in Sumatra’s Rawa Singkil Wildlife Reserve was being processed at nearby mills and sold on to global traders who supply global major consumer companies. - The companies and traders identified all subscribe to the practice of “No Deforestation, No Peatlands, No Exploitation” (NDPE); the companies have reportedly said they will verify the findings. - In the past 10 years, more than 3,000 hectares of critical lowland forest habitat within Rawa Singkil Wildlife Reserve has been cleared, largely for new oil palm plantations.
Restoring Sumatra’s Leuser Ecosystem, one small farm at a time [09/30/2019]
- An initiative in Indonesia’s Aceh province is engaging local farmers in restoring parts of the biodiverse Leuser Ecosystem by allowing them to farm and reforest tracts of land previously used for illegal oil palm plantations. - The forest is the last place on Earth where critically endangered elephants, orangutans, rhinos and tigers all still exist in the wild, but is being lost to encroachment for illegal plantations. - Under the initiative, farmers are trained to plant tropical hardwoods as well as fruit and vegetable crops from which they can make a sustainable living. - Only long-degraded land from past encroachment qualifies, removing any incentive for someone to damage land then apply for a management license.
A newborn dies amid Indonesia fire crisis, as parents fear for their kids’ health [09/27/2019]
- A newborn child in Indonesia’s Riau province has become one of the latest fatalities of the haze blanketing large swaths of the region as a result of fires burning through Sumatra’s forests. - Nearly 30,000 people in Riau alone have suffered from acute respiratory infections during this year’s fires, and nearly 310,000 have been affected by eye and skin irritation, dizziness and vomiting. - Among those reporting worrying symptoms are pregnant women, one of whom said she’d miscarried five years earlier during a similar haze crisis. - The fires burn nearly every year, emitting huge amounts of greenhouse gases that have helped keep Indonesia among the top carbon polluters worldwide and spreading haze as far as Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand.
Wildfires spread to planned site of new Indonesian capital [09/26/2019]
- Fires raging across Indonesia have flared up in an area of Borneo where the government recently announced would be the site of the nation’s new capital. - The location had been chosen in part because it was believed to be at low risk from fires and other disasters. - Haze from the fires has affected local communities as well as a nearby orangutan rescue and rehabilitation center. - Authorities have arrested two farmers for setting fires on their land, but activists say they were doing so in a controlled manner and with the permission of local officials.
War on graft in mining, palm oil hit by new law weakening Indonesian enforcer [09/25/2019]
- Indonesia’s anti-corruption commission and its supporters have warned that the passage of a new law will severely hamper the fight against graft, including in the natural resources sector. - The law is the culmination of more than a decade of attempts by parliament — whose members have frequently been charged and convicted of corruption — to curb the powers of the commission known as the KPK. - The KPK had in recent years intensified its focus on tackling graft in the mining, plantation and natural resources industries. - The sector has long been rife with corruption, most commonly the issuance of permits and concessions by local officials in exchange for bribes from companies.
Industrial palm oil investors struggle to gain foothold in Africa [09/20/2019]
- Twenty-seven concessions intended for industrial oil palm plantations in West and Central Africa have either failed or been abandoned in the last decade. - Of the 49 that remain, less than 20 percent of the allocated land has been developed. - Malaysian palm oil giant Sime Darby recently announced its intention to withdraw from Liberia after years of conflict with communities and environmental groups.
Palm oil giant Korindo silences critical report with cease-and-desist letter [09/19/2019]
- Korindo, a major palm oil operator in Indonesia’s Papua region, has sent a cease-and-desist letter to delay the publication of a report highlighting its various violations there. - The report was to have been published Sept. 5 by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), but the organization says it’s had to postpone publication indefinitely. - Mighty Earth, the campaign group whose focus on Korindo’s operations prompted the two-year FSC investigation, says Korindo effectively robbed local communities of hundreds of millions of dollars in land, natural resources and livelihoods. - Korindo says it issued the letter to seek more time to address some points, and denies that it’s threatening litigation over the report. It also says it’s working to address the findings of violations.
‘We’ve been negligent,’ Indonesia’s president says as fire crisis deepens [09/17/2019]
- Indonesia’s government has been negligent in anticipating and preparing for this year’s fire season, the country’s president says. - The fires, set mostly to clear land for planting, have razed huge swaths of forest and generated toxic haze that has spread as far as Malaysia and Singapore. - The president’s acknowledgement of the government’s lack of preparation comes in the wake of his own ministers apportioning blame for the fires to other parties. - Activists say the government has little moral standing to go after the companies that have set their concessions ablaze, noting that the government itself has refused to take responsibility for failing to do enough to tackle similar fires in 2015.
A Papuan village finds its forest caught in a web of corporate secrecy [09/16/2019]
- Indonesian companies were given until March this year to disclose their “beneficial owners” under a 2018 presidential regulation, but less than 1 percent have complied. - In the easternmost corner of the country, investors hidden by layers of corporate secrecy continue to bulldoze an intact rainforest and have nearly finished building a giant sawmill. - The government is drafting new regulations to close loopholes in the rules governing anonymous companies, which could yet open a new front in the fight against deforestation and land grabs.
‘A green desert’: Mammals take a hit in Colombia’s oil palm plantations [09/16/2019]
- Researchers studying oil palm plantations in Colombia found that mammal diversity dropped compared to nearby savanna. - Some mammals used plantations for hunting and foraging, but none stayed permanently. - With the Colombian government’s pledge to drastically increase its cropland, scientists fear savannas and wetlands could be at threat.
Worldwide deforestation rising despite bold commitments, report finds [09/13/2019]
- In 2014, the New York Declaration on Forests set out bold commitments to stem deforestation, cutting it in half by 2020 and ending it entirely by 2030, along with global forest restoration targets. - But a new assessment finds that, globally, the loss of forests is on the rise, at rates that are around 40 percent higher than five years ago when the agreement was signed. - The report’s authors say that, despite the “sobering” findings, the assessment should serve as a call to action that more needs to be done to address deforestation and forest degradation.
A remote Indonesian district juggles road building with nature conservation [08/29/2019]
- The Indonesian government plans to build or upgrade thousands of kilometers of roads in Kalimantan, the Indonesian portion of Borneo Island. - Proponents of the project say infrastructure upgrades are necessary to support a growing population, will boost economic growth, and will provide better access to services. - But conservationists are concerned these roads will fragment and degrade some of the island’s last remaining intact ecosystems. - This summer, Mongabay traveled the length of one such project in East Kalimantan province, into a remote region already undergoing changes as a result of current and planned road upgrades.
The Pan Borneo Highway on a collision course with elephants [08/28/2019]
- Out of the controversy surrounding the Pan Borneo Highway and its potential impacts on the environment has arisen a movement to bring conservationists, scientists and planners together to develop a plan “to maximize benefits and reduce risks” to the environment from the road’s construction. - The chief minister of the Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo has called for the highway to avoid cutting through forests. - But a planned stretch would slice through a protected forest reserve with a dense concentration of elephants. - A coalition of scientific and civil society organizations has offered an alternative route that its members say would still provide the desired connection while lowering the risk of potentially deadly human-wildlife conflict.
Indonesia bans food labeled ‘palm oil-free,’ in move welcomed by industry [08/27/2019]
- The Indonesian food regulatory agency says there’s an implication that products labeled “palm oil-free” are healthier, which would constitute false advertising. - But the agency has also adopted a talking point of the palm oil industry: that the labeling is a ploy by critics and competitors to undermine Indonesian palm oil. - Authorities have already begun inspections at supermarkets to remove food products labeled palm oil-free, but an economist warns that the move could trigger a dispute at the World Trade Organization. - The actual question of whether or not palm oil is less healthy than other vegetable oils remains murky, in part because much of the research on the issue was authored by an industry lobby group.
The Pan Borneo Highway could divide threatened wildlife populations [08/26/2019]
- Crews are set to begin construction on a stretch of Malaysia’s Pan Borneo Highway in eastern Sabah state, involving the widening of the road from two lanes to four. - The new divided highway will cross the Kinabatangan River and pass through a critical wildlife sanctuary that’s home to orangutans, elephants and proboscis monkeys, along with other wildlife species already hemmed in by the region’s oil palm plantations. - Planners and politicians hope the road will stimulate local economies and bring in more tourists. - Conservationists and scientists, however, are concerned that the highway could further section off animal populations and damage the current tourism infrastructure, unless certain mitigation measures are introduced.
81% of Indonesia’s oil palm plantations flouting regulations, audit finds [08/25/2019]
- An Indonesian government audit has found the vast majority of oil palm plantations operating in the country are in breach of a range of regulations. - These include a lack of permits, encroachment into protected areas, and non-compliance with national sustainability standards. - The findings echo the results of a 2016 audit by the anti-corruption commission that concluded Indonesia lacked a credible and accountable system to prevent violations and corruption in the palm oil industry. - Activists say the government needs to be serious about cracking down on plantation companies, some of which are owned by top government officials, and about boosting transparency in the industry.
Indigenous communities, nat’l parks suffer as Malaysia razes its reserves [08/23/2019]
- Forest loss appears to be accelerating in peninsular Malaysia in 2019. Much of this deforestation is happening in “permanent forest reserves,” which are supposed to be under official protection. However, Malaysian state governments have the authority to spontaneously degazette forest reserves for development. Sources say this has created a free-for-all, with loggers rushing to clear forest and sell timber. - Satellite imagery shows logging happening right up to the border of Taman Negara National Park, which lacks the buffer zone typical around national parks in other countries. Researchers say this is likely to have detrimental impacts on the parks’ wildlife. - Sources on the ground say deforestation is also affecting forest-dependent indigenous communities. Residents of one such community say mining – which often follows on the heels of logging in Malaysia – is also harming them. - Earlier this year, 15 Batek residents of the village of Kuala Koh died and more than 100 others were hospitalized due to mysterious illnesses. The government claims the deaths were caused by a measles outbreak, but outside experts say extremely high and unhealthy levels of manganese in their drinking water due to nearby mining may also be to blame. Advocates say the loss of their forests make indigenous communities more vulnerable to disease and illness, referring to the deforestation of their homes as “structural genocide.”
Peru aims to eliminate palm oil deforestation by 2021 [08/23/2019]
- Last week, the Peruvian Palm Oil Producers’ Association (JUNPALMA) promised to enter into a future agreement for sustainable and deforestation-free palm oil production. - The promise was secured by the US-based National Wildlife Federation, in collaboration with the local government, growers, and local independent conservation organization Sociedad Peruana de Ecodesarrollo. - If JUNPALMA honors the deforestation-free agreement, Peru will be the second country in South America after Colombia to make such a commitment.
Indonesia eyes palm oil export boost to China amid mounting U.S. trade war [08/23/2019]
- Indonesia has welcomed a move by China to remove palm oil from its import tariff quota management. - That would allow Indonesia, the world’s biggest producer of palm oil, to increase its exports to China, its No. 3 market. - A senior Indonesian official said there would be no forest-clearing to support any anticipated increase in exports, with higher yields expected to come from better technology and seeds. - The move presents a respite for Indonesia, which faces a biofuel phase-out in the EU and a likely increase in duties in India, its top two export markets.
Connecting an island: Traveling the Pan Borneo Highway [08/19/2019]
- The Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah are in the midst of building more than 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) of the Pan Borneo Highway. - The goal is to boost the states’ economies and connect them with the Indonesian provinces on the island of Borneo as part of the Trans Borneo Highway. - Advocates of the highway, including many politicians, say the upgraded, widened and in some places entirely new stretches of highway will link markets and provide a jolt to the promising tourism sector in Malaysian Borneo. - But skeptics, including scientists and conservationists, argue that parts of the highway cut through ecologically sensitive areas and that planning prior to construction didn’t adequately account for the damage that construction could cause.
Indonesia forest-clearing ban is made permanent, but labeled ‘propaganda’ [08/14/2019]
- A temporary moratorium first issued in 2011 on granting permits to clear primary forests and peatlands for plantations or logging has been made permanent by Indonesia’s president. - The government says the policy has been effective in slowing deforestation, but environmental activists blast those claims as “propaganda,” saying that forest loss and fires have actually increased in areas that qualify for the moratorium. - They’ve highlighted several loopholes in the moratorium that allow developers to continue exploiting forest areas without consequence. - Activists are also skeptical that a newer moratorium, on granting permits for oil palm cultivation, will do much to help slow the rate of deforestation.
Indonesian flooding disaster bears the hallmarks of agriculture and mining impacts [08/07/2019]
- Last June, North Konawe, a land of hills and valleys on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, was struck by devastating floods, displacing thousands of people. - In the wake of the disaster, a public debate has ensued over the cause. Some government agencies have concluded that deforestation by plantation and mining companies exacerbated the floods. - Some villages, including the riverside community of Tapuwatu, were almost completely washed away.
To regulate or not to regulate? EU climate commitments face key test over global deforestation (commentary) [07/26/2019]
- European citizens overwhelmingly support government action to address deforestation. But it has been painfully slow in coming. Eleven years have passed since the EU first promised to act. - Meanwhile, EU imports of high-risk commodities like palm oil, beef, and soy from tropical countries have continued to rise, and deforestation to feed them has accelerated. - Europe’s new plan to address its role in driving rampant, often illegal deforestation through its consumption of commodities is finally ready. It has taken over 10 years to write. It runs to 21 pages. But just one short sentence really matters — and the future of the planet may hinge on how it is interpreted. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
FSC to keep Korindo in the fold, for now [07/25/2019]
- Palm oil giant Korindo must “commit to reparations for past [land] conversion practices” in Indonesia or else face expulsion from the Forest Stewardship Council, the certification body announced this week. - The precise conditions for Korindo to retain its FSC membership were not elaborated on. But the FSC said that if Korindo fails to meet them, it could be expelled from the FSC. - Campaign group Mighty Earth called on Korindo to return customary lands to indigenous communities, restore damaged ecosystems, and more.
Top court holds Indonesian government liable over 2015 forest fires [07/23/2019]
- Indonesia’s Supreme Court has ordered that the government carry out measures to mitigate forest fires in the country, following a citizen lawsuit filed in the wake of devastating blazes in 2015. - The decision upholds earlier rulings by lower courts, but the government says it will still challenge it, claiming that the circumstances that led to the 2015 fires were due to mismanagement by previous administrations. - The plaintiffs in the lawsuit say they just want the government to implement common-sense measures to prevent the fires from recurring, and which existing laws already require it to carry out. - The fire season is already underway again this year, as companies and smallholder farmers set forests ablaze in preparation for planting.
Fears over Indonesian president’s demand for unfettered investment [07/22/2019]
- President Joko Widodo has threatened to “chase” and “beat” anyone hampering investment in the country — a statement that activists say raises the prospect of increased exploitation of Indonesia’s forests. - The statement marks the latest move by the president to consolidate a policy platform that relies on economic growth driven by resource exploitation. - The president has also ordered the environment minister to “close your eyes” to prevailing regulations when issuing permits for forest concessions. - Environmental activists say the country is headed down the same path as Brazil under the presidency of Jair Bolsonbaro, who has moved quickly to push policies permitting greater deforestation of the Amazon in pursuit of economic interests.
New initiative aims to jump-start stalled drive toward zero deforestation [07/19/2019]
- Over the past decade there has been a rise in corporate zero-deforestation commitments, but very few companies have shown progress in meeting their goals of reducing deforestation in their supply chains by 2020. - The Accountability Framework Initiative, launched by a group of 14 civil society organizations, is the latest tool to help companies make progress, and hold them accountable, on their zero-deforestation commitments. - The Accountability Framework Initiative is expected to be especially important for markets like Europe, where demand for crops like soy has been linked to rising deforestation in places like the Brazilian Cerrado.
Orangutan habitats being cleared in areas near palm oil mills, report finds [07/17/2019]
- A new study identifies the palm oil mills in Indonesia with the most clearance of orangutan habitat happening around them. - The top 10 mills are all on the island of Borneo and are producing palm oil that makes its way into the supply chains of consumer goods giants such as Nestlé, Procter & Gamble, Kellogg’s, General Mills, Avon, Mars, Mondelēz and more — companies that promised long ago to stop buying palm oil linked to deforestation. - Just because deforestation is happening around a palm oil mill does not mean it is being done by an entity supplying that mill with palm fruits. But it is a strong red flag that this may be the case. - Several of the consumer goods giants contacted by Mongabay said they were either actively investigating the deforestation or suspending trading with the mills. Others were more vague in their responses.
‘Dangerous’ new regulation puts Indonesia’s carbon-rich peatlands at risk [07/12/2019]
- The Indonesian government has effectively rescinded protection for much of its carbon-rich peatlands by issuing a new regulation that limits protection to the area of a peatland ecosystem where the peat is the thickest. - Concession holders will now be allowed to exploit areas outside these “peat domes,” as long as they maintain the water table, in a mechanism seemingly borrowed straight out of the pulpwood industry playbook. - Under previous regulations, areas with a layer of peat 3 meters (10 feet) or deeper were off-limits for exploitation, and any companies with such areas in their concessions were obliged to restore and protect them. These areas are now open to exploitation, as long as they’re not considered part of the peat dome. - Activists warn the new regulation will encourage greater exploitation of Indonesia’s fast-diminishing peatlands, increasing the risks of fire, carbon emissions, and failure to meet the government’s own emissions reduction and peat restoration goals.
On a Philippine island, indigenous groups take the fight to big palm oil [07/11/2019]
- Many Palawan indigenous communities say they have suffered unfair land acquisition or lease arrangements for oil palm plantations. The situation hit a peak around 2007, when palm oil company Agumil Philippines promoted palm oil around the island as a miracle get-rich-quick crop. - Many tribal landowners leased or sold parcels of land to Agumil. Those who leased said they were provided loans from the government-run Land Bank of the Philippines, negotiated by Agumil, to clear the land and plant oil palm saplings. Title deeds to the leased land were lodged with the bank as collateral against the loans, where they remain. - Today the plantations are producing plentiful bunches of oil palm fruit. Still, landowners say they have yet to see any financial returns on their leased land. The problem all cite is that the loans came with crippling 14 percent annual interest rates, which left the original loan amounts inflating out of control. The terms of the lease contracts also stipulate that ongoing operational and managements costs be subtracted from the loan and harvest income. - Now tribal groups are fighting back on multiple fronts. A tribal representative in the municipality of Rizal recently won a mayoral election. The re-elected mayor of neighboring Brooke’s Point has also pledged a halt to more oil palm plantations. Three of the seven municipalities in southern Palawan have now placed limitations on oil palm cultivation.
Can jurisdictional certification curb palm oil deforestation in Indonesia? (commentary) [07/10/2019]
- In this commentary, Dan Nepstad of Earth Innovation Institute and John Watts and Silvia Irawan of Inovasi Bumi argue that the surge in oil palm expansion in Indonesia since the early 2000s has caused deforestation, environmental degradation and social conflicts; strategies to reduce these negative impacts have seen only modest success. - The authors say the jurisdictional certification pilots of the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) represent a promising new approach to these issues. The RSPO pilot in Seruyan — a district that has experienced many of these problems — has led to several innovations, including an agricultural facility that provides technical support to smallholders while managing funds received from companies, implementation of the “jurisdiction-wide environmental protection plan” regulation, a mechanism for resolving land conflicts, and a method for mapping and registering independent smallholders. - Deforestation may be on the decline in Seruyan, with the exception of the El Niño related fires of 2015 and 2016. Through jurisdictional certification, there is the potential to protect 480 thousand hectares of standing forests and restore 420 thousand hectares of forests. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Chimps in Sierra Leone adapt to human-impacted habitats, but threats remain [07/10/2019]
- Western chimpanzees are adapting to survive in severely degraded habitat, a new study says. - However, the study also finds the abundance of western chimpanzees in Sierra Leone is impacted by even secondary roads. - Ensuring the long-term survival of western chimps calls for changes in agriculture, roads and other development, researchers say.
Amazon rural development and conservation: a path to sustainability? [07/02/2019]
- Oil palm production in Brazil continues to be conducted on a small scale as compared to the nation’s vast soy plantations. Total oil palm cultivation was just 50,000 hectares in 2010. Today, that total has risen to 236,000 hectares, 85 percent of which is in Pará state. - While environmentalists fear escalated oil palm production could lead to greater deforestation, Brazil possesses 200 million hectares (772,204 square miles) of deforested, degraded lands, three quarters of which is utilized as pasture, most of it with low productivity that could be converted to oil palm. - The Rurality Project offers an example of sustainable oil palm production through its recruitment of small-scale growers to boost local economies. But, the bulk of Amazon palm oil is produced on large plantations managed by big firms, like Biopalma, many of which have poor socioenvironmental records. - If oil palm is to become a large-scale reality in Brazil, without major deforestation, growth will need to be backed by strong regulation and enforcement. But critics say the Bolsonaro government is backing weak regulation that encourages land speculation and deforestation.
Nigeria plans 8-fold increase in palm oil production [06/25/2019]
- Nigeria plans to invest 180 billion naira ($500 million) to increase its palm oil production from around 600,000 tons a year to 5 million tons a year by 2027. - The policy, which would double oil palm acreage from 3 million to 6 million hectares, aims to meet all of the country’s domestic palm oil demand by 2027. - Last year Nigeria spent about $500 million importing 600,000 tons of palm oil. - Nigeria ranks third in the world in terms of land area planted with oil palm, but it is only the fifth largest palm oil producer due to low yields.
New tool helps monitor forest change within commodities supply chains [06/18/2019]
- With commercial agriculture driving some 40 percent of tropical deforestation, more than 300 major companies involved in the commodities trade have pledged to avoid deforestation in their supply chains. - To help the companies and financial institutions adhere to these commitments, Global Forest Watch (GFW) has launched a new forest monitoring tool called GFW Pro. - Using tree cover change information from GFW’s interactive maps, the new desktop application enables users to observe and monitor deforestation and fires within individual farms and supply sheds or across portfolios of properties and political jurisdictions. - To encourage use by businesses, the new tool presents the information in graphs and charts to companies for easy and regular monitoring, as they might monitor daily changes in stock prices.
Norway sees sharp drop in palm oil biofuel consumption after ban on government purchasing [06/17/2019]
- Norway saw drop in palm oil consumption following new regulations limiting sales in response to concerns about deforestation for plantations. - The decrease has been lauded by a Norwegian rainforest advocacy group, which called it a “big win for rainforests.” - Indonesia and Malaysia, the world’s two biggest palm oil producers, have warned of retaliation if a Europe-wide phase-out of the commodity from biofuels by 2030 goes ahead.
Despite a decade of zero-deforestation vows, forest loss continues: Greenpeace [06/13/2019]
- Nearly a decade after the Board of the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) passed a resolution to achieve zero net deforestation by 2020 when sourcing commodities such as soya, palm oil, beef, and paper products, these commodities continue to drive widespread deforestation, a new report from Greenpeace says. - Greenpeace contacted 66 companies, asking them to demonstrate their progress in ending deforestation by disclosing their cattle, cocoa, dairy, palm oil, pulp and paper and soya suppliers. Of the companies that did respond, most came back with only partial information. - The report concludes that not a single company could demonstrate “meaningful effort to eradicate deforestation from its supply chain.” - Other experts say that transparency in supply chains is improving, and that measuring compliance to zero-deforestation goals requires more nuanced research.
Out on a limb: Unlikely collaboration boosts orangutans in Borneo [06/12/2019]
- Logging and hunting have decimated a population of Bornean orangutans in Bukit Baka Bukit Raya National Park in Indonesia. - Help has recently come from a pair of unlikely allies: an animal welfare group and a human health care nonprofit. - Cross-disciplinary collaboration to meet the needs of ecosystems and humans is becoming an important tool for overcoming seemingly intractable obstacles in conservation.
Indonesian ban on clearing new swaths of forest to be made permanent [06/10/2019]
- A temporary moratorium that prohibits the issuance of new permits to clear primary and peat forests is set to be made permanent later this year. - Though largely ineffective in stemming deforestation in the first few years after its introduction in 2011, the moratorium has since 2016 been shored up by peat-protection regulations that have helped slow the loss of forest cover. - Environmental activists have welcomed the move to make the moratorium permanent, but say there’s room to strengthen it, such as by extending it to include secondary forests. - They’ve also called for the closing of a loophole that allows primary and peat forests to be razed for plantations of rice, sugarcane and other crops deemed important to national food security.
‘We come from the earth’: Q&A with Goldman Prize winner Alfred Brownell [06/03/2019]
- In the early 2000s, Liberia’s government signed contracts worth tens of billions of dollars with resource extraction companies from across the world. - ‘There was nobody in the government who really understood what value the forest has to the communities there,’ Brownell told Mongabay - He argues that it’s time to invest in innovation and business models created by communities, to engage in extractive processes in forests without destroying them.
Chinese banks risk supporting soy-related deforestation, report finds [05/30/2019]
- Chinese financial institutions have little awareness about the risks of deforestation in the soy supply chain, according to a report released May 31 from the nonprofit disclosure platform CDP. - China imports more than 60 percent of the world’s soy, meaning that the country could play a major role in halting deforestation and slowing climate change if companies and banks focus on stopping deforestation to grow the crop. - Around 490 square kilometers (189 square miles) of land in Brazil was cleared for soy headed for China in 2017 — about 40 percent of all “converted” land in Brazil that year. - As the trade war between the U.S. and China continues, China may increasingly look to Latin America for its soy, potentially increasing the chances that land will be cleared to make way for the crop.
Altered forests threaten sustainability of subsistence hunting [05/29/2019]
- In a commentary, two conservation scientists say that changes to the forests of Central and South America may mean that subsistence hunting there is no longer sustainable. - Habitat loss and commercial hunting have put increasing pressure on species, leading to the loss of both biodiversity and a critical source of protein for these communities. - The authors suggest that allowing the hunting of only certain species, strengthening parks and reserves, and helping communities find alternative livelihoods and sources of food could help address the problem, though they acknowledge the difficult nature of these solutions.
New report examines drivers of rising Amazon deforestation on country-by-country basis [05/23/2019]
- A new report examines the “unchecked development” in the Amazon that has driven deforestation rates to near-record levels throughout the world’s largest tropical forest. - The main drivers of deforestation vary from country to country, according to the report, a collaborative effort by the Inter-American Dialogue and the Andes Amazon Fund. - While the causes of Amazonian forest destruction vary, one thing that is common throughout the region is a lack of adequate resources for oversight and enforcement of environmental regulations. And “signs suggest this problem is only growing,” according to the report.
Indonesia calls on palm oil industry, obscured by secrecy, to remain opaque [05/21/2019]
- The Indonesian government has called on the country’s palm oil companies to refrain from releasing their plantation data, citing national security, privacy and competition reasons. - The publication of the data is a necessary part of sustainability certification under the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). - Activists say they fear that withholding the information will further damage the reputation of Indonesia’s palm oil industry, which is already beset by allegations of deforestation, land grabbing, and labor rights abuses. - The government has for years sent out mixed messages about whether it will make available the plantation data, which activists say is crucial in helping resolve the hundreds of land disputes across Indonesia, most of them involving palm concessions.
Wariness over Indonesian president’s vow to get tough on land disputes [05/10/2019]
- President Joko Widodo says land claimed by both companies and local communities should be given to the latter, especially if they have occupied the territory for a long time. - The statement is a radical departure from the Indonesian government’s record of siding with companies and moving slowly to recognize community land rights. - But any benefits promised look to be undercut by another administration announcement, just days later, that plantation permit data will not be made publicly accessible — thus denying claimants a way to see if their land rights have been violated. - The latter policy shores up an earlier prohibition on sharing permit data that Indonesia’s Supreme Court ruled illegal. Activists have filed a police report against the land minister over his refusal to comply.
What we learned from two years of investigating corrupt land deals in Indonesia [05/08/2019]
- The now-concluded investigative series “Indonesia for Sale” examined the corruption underpinning Indonesia’s land rights and climate crisis in unparalleled depth. - The series was a collaboration between Mongabay and The Gecko Project, an investigative journalism initiative founded at Earthsight in 2017. - In this final commentary, we explore how tackling corruption is a vital precondition for Indonesia to meet its climate targets and resolve land conflicts, and the role of government and civil society in doing so.
’Unprecedented’ loss of biodiversity threatens humanity, report finds [05/07/2019]
- The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services released a summary of far-reaching research on the threats to biodiversity on May 6. - The findings are dire, indicating that around 1 million species of plants and animals face extinction. - The full 1,500-page report, to be released later this year, raises concerns about the impacts of collapsing biodiversity on human well-being.
Most communities not seeing promised oil palm payoff in Borneo, study finds [05/06/2019]
- A new study analyzing standards of living over a 14-year period across more than 5,000 villages in Indonesian Borneo finds that oil palm development can have both positive and negative impacts on various aspects of a village’s well-being. The key difference: how intact their forest was to begin with. - For market-based communities, which have already experienced a higher rate of previous forest degradation, oil palm expansion brought a mixed bag of impacts. These villages saw an increase in “basic” and “financial” well-being over all time scales when compared with similar communities without new plantations, but also suffered more rapid detriment to “environmental” and “social” factors. - The impacts were much starker for subsistence-based communities, which depend upon the forest for their livelihoods. These villages suffered overall decreases in all well-being categories in the wake of new oil palm development when compared to similar communities without. The proportion of houses without access to electricity and toilets increased with the influx of migrant workers.
Malaysia calls on Southeast Asia to back palm oil against ‘unfair’ claims [05/03/2019]
- The Malaysian government has called for support from fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to support the region’s palm oil industry in the wake of a European Union policy to stop recognizing the commodity as a biofuel. - Malaysia and fellow ASEAN member Indonesia supply more than 80 percent of the world’s palm oil, while Singapore, another ASEAN state, is home to some of the world’s biggest palm oil companies and the banks that finance the industry. - Malaysia’s minister of primary industries, Teresa Kok, says there’s a global campaign to portray the production of palm oil as exceptionally destructive, which she calls “extremely provocative and belittling.” - While both the Malaysian and Indonesian governments have instated policies to curb the clearing of rainforest for palm plantations, there still remain challenges to ensuring sustainability across the wider industry, environmental activists say.
Western chimp numbers revised up to 53,000, but development threats loom [05/01/2019]
- A new survey of data from the IUCN’s Apes Database indicates that there are nearly 53,000 western chimpanzees in West Africa. - The number is significantly higher than previous estimates, which placed the population closer to 35,000, but the subspecies remains categorized as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. - The authors of the study say their findings can help governments in the region ensure that proposed infrastructure projects do as little harm to the remaining chimpanzee populations as possible.
Meet the winners of the 2019 Goldman Environmental Prize [04/29/2019]
- This year is the 30th anniversary of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize. - Also called the Green Nobel Prize, the annual award honors grassroots environmental heroes from six continental regions: Europe, Asia, North America, Central and South America, Africa, and islands and island nations. - This year’s winners are Alfred Brownell from Liberia, Bayarjargal Agvaantseren from Mongolia, Ana Colovic Lesoska from North Macedonia, Jacqueline Evans from the Cook Islands, Alberto Curamil from Chile, and Linda Garcia from the United States.
Not in my backyard: Indonesian official fights corrupt palm concession [04/24/2019]
- A district chief in Indonesia is seeking to overturn a decision by the environment ministry to approve a request that would allow a palm oil company to clear forest for plantation in Buol district, on the island of Sulawesi. - The case has been controversial since the start, with the company initially being awarded the concession after bribing the previous district chief for the permit. - The recent approval also goes against a moratorium issued last year on the issuance of permits for new plantations. - However, the environment minister exploited loopholes in a pair of regulations to push through the approval, despite the opposition of the Buol administration and residents.
‘It’s getting worse’: National parks in Honduras hit hard by palm oil [04/11/2019]
- Production of oil palm has risen by nearly 560 percent in Honduras over the past two decades, making the country the eighth-largest producer worldwide and number three in the Americas. - By 2010, Jeanette Kawas National Park, which sits along the coast in northern Honduras, had lost approximately 40 square kilometers (15 square miles) to oil palm plantations. Nearby Punta Izopo National Park and Cuero y Salado National Park lost more than 8 percent and 4 percent of their tree cover, respectively, between 2001 and 2017. - Small-scale farmers, some living legally within park borders, are clearing deeper and deeper sections of forest. A growing number of residents are cultivating small-scale oil palm plantations and have become off-the-books suppliers for companies operating in the area, which has become a source of serious concern for conservation organizations. - Local officials say that due to bureaucratic red tape, cutting down even illegally planted oil palm trees can put them at risk of legal repercussions, making it difficult to restore forest after it’s been converted to oil palm plantations.
Indonesia’s threat to exit Paris accord over palm oil seen as cynical ploy [04/11/2019]
- A top Indonesian minister says the country may consider pulling out of the Paris climate agreement in retaliation for a European policy to phase out palm oil from biofuels by 2030. - Luhut Pandjaitan, the coordinating minister for maritime affairs, says Indonesia, the world’s biggest producer of palm oil, can follow in the footsteps of the United States, which has declared its withdrawal from the climate pact, and Brazil, which is considering doing the same. - The threat is the latest escalation in a diplomatic spat that has also seen Indonesia and Malaysia, the No. 2 palm oil producer, threaten retaliatory trade measures against the European Union. - The EU says its policy is driven by growing consumer concerns about the sustainability of palm oil, which in Indonesia is often grown on plantations for which vast swaths of rainforest have had to be cleared.
How land grabbers co-opt indigenous ritual traditions in Papua: Q&A with anthropologist Sophie Chao [03/28/2019]
- Industrial-scale agriculture poses considerable risk to the indigenous peoples of
Papua, whose culture and livelihoods are closely linked to the region’s extensive
rainforest. - Last November, Mongabay and The Gecko Project published an investigative article exposing the murky dealings underpinning a mega-plantation project in Papua, as part of our series Indonesia for Sale. - Anthropologist Sophie Chao has studied the often fraught relationship between Papuans and plantation firms, and the mechanisms through which indigenous people are compelled to give up their land.
In Indonesia, a company intimidates, evicts and plants oil palm without permits [03/26/2019]
- A state-owned plantation company, PTPN XIV, is evicting farmers to make room for an oil palm estate on the eastern Indonesian island of Sulawesi. - In 1973, the company got a permit to raise cattle and farm tapioca on the now-disputed land, but it expired in 2003. After a long hiatus, the company has returned to claim the land. It says the government has promised to give it permits in the future, but has started operations anyway even as local communities resist. - The case is one of thousands of land disputes simmering across Indonesia, as President Joko Widodo attempts to carry out an ambitious land reform program. - The president has also ordered a freeze on the issuance of new oil palm plantation permits, but the level of enforcement remains to be seen.
Liberia’s new land rights law hailed as victory, but critics say it’s not enough [03/22/2019]
- Areas allocated to rubber, oil palm and logging concessions cover around a quarter of Liberia’s total land mass. - Liberian activists and the international community have warned that land disputes on oil palm concessions were becoming a time bomb for conflict in the country, and urging lawmakers to give indigenous communities full rights to land the government had handed out as its own. - In September 2018, President George Weah signed the Land Rights Act into law. The law is ambitious and clearly asserts the right to what is known as “customary land,” territory that can be claimed through oral testimony and community agreement. - However, locked within the legislation is a flaw for those living on the quarter of the country’s land set aside for concessions: it is not retroactive. The law will not apply to those already living close to oil palm concessions, a difficult truth that is only just beginning to permeate thousands of villages in Liberia.
Companies to miss 2020 zero-deforestation deadline, report says [03/21/2019]
- Major companies around the world with a self-imposed deadline of ending tropical deforestation in their supply chains by 2020 won’t meet the target, a report released for International Forest Day says. - The “Forest 500” report is an annual assessment of the zero-deforestation commitments made by 350 companies involved in four commodities — cattle, palm oil, soy and timber — and the 150 financial institutions bankrolling them. - Those commodities are responsible for the bulk of agricultural expansion in Latin America and Southeast Asia. Agricultural expansion, in turn, is responsible for most of the deforestation in these regions. - The report calls on the companies it assesses to do more to ensure their actions match their rhetoric on ending deforestation, regardless of the unlikelihood of meeting the 2020 deadline.
Mongabay’s top 5 forests stories of 2019 (so far) for International Forests Day [03/20/2019]
Forests have been at the core of Mongabay’s coverage since our founding 20 years ago. So for the International Day of Forests 2019, below are the top 5 most read stories about forests published so far this year at our site, in no particular order. You can also read all of our stories about forests […]
Europe, in bid to phase out palm biofuel, leaves fans and foes dismayed [03/15/2019]
- Both palm oil producers and environmental activists alike have expressed dismay with a move by European officials to phase out palm-oil based biofuel by 2030. - Officials in Indonesia and Malaysia, which together produce 85 percent of global supply of the commodity, say the move is discriminatory and have vowed a vigorous response, including lobbying EU member states to oppose it, bringing the matter before the WTO, and imposing retaliatory measures on goods from the EU. - Environmental activists say the policy doesn’t go far enough, leaving loopholes that will allow palm oil produced under certain circumstances to continue being treated as a renewable fuel, thereby allowing for the expansion of palm estates into peat forests. - They have also criticized the policy’s failure to label soybean oil as high risk, in light of growing evidence that deforestation linked to the cultivation of soy may be just as bad as or worse than that of palm oil.
New maps show where humans are pushing species closer to extinction [03/15/2019]
- A new study maps out how disruptive human changes to the environment affect the individual ranges of more than 5,400 mammal, bird and amphibian species around the world. - Almost a quarter of the species are threatened by human impacts in more than 90 percent of their range, and at least one human impact occurred in an average of 38 percent of the range of a given species. - The study also identified “cool” spots, where concentrations of species aren’t negatively impacted by humans. - The researchers say these “refugia” are good targets for conservation efforts.
‘It is open season right now’: Martial law intensifies in the Philippines [03/14/2019]
- A state of martial law was imposed by President Rodrigo Duterte in 2017, ostensibly to “suppress lawless violence” on the island of Mindanao. A military representative says military presence in villages is a “Community Support Program Team Deployment,” which is implemented in “conflict-affected areas.” - However, residents say it has only brought harassment, threats and danger to indigenous people and the organizations assisting them in their struggle for what they say is their ancestral land. They claim soldiers routinely come to their houses, sometimes in full battle gear and multiple times in a day, in order to profile them, conduct interrogations and coerce them to “surrender” as members of a communist insurgent group. - Residents report being wrongfully arrested and imprisoned. Most recently, a regional human rights organization alleges one of its staff members, Gleceria Balangiao and her mother had been detained by the military and coerced into signing a statement saying they are members of the insurgent group. Balangiao alleges she was threatened that if she refused to sign, harm would come to her family. - Local and regional organizations say military activity is centered in communities where residents say have been pressured to grow palm oil. An international investigation concluded that “the use of the Army troops and military deployment in communities with struggles for land and ancestral domain are clearly used to pursue the interests of corporate plantations.”
Malaysia to ban oil palm expansion? [03/02/2019]
- Malaysia may ban further expansion of oil palm plantations in an effort to improve the oilseed’s reputation abroad, Minister of Primary Industries Teresa Kok told Bloomberg. - Kok said the prime minister’s cabinet will weigh a proposal to cap Malaysia’s palm oil estate at 6 million hectares (14.8 million acres). Malaysia currently has 5.85 million hectares, so the cap provides allowances for about 150,000 hectares of expansion already underway. - Kok said that Malaysia could continue to increase palm oil production despite the cap by improving yields of existing plantations. - The proposed move comes in response to criticism over palm oil’s link to large-scale deforestation in Southeast Asia.
Norway divests from plantation companies linked to deforestation [03/01/2019]
- This week, Norway’s Government Pension Fund Global – the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund – released its 2018 holdings. - Thirty companies were divested from on the basis that they “impose substantial costs on other companies and society as a whole and so are not long-term sustainable.” These “risk-based divestments” appear to include four plantation companies: Olam International, Halcyon Agri Corp, Sime Darby Plantation and Sipef. - These companies are involved in the production of commodity crops in tropical areas in Southeast Asia, West Africa, and Oceania and have been criticized for destructive land use practices like deforestation.
For the famed chimps of Gombe, human encroachment takes a toll [02/28/2019]
- The chimpanzee population in Gombe National Park in Tanzania has declined significantly in recent years. - Among other factors, loss of suitable habitats due to charcoal production and smallholder agriculture has contributed to this drop. - The Jane Goodall Institute, domiciled in Gombe, is now working with the communities living near the park to address these issues.
Indonesian minister blasted over palm permit for graft-tainted concession [02/22/2019]
- Anti-corruption officials and environmental activists have criticized the Indonesian forestry ministry for allowing a company that obtained a forest concession through bribery to clear the land for a palm oil plantation. - PT Hardaya Inti Plantations (HIP) was allowed to keep the concession even after its owner, politician Hartati Murdaya Poo, was arrested and jailed for bribing the chief of Buol district to grant her company the concession in 2012. - The forestry minister has defended her decision, but in the wake of the controversy has sent investigators to review the concession.
Indonesian candidates find common ground in support for palm oil [02/20/2019]
- Indonesia’s two presidential candidates, Joko Widodo and Prabowo Subianto, have both pledged to increase the production and consumption of palm oil should they win the April 17 election. - Environmental activists and experts have criticized the candidates for not addressing the negative aspects of palm oil production, which both are pushing as a feedstock for biodiesel, in what is seen as a voter-pleasing appeal to resource nationalism. - Nearly 200 million people in Indonesia, home to the world’s third-largest rainforest and also the biggest producer of palm oil, are eligible to vote in the upcoming election.
Indonesia to get first payment from Norway under $1b REDD+ scheme [02/20/2019]
- Indonesia and Norway have agreed on a first payment from a $1 billion deal under which Indonesia preserves its rainforests to curb carbon dioxide emissions. - The agreement comes nearly a decade since the deal was signed in 2010, with the delay attributed largely to the need for legislation and policy frameworks to be put in place, as well as a change in the Indonesian government since then. - The amount of the first payment still needs to be negotiated by both sides, with Indonesia pushing for a higher valuation than the $5 per ton of carbon dioxide equivalent that Norway paid Brazil under a similar deal. - Indonesia still has work to do to ensure a consistent pace of progress and tackle the forest fires that account for much of the loss of its forests.
Latam Eco Review: Twilight for Darwin’s foxes, nightlife for jaguarundis [02/15/2019]
Jaguarundis caught on camera in Peru, hydropower choking Colombia’s Cauca River, and Darwin’s foxes on the brink of extinction were among the recent top stories from our Spanish-language service, Mongabay Latam. Caught on camera: Unexpected nightlife of jaguarundi in Peru They were following spectacled bears in northern Peru, but at night camera traps caught species […]
Few eco commitments and suspect funding for Indonesia presidential hopefuls [02/15/2019]
- The second debate in Indonesia’s presidential campaign, scheduled for Feb. 17, will address environmental issues. - Activists say that both President Joko Widodo and his challenger, Prabowo Subianto, have shown little commitment to tackling pressing issues such as reining in oil palm expansion, ending deforestation, or fully recognizing indigenous rights. - In addition, both campaigns are heavily funded by donations linked to the mining and palm oil industries, while top campaign officials also have business holdings in these sectors.
EU action plan on tropical deforestation must be beefed up, or it will fail (commentary) [02/08/2019]
- Through its insatiable consumption of agro-commodities like soy, palm oil, and beef, the EU is contributing to a global deforestation crisis. After stalling for years while it carried out study after study, 2019 is crunch time. - The first signs are far from good, suggesting a toothless, pro-corporate, ‘more of the same’ approach — which the available evidence indicates is doomed to failure — in marked contrast to the EU’s action on illegal timber. - To have any chance of having an impact, the EU’s action plan on deforestation must be strengthened to include plans for legally binding regulation. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
RSPO should suspend membership of groups undermining Guatemala’s anti-impunity commission (commentary) [02/06/2019]
- The journey toward sustainability must begin from a baseline of proven ethical intent — and a number of recent signs raise serious doubts about the ethical intent of a wide swath of industry players in Guatemala. - Palm oil is the fastest growing agribusiness industry in Guatemala. Along with mining and hydroelectric projects, it is a major cause of land grabs that displace indigenous communities. Palm oil companies have been heavily involved in Guatemalan President Morales’ campaign to stop the U.N. Commission Against Impunity. - In order to responsibly address the unfolding political crisis in Guatemala, the RSPO should postpone the certification processes of all Guatemalan palm companies until GREPALMA and its members end their campaign to sabotage the U.N. Commission Against Impunity and desist from undermining the rule of law in the country. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Police charge Indonesian politician’s brother in deforestation case [02/05/2019]
- Police in Indonesia have charged the brother of a provincial deputy governor with clearing a protected forest to make way for an oil palm plantation. - Musa Idishah was questioned by investigators, but released pending the investigation. - His brother, North Sumatra Deputy Governor Musa Rajekshah, previously ran the company at the center of the investigation, and has also been linked to another corruption scandal. - Oil palm plantations are a major driver of deforestation on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, where they are often carved out of ostensibly protected forests.
Latam Eco Review: Seeing red over pink dolphins and flamingos [02/01/2019]
The most popular stories published recently by our Spanish-language news service, Mongabay Latam, featured endangered pink Amazon river dolphins, the world’s rarest flamingos, palm oil plantations in Nicaragua, impunity in Peru, and mansions in Colombia. Mercury and accidental capture endanger Amazon river dolphins The Amazon river dolphin (Inia geoffrensis) was recently categorized as endangered in […]
Study finds palm oil industry mimics Big Tobacco on health issues [02/01/2019]
- A study published in the WHO Bulletin has likened the palm oil industry’s tactics to those of the tobacco and alcohol lobbies to obscure the direct and indirect health impacts of the commodity. - The study found mixed messages in the scientific literature about the health impacts of palm oil, not least because several studies have been authored by an industry lobby group. - The indirect health impacts were clearer, and included illnesses caused by smoke from the slash-and-burn clearing of forests for palm plantations. - The researchers called for a multipronged approach to address these impacts, while acknowledging that replacing palm oil with other vegetable oils in the same volumes would require far more land.
Borneo study explores links between farm expansion and deforestation [01/30/2019]
- A nearly two-decade study of land-cover change in Borneo has identified a positive correlation between the loss of forests and the expansion of plantations, primarily for oil palms. - The findings undermine the long-held position of industry and government representatives that plantation expansion doesn’t contribute to deforestation and that it makes use of already cleared land. - The study also highlighted a slowdown in rates of both deforestation and plantation expansion, which the researchers attributed to declining process of crude palm oil, more stringent regulations on forest clearing, and wetter weather in 2017. - While the expansion of plantations hit a new low in 2017, activists say the possible illegal clearing of peat forests continues unabated in Indonesian Borneo, despite repeated calls to the government for action.
Saving the forests of the Congo Basin: Q&A with author Meindert Brouwer [01/23/2019]
- Central African Forests Forever, first published in 2017, takes readers to the heart of the continent, introducing them to the people and wildlife of this region. - Its author, independent communications consultant Meindert Brouwer, says the book also functions as a tool for sharing information about efforts to address poverty and environmental issues in the region. - Mongabay spoke with Brouwer to learn more about his motivations and the reception of his work in Central Africa.
Palm oil companies continue to criminalize farmers in Sumatra (commentary) [01/14/2019]
- Nearly five years after Friends of the Earth U.S. reported about escalating conflict between farmers in the village of Lunjuk on the Indonesian island of Sumatra and palm oil company PT Sandabi Indah Lestari — or PT SIL — those communities remain in conflict with PT SIL, which supplies Wilmar International, the world’s largest palm oil trader. - “Criminalization is now the strategy being used by the company. Sometimes when villagers are harvesting their own palm oil, the company calls the police and accuses them of stealing. They then say that they will only release them if they hand over their lands to the company,” said Osian Pakpahan, head of the farmers’ union. - The entrenched conflict poses significant risks to PT SIL, its partner Wilmar, their investors, and the consumer brands sourcing palm oil grown on PT SIL’s plantations. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Studying human behavior to protect orangutans: Q&A with Liana Chua [01/11/2019]
- Conservation efforts have traditionally focused too much on wildlife and not enough on human communities, says social anthropologist Liana Chua. - When it comes to orangutans, Chua says indigenous communities in Borneo are unlikely to share the concerns and priorities of international conservation organizations. Killing of orangutans by humans is a major threat to the apes’ survival. - Devoting real attention to the issues that are important to local people is key to developing better conservation policies, Chua says. - Chua leads a project billed as “a novel anthropology-conservation collaboration” that aims to improve human-orangutan coexistence in Borneo.
Rainforests: storylines to watch in 2019 [01/02/2019]
- 2018 wasn’t a great year for tropical rainforests, with major conservation setbacks in Brazil, Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, and the United States coming on top of back-to-back years of high forest cover loss. - Here are ten storylines we’re watching in the world of rainforests as we begin 2019. - Brazil’s Bolsanaro, Democratic Republic of Congo election outcome, global economic health, Indonesia’s election, biofuel mandates, California forest carbon decision, forest monitoring technology, U.S. politics, and political momentum for biodiversity.
The biggest rainforest news stories in 2018 [12/30/2018]
- This is our annual rainforests year in review post. - Overall, 2018 was not a good year for the planet’s tropical rainforests. - Rainforest conservation suffered many setbacks, especially in Brazil, the Congo Basin, and Madagascar. - Colombia was one of the few bright spots for rainforests in 2018.
An expanding frontier: Top 10 global palm oil stories of 2018 [12/28/2018]
- The world’s palm oil supply used to come almost entirely from just two countries: Indonesia and Malaysia. But over the past couple decades, interest in the popular commodity crop has increased in other tropical countries around the world. - Expansion in these new frontiers has had a variety of impacts, from habitat loss and degradation to alleged violation of the land rights of local communities. - Here, in no particular order, are some of our favorite Mongabay stories about palm oil expansion around the world and the issues that affect it. - A separate post will look at palm oil stories within Indonesia and Malaysia.
Christmas ad conundrum: Is a palm oil boycott the way to save apes? [12/18/2018]
- British supermarket chain Iceland attempted to run a television advertisement highlighting the link between palm oil and the destruction of the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra. - Deemed too political to air due to its links with campaigning group Greenpeace, the advertisement has been viewed online more than 70 million times, reigniting a debate on whether consumers should boycott products containing palm oil. - Many wildlife NGOs argue that calling for a blanket ban on palm oil could do more harm than good. Instead, they urge concerned consumers to pressure the industry to clean up its practices. - However, critics of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the industry’s leading standards council, say RSPO-certification has so far failed to stamp out deforestation and other harmful practices among member companies.
Latam Eco Review: Jaguar protection plan signed by 14 Latin countries [12/15/2018]
A 14-country jaguar conservation plan, efforts to protect the last 7 female southern right whales in Peru and Chile, and unexpected biodiversity discovered along Chile’s north coast were among the top stories last week by our Spanish-language service, Mongabay Latam. Jaguar protection plan signed by 14 Latin countries Fourteen countries launched a plan to secure […]
Dutch banks’ customers ‘unknowingly’ profit from palm oil companies [12/15/2018]
- A new report highlights the role of investment funds offered by Dutch banks in financing destructive oil palm expansion. - Customers of the funds aren’t properly informed of the companies they’re invested in, the report says. - A legislative proposal for a more sustainable investment policy is now being discussed by the European Union.
Palm oil giant Wilmar promises to take harder line with errant suppliers [12/14/2018]
- Wilmar International announced some changes to its sustainability policy this week. - Among the changes, Wilmar will no longer buy palm oil from suppliers found to be violating its policy, but will suspend purchases from them instead. - Wilmar also appeared to acknowledge the presence of “shadow companies” in Indoensia’s plantation sector.
Indonesian court throws out lawsuit against green expert’s testimony [12/13/2018]
- A court in Indonesia has thrown out a lawsuit against an environmental expert whose testimony was instrumental in the conviction of a governor over a mining scandal. - The governor, Nur Alam, had sued Basuki Wasis, an environmental degradation expert, over his assessment of the damage caused by illegal mining resulting from his improper issuance of mining licenses. - It’s the second lawsuit Basuki has faced and overcome in connection with his role as a government witness in environmental cases. Fellow expert Bambang Hero Saharjo faces a near-identical lawsuit, which is also widely expected to fall flat. - The judges in Basuki’s case emphasized the need to protect the testimonies of expert witnesses, to allow them to do their job without fear of a legal backlash.
One map to rule them all: Indonesia launches unified land-use chart [12/13/2018]
- The Indonesian government has launched a long-awaited unified map of land-use cover across the country, in an effort to resolve overlapping claims that have led to conflict, human rights abuses and environmental damage. - With more than 17,000 islands and a combined land and sea area that is the seventh-largest in the world, Indonesia has a wide range of official maps, including for mining permits, free-trade zones, oil and gas blocks, and forestry areas. - The unified land-use map, accessible online, is still missing maps of indigenous territories, while closely held maps of oil palm plantations are being added.
Latam Eco Review: Whale attacks, palm oil woes, and hope for vaquitas [12/07/2018]
Peruvian palm oil, orca attacks on humpback whales, and mining in an Amazon national park are among the recent top stories from Mongabay Latam, our Spanish-language service. Orcas attack young humpbacks migrating north For 30 years, Juan Capella and five other researchers analyzed thousands of photos of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) off Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, […]
Vast palm oil project in Papua must be investigated by government, watchdogs say [12/06/2018]
- Last week, Mongabay, Tempo, Malaysiakini and Earthsight’s The Gecko Project published an investigation into the story behind the Tanah Merah project, an enormous palm oil development in Papua, Indonesia, whose owners remain shrouded in secrecy. - Observers say what while Papuans have a right to development, the Tanah Merah project is clearly intended to benefit the wealthy and connected individuals who have coalesced around it. - Watchdog groups want Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s administration to investigate the permits underpinning the project with an eye toward cancelling them. They have also called on authorities to implement a new regulation requiring companies to disclose their beneficial owners.
The secret deal to destroy paradise [11/28/2018]
- “The secret deal to destroy paradise” is the third installment of Indonesia for Sale, an in-depth series on the opaque deals underpinning Indonesia’s deforestation and land-rights crisis. - The series is the product of 22 months of investigative reporting across the Southeast Asian country, interviewing fixers, middlemen, lawyers and companies involved in land deals, and those most affected by them. - “The secret deal to destroy paradise” is based on a cross-border collaboration between Tempo, Malaysiakini, Mongabay and Earthsight’s The Gecko Project.
RSPO adopts total ban on deforestation under sweeping new standards [11/16/2018]
- The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has adopted new standards that will prohibit its member companies from clearing any type of forest for palm plantations. - RSPO-certified companies were previously permitted to clear secondary forests and peat forests with a peat layer no deeper than 3 meters (10 feet). - The move comes amid a growing consumer backlash that has prompted companies to make zero-deforestation commitments. - Environmental activists have welcomed the RSPO’s deforestation ban with cautious optimism, noting that enforcement of the certification body’s standards has historically been lax.
Palm oil supplier to PepsiCo, Mars, and Hershey resumes deforesting in Indonesia [11/15/2018]
- A palm oil producer that supplies major companies including Nestlé, Mars, Hershey and Johnson & Johnson has been found to have cleared 4.5 square kilometers (1.7 square miles) of intact forest in Indonesia since May. - While the clearing by the subsidiary of Jakarta-listed PT Austindo Nusantara Jaya Tbk (ANJ) is likely legal, it violates the well-publicized no-deforestation commitments of many of its customers. - Satellite monitoring by initiatives like the Word Resources Institute’s Global Forest Watch are making it harder for companies to deny knowledge of forest clearing by suppliers. - But how aggressively each company responds is ultimately up to them, and is often directly linked to how much pressure they receive. Only Nestlé has confirmed it is actively working to remove ANJ from its supply chain.
Oreo maker linked to destruction of orangutan habitat in Indonesia [11/14/2018]
- Mondelēz International, the company behind Oreo cookies and Ritz crackers, continues to source palm oil linked to deforestation in Indonesia, according to a Greenpeace report. - The report said the company’s suppliers had cleared an area of rainforest greater than the city of San Francisco from 2015 to 2017, of which more than a third was orangutan habitat. - Greenpeace says Mondelēz’s supply chain continues to be tainted with palm oil produced on deforested land because it uses the weakest certification model for its supply. - Mondelēz, which has committed to a zero deforestation goal by 2020, says it hasn’t yet been able to achieve 100 percent sustainable palm oil in its supply chain, and pledged to keep working to that end with its suppliers.
End of funding dims hopes for a Sumatran forest targeted by palm oil growers [11/09/2018]
- The Harapan lowland rainforest in Sumatra, one of only 36 global biodiversity hotspots, could be lost to oil palm plantations within the next five years. - The Danish government, which since 2011 has funded efforts to restore the forest and keep out encroaching farmers, will cease its funding at the end of this year. No other sources of funding are in sight to fill the gap. - The Danish ambassador to Indonesia says local authorities need to take on more of the responsibility of protecting the forest. - He says relying on donor funding is unsustainable over the long term, and has called for greater emphasis on developing ecotourism and trade in non-timber forest products.
In funding palm oil giants, banks may share in ‘sins of the companies’ [11/07/2018]
- The recently signed moratorium on new oil palm plantation permits mandates a review of all current licenses. - In a sector rife with illegality, this may have far-reaching implications, including for financiers of palm oil companies. - For the banking sector, a major palm oil investor, this highlights the need to improve due diligence and sustainability policies, experts suggest.
With a feast of grubs, a tribe makes its case for forest stewardship [10/30/2018]
- The indigenous Kombai tribe of Indonesia’s Papua region are seeking recognition of their right to manage their ancestral lands, in a bid to thwart the encroachment of oil palm plantations in the last great expanse of unspoiled wilderness in the country. - They face legal hurdles to their bid, including a lack of clarity over the status of previously defunct logging concessions on their land, and onerous requirements to prove to the authorities their ties to the land. - The administration of President Joko Widodo has pledged to issue customary forest titles to indigenous communities nationwide, but none of the tribes in Papua has received such recognition. - Activists say empowering indigenous communities to manage their own forests is a key step to fighting climate change, because these communities tend to be better stewards of the forest than their own governments.
Palm oil executives arrested in bribery scandal in Indonesia [10/30/2018]
- In a sting operation on Friday, Indonesia’s anti-corruption agency caught a representative of Indonesia’s Sinarmas conglomerate bribing a pair of provincial legislators from Central Kalimantan. - The firm wanted the politicians to avoid an investigation into the pollution of Lake Sembuluh in Seruyan, a district in Central Kalimantan. Local residents and activists say the lake, which is ringed by plantations and mills, has been contaminated by palm oil processing waste and pesticides. - The company also wanted the provincial legislators to tell the media that its operating permits were in order, according to the KPK.
Indonesia’s anti-graft agency ‘eager to intervene’ in palm oil sector [10/25/2018]
- A new video by Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission, the KPK, suggests the agency is taking a closer look than ever before at the country’s palm oil sector. - Many palm oil companies aren’t paying their taxes, and corruption in the licensing process for plantations is rife, according to the KPK. - Smallholders control only around a quarter of Indonesia’s oil palm, according to the KPK.
Tropical deforestation now emits more CO2 than the EU [10/18/2018]
- According to a new analysis, tropical forest loss currently accounts for 8 percent of the world’s annual carbon dioxide emissions. If tropical deforestation were a country, it would be the third-biggest emitter globally – ranking just below the U.S. and significantly higher than the EU. - Between 2015 and 2017, forest-related emissions were 63 percent higher than the average for the previous 14 years, rising from 3 billion to 4.9 billion metric tons per year. - Researchers say this increase can be traced to three main factors: A growing global middle class, a population boom in Sub-Saharan Africa, and fires and hurricanes that are becoming more intense and destructive due to climate change. - The analysis finds tropical forests could potentially provide 23 percent of the climate change mitigation needed to keep warming under 2 degrees by 2030. But researchers say increased government intervention and funding are needed in order to more effectively protect them.
Real-time plantation map aims to throttle deforestation in Papua [10/18/2018]
- The Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) plans to roll out an interactive map showing the spread of plantations and roads in Indonesia’s Papua region. - The region is home to some of the last expanses of pristine tropical forest left in the world, but now faces an influx of plantation companies that have already deforested much of Sumatra and Borneo. - The Papua Atlas is designed to monitor the spread of plantations and road networks in the region, and builds on CIFOR’s earlier Borneo Atlas. - Crucially this time, the developers are pitching the Papua Atlas to local officials to help inform their policymaking and planning for the region to minimize adverse impacts on the environment and indigenous communities.
Is S&P Dow Jones greenwashing conflict palm oil? (commentary) [10/16/2018]
- In its annual listing of sustainable companies released last month, S&P Dow Jones Indices included Golden Agri-Resources, a palm oil company financing operations in Liberia. - However, reports and complaints about the company’s practices are leading some conservation and human rights organizations to question whether Golden Agri-Resources is operating in a sustainable manner. Accusations include widespread deforestation in Indonesia and Liberia, land grabbing, and violations of international sustainability principles. - The company’s Liberian arm, Golden Veroleum Liberia, is no longer a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, after the certification body found ongoing violations including the use of coercion and intimidation to pressure villagers to sign agreements with the company, destruction of community sacred sites, and continued development on disputed lands. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Latam Eco Review: Millennial trees and Pacific coral larvae [10/12/2018]
Top recent stories from our Spanish-language service, Mongabay Latam, include a multi-country series on illegal logging, traveling coral larvae, and a treaty to protect environmental defenders. Peru’s millennial trees could disappear in 10 years Peru’s Shihuahuaco trees (Dipteryx micrantha) take hundreds of years to grow but could be lost in a decade. Listed as critically […]
Second environmental expert sued over testimony against palm oil firm [10/11/2018]
- A palm oil company convicted and fined for negligence over fires in its concession is now suing one of the expert witnesses who testified against it in court. - Bambang Hero Saharjo, an expert in fire forensics, is the second witness hit with a lawsuit by the company, JJP, which is seeking hefty damages on an apparently trivial technicality. - The company dropped an earlier lawsuit against another expert who testified against it, but its latest move has sparked concerns among activists about a rising tide of litigation to silence environmental defenders. - Indonesia has regulations in place to protect environmental defenders and witnesses giving testimony, but critics say there is little awareness among law enforcers about these protections.
To conserve West Papua, start with land rights (commentary) [10/05/2018]
- West Papua Province in Indonesia retains over 90 per cent of its forest cover, as well as some of the world’s most biologically diverse marine areas. - The drive to become a conservation province, however, runs the risk of repeating past mistakes that have disadvantaged indigenous communities and left their customary land rights unrecognized. - We recommend that the recognition of customary land and resource rights should be prioritized, followed by strengthening the management capacity of customary institutions while improving the markets and value for forest-maintaining community enterprise, as we illustrate with the District of Fakfak. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Audio: How an African bat might help us prevent future Ebola outbreaks [10/02/2018]
- On this episode, we look at research into an African bat that might be the key to controlling future Ebola outbreaks. - Our guest is Sarah Olson, an Associate Director of Wildlife Health for the Wildlife Conservation Society. With Ebola very much in the news lately due to a recent outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Olson is here to tell us how research into hammer-headed fruit bats might help us figure out how Ebola is transmitted from animals to humans — and potentially control or prevent future outbreaks of the viral disease. - The bats don’t contract the disease, but there is evidence that they carry the virus. Olson is part of a study in the Republic of the Congo that seeks to understand how the Ebola virus is transmitted from carriers like hammer-headed fruit bats to other wildlife and humans.
Deforestation-linked palm oil still finding its way into top consumer brands: report [09/25/2018]
- A new report by Greenpeace finds that palm oil suppliers to the world’s largest brands have cleared more than 1,300 square kilometers (500 square miles) of rainforest — an area the size of the city of Los Angeles — since the end of 2015. - Greenpeace says palm oil-fueled deforestation remains rampant in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia because global consumer brands like Unilever, Nestlé and PepsiCo continue to buy from rogue producers. - These brands have failed to commit to their zero-deforestation pledges and are poised to fall short of their own 2020 deadlines of cleaning up their entire supply chain from deforestation, Greenpeace says. - Greenpeace has called for a transformation in the palm oil industry, particularly in Indonesia, the world’s biggest producer of the commodity.
Using space tech to improve palm oil transparency in Colombia [09/21/2018]
- Palm oil is one of Colombia’s biggest agricultural exports, but the commodity has been linked to environmental and social damage in tropical areas around the world. - Industry insiders say Colombian palm oil growers are underinsured as a group. - A new $5 million project sponsored by the UK Space Agency aims to use satellites and other technology to monitor the country’s oil palm plantations. - Project leaders say this could help solve some of the industry’s problems by providing more information to farmers and grower federations.
Indonesian president signs 3-year freeze on new oil palm licenses [09/20/2018]
- The moratorium has been in the works for a long time. President Jokowi first announced it more than two years ago, in the wake of the 2015 Southeast Asian haze crisis. - The moratorium will remain in place for three years. Environmentalists had called for there to be no limit on its duration. - The policy also mandates as sweeping review of oil palm licenses across the country.
Study games out oil palm development scenarios in Borneo [09/17/2018]
- The study authors quantify what will happen under a business as usual (BAU) approach, a strict conservation plan (CON), and expansion guided by sustainable intensification (SUS-INT). - Under a BAU scenario, all land currently zoned for corporate oil palm concessions are utilized to their maximum capacity. - At the other end of the spectrum, the CON scenario considers what will happen if Indonesia’s 2011 forest moratorium preventing new concessions on primary forest and peatland is applied to all currently undeveloped land, and companies adhere to zero-deforestation commitments. - In between the two, the SUS-INT option considers what would happen if plantations are expanded only in non-forested and non-peat areas, while yields are increased through improved cultivars and intensive management.
What’s causing deforestation? New study reveals global drivers [09/14/2018]
- Recent advances in satellite-based forest monitoring technology have helped conservationists locate where deforestation may be happening. However, limitations in knowing the causes behind canopy loss have hindered efforts to stop it. - A new study released this week provides a step forward toward this goal, identifying the major drivers of tree cover loss around the world. - Overall, it finds 27 percent of all forest loss — 50,000 square kilometers per year — is caused by permanent commodity-driven deforestation. In other words, an area of forest a quarter of the size of India was felled to grow commodity crops over 15 years. The next-biggest driver of forest loss worldwide is forestry at 26 percent; wildfire and shifting agriculture amounting to 23 percent and 24 percent, respectively. The study finds less than 1 percent of global forest loss was attributable to urbanization. - The study’s authors found commodity-driven deforestation remained constant throughout their 15-year study period, which they say indicates corporate zero-deforestation agreements may not be working in many places. They hope their findings will help increase accountability and transparency in global supply chains.
Palm oil giant’s claim it can’t control Liberian subsidiary a ‘red herring,’ NGO says [09/12/2018]
- The Forest Peoples Programme, an NGO, recently filed five new complaints against palm oil giant Golden Agri-Resources. The complaints were filed in the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, or RSPO, of which the company is a member. - One of the complaints targets the company’s Liberian subsidiary, Golden Veroleum, which recently withdrew from the RSPO after losing an appeal against a different complaint filed against it. - The Forest Peoples Programme says it is egregious for Golden Agri to stay in the RSPO while its own subsidiary violates the organization’s standards. A spokeswoman for Golden Agri-Resources said the company has “no management control” over its Liberian subsidiary.
Plantations can produce more palm oil if they keep riverbanks forested [09/10/2018]
- Conservationists have long known that keeping riverbanks forested in regions with heavy palm oil development helps protect wildlife and their habitat. - Now, a recently published study finds there are economic benefits to palm oil producers, as well. It finds oil palm plantations that maintain buffers of forest along rivers can improve their yields because these buffers reduce erosion. - The team found that a larger buffer has a bigger payoff in the long term, but a forest buffer of 10 to 20 meters could maximize yields even within a ten-year period. Meanwhile, buffers of 30 meters or more could maximize yields in the long term. - The authors note that their calculations were conservative, meaning that the economic benefits of riparian forest buffers to oil palm plantations may be even higher than their estimates indicate.
The forested path to climate stability (commentary) [08/30/2018]
- Halting and reversing deforestation is critical for climate stability — this alone could reduce the world’s net carbon emissions by up to 30 percent. Furthermore, forests and land offer the most cost-effective way to store more carbon right now. - In September, leaders from around the world will gather in California for the Global Climate Action Summit. The agenda focuses on the twin truths of climate change: While we are making real progress, we need to move much more ambitiously and quickly to seize the opportunities right in front of us. - There are many paths to climate stability, and we need to follow all of them. Some of these paths — and particularly those that lead through fields and forests — are less traveled. - This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author, not necessarily Mongabay.
Fires and haze return to Indonesia as peat protection bid falls short [08/29/2018]
- Fires on peatlands on Indonesia’s Borneo and Sumatra islands have flared up again this year after relatively fire-free dry seasons in 2016 and 2017. - The government has enacted wide-ranging policies to restore peatland following the disastrous fires of 2015 that razed an area four times the size of Grand Canyon National Park. - However, the fires this year have sprung up in regions that have been prioritized for peat restoration, suggesting the government’s policies have had little impact. - Officials and activists are also split over who to blame for the fires, with the government citing smallholder farmers, and environmentalists pointing to large plantation companies.
Indonesia seeks to get palm oil used as jet fuel in U.S., France [08/23/2018]
- Indonesia wants the U.S. and France to let Indonesian companies build palm oil jet fuel plants in the Western countries. - Indonesia’s trade minister said he had conveyed this request to the U.S. and French governments, and made it a condition for future purchases of Boeing and Airbus planes. - The request comes amid a wider campaign by the Indonesian government to prop up demand for palm oil, of which it is the world’s top producer.
Is Indonesia’s celebrated antigraft agency missing the corruption for the trees? [08/22/2018]
- Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission is perhaps the most trusted institution in a country plagued with graft. But the KPK, as it is known, has prosecuted only a handful of cases in the plantation sector. - Corruption in the plantation sector is a principal underlying cause of Indonesia’s deforestation and land-rights crisis. Our analysis found a range of obstacles preventing the KPK from taking action against corrupt politicians and the unscrupulous companies engaging in large-scale land deals. - This article is part of the Indonesia for Sale series, produced through a collaboration between Mongabay and The Gecko Project, an initiative of the London-based investigations house Earthsight.
Environmental issues to be a focus of Indonesian presidential debates: official [08/21/2018]
- Indonesia is scheduled to hold a presidential election in April next year, and environmental issues have been guaranteed a spot at the debates in the upcoming campaign. - Much of the corruption that besets the country, particularly at the local level, revolves around the exploitation of natural resources and land, making environmental management a key topic for the candidates to address. - The April 17 election will be a repeat of the previous vote in 2014, with President Joko Widodo facing off against retired general Prabowo Subianto.
‘Empty pocket season’: Dayak women farmers grapple with the impacts of oil palm plantations [08/20/2018]
- The village of Long Bentuk in Indonesian Borneo is almost completely surrounded by oil palm estates run by large companies. - While the impacts of being enclaved by oil palm has affected all people in the community, the effect on women has been particularly adverse. - A recent commitment by Indonesia’s environment and forestry minister may see a greater role for women in land-use decisions across the country.
RSPO should ban deforestation, say investors representing $6.7t in assets [08/13/2018]
- Institutional investors want to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil to strengthen its standards. - At present, the RSPO allows its member companies to clear certain kinds of forest. The investors want the roundtable to ban all deforestation. - The investors also want the RSPO improve its policies on peatland, workers rights and pesticides.
Can Ecuador do palm oil right? Jurisdictional RSPO commitment stirs hope [08/10/2018]
- Ecuador is the sixth largest palm oil producing country in the world and the second largest in Latin America. While most of its oil palm plantations have been developed on degraded land, an estimated 6 percent of cultivated area has come at the expense of natural forest. Conservationists worry this will increase as the country’s palm oil sector continues to grow. - In attempts to reign in harmful palm oil industry practices, Ecuador’s Ministry of Agriculture reactivated its Jurisdictional RSPO Certification plan in March 2018. The RSPO stands for Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil and is the world’s leading palm oil certification body. - Ecuador’s jurisdictional plan aims to certify entire provinces rather than focus certification efforts on individual companies and plantations, which has tended to be the norm in other parts of the world. Jurisdictional RSPO is also seen as a way to help the country’s palm oil sector gain better access to world markets, which are increasingly requiring sustainability certification for their products. - The plan has been lauded by organizations such as the United Nations REDD program. But some worry it may not be applicable in some parts of Ecuador, such as its Amazonian region, and that a large-scale jurisdictional approach may be vulnerable to political turnover.
Community vs. company: A tiny town in Ecuador battles a palm oil giant [08/09/2018]
- In 2000, palm oil company Energy & Palma bought some land in the district of Esmeraldas in northern Ecuador. This land is home to the Afro-Ecuadorian community of Wimbi, a town of some 400 people settled in the 19th century. - The situation came to a head in 2015 when judges in the provincial court of Esmeraldas ruled in favor of the company and ordered the evacuation of Wimbi residents. In 2016, Energy & Palmas began clearing the land for an oil palm plantation. - Wimbi community members refused to leave, forcing the company to vacate the area and agree to not develop it. Residents say that the land sale, although legal in the eyes of the court, is invalid as only one person in the community agreed to it. Energy & Palmas retains its land rights. - Researchers say Afro-Ecuadorian communities have lost over 30,000 hectares of ancestral land since the 1990s. They found palm oil companies have used several tactics in order to acquire land, including buying it through intermediaries, buying from the community directly, invasion, and using pressure and threats.
Camera trap videos help protect biodiversity of Bigal River Biological Reserve in Ecuador [08/09/2018]
- Bigal River Biological Reserve is located in the southern buffer zone of Ecuador’s Sumaco Napo-Galeras National Park, a less-explored national park that the biological reserve helps to protect, according to Thierry Garcia of the Sumac Muyu Foundation, which founded and manages the reserve. - As part of its Bigal River Conservation Project, the Sumac Muyu Foundation has maintained camera traps in the reserve since 2014 and has collected hundreds of hours of footage showing big mammals like jaguars and tapirs as well as rare birds and other species going about their business in the foothill forests. - The main goals of the camera trap program run by the Sumac Muyu Foundation include documenting the mammals present in the reserve and which parts of the reserve they tend to roam, as well as monitoring those mammal populations and studying variations in their behavior due to natural forest dynamics or human pressures.
‘High risk’ that China’s timber from PNG is illegal: New report [08/09/2018]
- China, as the main destination for Papua New Guinea’s timber, could help tackle illegality in PNG’s forestry sector with stricter enforcement, according to a new report from the watchdog NGO Global Witness. - The report contends that companies operating in Papua New Guinea continue to harvest timber unsustainably, often in violation of the laws of a country that is 70 percent forest. - Global Witness calls for a moratorium on logging operations and a review of permits to harvest timber. - The organization also argues that Chinese companies should increase their own due diligence to avoid purchasing illegally sourced timber.
‘I can’t get out’: Farmers feel the pressure as Ecuador’s palm oil sector grows [08/08/2018]
- The first commercial oil palm trees were planted in 1953. Since then, Ecuador has become Latin America’s second largest producer of oil palm, and the world’s sixth largest. - The region comprising the canton of La Concordia is one of the country’s primary centers of production. Here, oil palm plantations were cultivated on land already degraded as small farmers sought a more profitable crop. - But a volatile market and a deadly disease are cutting deep into the pockets of oil palm farmers in La Concordia who, because of oil palm’s long harvest cycle, worry they’re locked into a doomed investment. - Meanwhile, conservationists are racing to protect rainforest as oil palm plantations expand in other parts of Ecuador.
Video: Meet the Bornean village chief dealing with the fallout from a corrupt plantation deal [08/01/2018]
- “Ghosts in the Machine” is an investigation by Mongabay and The Gecko Project, an initiative of the UK-based research house Earthsight. - The article follows the money used to bribe Indonesia’s highest-ranking judge in 2013 to a series of massive land deals in the interior of Borneo, where a corrupt politician presided over a scheme to sell oil palm plantation licenses to a Malaysian firm. - Short films produced in conjunction with the article feature some of the people affected by Hambit’s licensing scheme. One of them features a local village chief named Kardie. Watch the video below.