How fixing palm oil could save the orangutan from extinction

Baby Orangutans play at the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOS).

The United Nations recently, and boldly, declared that orangutans could face extinction in Borneo. Why? Because deforestation is ‘simply unsustainable’.

In Indonesia, we’ve shown that the palm oil sector was the single largest driver of deforestation between 2009-2011, accounting for about a quarter of the country’s forest loss. Orangutans face extinction in Borneo due to habitat clearing, which is underway across Indonesia and Malaysia; and if this continues, a staggering 75 percent of Southeast Asia’s original forest cover will be lost by 2030 according to the UNEP.

OK, so that’s the bad news. But it’s not all doom and gloom.

If you care about forests as much as I do, you may already know that around half the products on supermarket shelves contain palm oil. Until now it’s been impossible to know whether the shampoo, potato chips, or chocolate we’re purchasing – all products that contain palm oil – are contributing to rainforest destruction and destroying the homes of orangutans and tigers.

Smoke rises from burning wood rows in a concession owned by PT Berkat Citra Abadi, part of the Korindo Group. Rainforest has recently been cleared from an area of the concession, in Merauke district, as part of the development of an oil palm plantation (March 2013).Smoke rises from burning wood rows in a concession owned by PT Berkat Citra Abadi, part of the Korindo Group, in Papua, Indonesia (March 2013).

But thankfully, those difficult shopping days may be coming to an end.

For the first time, palm oil is being produced that is independently verified as not originating from rainforest clearance, not being planted in carbon-rich peatlands, or contributing to social conflicts.

In 2013 we established the Palm Oil Innovation Group (POIG), a joint Non-Government Organisation and business initiative that aims to promote environmental responsibility and community partnerships. It’s the first step in creating standards that can finally verify whether or not the palm oil you are consuming is free from deforestation.

And just recently, the scheme has approved three companies – two in Latin America and one in Papua New Guinea. Other companies, including operators in Indonesia, are also lining up for this ‘top of the class’ recognition.

For the first time, we are finally showing larger palm oil producers and palm oil consumers that strong certification schemes CAN work.

Orangutans at a feeding station run by Orangutan Foundation International.

So what does this mean for the orangutans?

It’s a first step, but POIG now offers a simple solution for companies wanting to guarantee No Deforestation, and it means people like you and me will all be able to choose our chocolate, food and cosmetics with a peace of mind.

It also means we are helping transform an industry, and turning around the terrible prospect that orangutans – and tigers – could be pushed to extinction within our lifetime.

Want to find out more? Sign up to our tiger manifesto and get the latest on how you can help save the Indonesia forest

Achmad Saleh Suhada is the Forest Solution Coordinator at Greenpeace Southeast Asia, in Indonesia

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