Palm oil, it’s rapid expansion was undeniably the source of many of the orphaned orangutans we have cared for since 1991. But, no industry is better poised to be part of the solution. We adamantly believe that the future of the global palm oil industry must be sustainable.
As a member organisation of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and implementer of Best Management Practices (BMP) for Orangutan Conservation on plantations, we are doing our part to make that vision a reality. Read our full statement on palm oil here:
In 2016, the remaining Bornean orangutan population was estimated at just 57,350 (Utami-Atmoko, S., 2017). One estimate projects the Bornean orangutan population decline rate to be 82% between 1950 and 2025, with 60% of that decline already occurring between 1950 and 2010 alone (Ancrenaz et al., 2016). Habitat loss alone has been the leading direct cause of Bornean orangutan population decline. Habitat loss has also exacerbated other causes of decline such as human-orangutan conflict and the wildlife trade. The loss of orangutan habitat is driven primarily by extractive industries (e.g., logging and mining), industrial agriculture (e.g. oil palm and rubber), smallholder agriculture, and forest fires.
Between 1973 and 2015 an estimated 18.7 Mha of Borneo’s species- and carbon-rich, old-growth lowland forests (those below 500 m asl)—the preferred habitat of the Bornean orangutan—were lost, representing a further 34% decline in Borneo’s old-growth forest cover (Gaveau et al., 2016). Industrial agricultural plantations expanded by 9.1 Mha (7.8 Mha oil-palm (86%); 1.3 Mha pulpwood (14%)) in the same period, with approximately 7.0 Mha of the total plantation area in 2015 (9.2Mha) being old-growth forest in 1973 (Gaveau et al., 2016).
Oil palm is by far the most widespread industrial agriculture plantation crop in Indonesia, with oil palm (11.8 Mha) and oil palm mix (2.4 Mha) covering 7.4% of Indonesia’s total land area, and it mostly cultivated in Kalimantan and Sumatra where the majority of the world’s orangutans live (Global Forest Watch, 2019). This enormous plantation area has led to Indonesia becoming the world’s leading palm oil producer, accounting for 60% of the world’s oil palm plantation area (Meijaard et al., 2018).
Even without seeing these statistics, the BOS Foundation knows very well the impacts oil palm cultivation. Since 1991, we have rescued hundreds of orangutans on and near oil palm plantations. Our very existence, and much of the historical plight of the orangutan, is closely correlated with the rise of the oil palm sector in Indonesia.
However, we must not forget that the oil-palm sector in Indonesia and Malaysia employs roughly 4 million people (Cramb & McCarthy, 2016), and contributes to over 1.5% of Indonesia’s GDP (Meijaard et al., 2018). We must also not forget that oil palm and its derivatives are still in high demand around the world for a variety of products, primarily as a vegetable oil in processed foods including ice cream, chocolate, chips, cereals, frozen foods, margarine, baked goods (biscuits, cakes, and breads) and even fruit juice, and, less extensively, in personal care, cosmetic, and household products, such as, soap, toothpaste, shampoo, makeup, laundry powders, and detergents. Palm oil is also used as biofuel. Other vegetable oils such as soy, sunflower, or rapeseed require far more land than oil palm to produce the same amount of vegetable oil. As the most productive vegetable oil crop per unit area of land, oil palm has the biggest potential to meet the world’s vegetable oil demands at the lowest land use cost.
Oil palm a key part of the Indonesian economy, and if you want to contribute sustainable development in Indonesia, engaging the oil palm sector is very important. Historically, the environmental pillar and social pillar in the oil palm sustainable development narrative has been severely lacking. It has been largely unsustainable and incredibly damaging the to orangutans and their habitat, but in recent years there has been some signs of hope and change that a sustainable oil palm sector in Indonesian may be possible.
The BOS Foundation is working hard to be part of this change, and we work with several non-profit, government, and corporate (incl. oil palm company) stakeholders. While we are thankful for the increased awareness and increased pressure on the oil palm sector to meet sustainability criteria that the ‘boycott palm oil’ movement has brought about, we don’t see it as the best solution for sustainable development in Indonesia.
In fact, consumer concern has been main driver of change in international and national efforts to put the oil palm sector on a more sustainable path. In 2004, the non-profit certification scheme, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), marked the first international, multi-stakeholder effort to attempt to curb the environmental sustainability issues surrounding the oil palm sector. RSPO certification requires palm oil producers to meet a range of social and environmental criteria to reduce the negative impact of their oil palm cultivation on the environment and local communities. Currently, despite over 74% of internationally traded palm oil being produced by companies that have committed to zero deforestation, only 19% of the world’s palm oil is RSPO-certified (Gaveau et al., 2018; RSPO, 2019). Additionally, until late 2018, RSPO certification criteria only required producers to avoid deforestation of High Conservation Value (HCV) forests, discounting large areas of carbon-rich forest containing orangutans and many other species.
The most recent incarnation of the RSPO Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Production of Palm Oil—the RSPO P&C 2018—contained the extremely important amendments that RSPO certification required no new development on peat soils of any depth, and “No Deforestation” of High Carbon Stock (HCS) forest, rather than just HCV forest—essentially meaning that any producer developing new oil palm plantation on peatland or cutting down forests other than shrubland after mid-November 2018, cannot receive RSPO certification. Producers who developed oil palm on peatland or deforested HCS forest prior to mid-November 2018 can still receive RSPO certification for their palm oil.
While this represents the most environmentally transformative change to the RSPO certification scheme, it has been a long time coming, certification rates remain low, and verification of producer compliance with RSPO standards remains a challenge. Recent advances in deforestation monitoring in and around oil palm concessions through remote sensing, satellite imagery technology may go some way to improve compliance verification challenges. Widespread adoption of the new RSPO P&C 2018 for existing concessions containing HCS and HCV forest, and comprehensive compliance verification systems, may well be one of the most powerful tools in the fight against orangutan habitat loss we have right now, and we are fully support any oil palm companies genuinely striving to meet these standards.
At the national level, the Indonesian Standard for Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) was established by the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture under their regulation Permentan No.19/2011 (revised under Permentan No. 11/2015 in 2015). The introduction of ISPO-certification was a very promising development, covering many of the same sustainability criteria as the RSPO, but with the important condition that ISPO certification was mandatory for all large-holder oil palm plantation companies. However, the revised ISPO and a new draft ISPO government regulation, has diluted the promise of the ISPO by making the HCV forest identification process unclear, removing certain language concerning traceability and transparency, and social safeguards, while also allowing all forest within oil palm concessions that is not already protected under Indonesian law to be cleared (Kusumaningtyas, 2018; NEPCon, 2017).
Despite smallholders accounting for 40% of the total oil palm concession area in Indonesia (Meijaard et al., 2018), ISPO compliance will only be mandatory for smallholders from 2020 onwards according to a recent draft ISPO government regulation (Jong, 2018). Other concerns over the effectiveness of the ISPO certification scheme include that only around 30% of Indonesia’s oil palm plantation area has met the ISPO standard by early 2019, and that oil palm cultivated for biofuel production is not covered by the ISPO (Luttrell et al., 2018).
Perhaps the most promising developments at the national level have been the nationwide concession moratorium, the One Map Initiative, and the work of the Indonesian Corruption Eradication Commission (Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi: KPK—established under Indonesian Law No. 30/2002).
The concession moratorium attempted to end the award of new concessions while the government worked to slow what was, at the time, the fastest rate of deforestation for any country in the world, to establish better forest governance frameworks and policies, and to resolve private sector and local community land tenure disputes that had arisen from rushed and extensive awarding of concessions. This was done against the backdrop of a USD 1 billion REDD deal with the Kingdom of Norway and renewed calls for the recognition of customary land rights and social forestry programs. The concession moratorium was rolled out in 2011 with the enaction of the Presidential Instruction (Inpres) No. 10/2011 on ‘The postponement of issuance of new licenses and improving governance of primary natural forest and peatland’ (Murdiyarso et al., 2011).
While the moratorium only covered new concessions and untouched primary forests and peatlands, and most of that land is already protected land under Indonesian law, the area of forest and peatland it can protect from the oil palm sector and other industries is still significant. Originally just a temporary moratorium, it was extended in 2013, 2015, 2017, and is to be made permanent in 2019. The moratorium and its importance was bolstered in 2016—following some the worst forest and peatland fires in history in 2015—when the Indonesian government established the Indonesian Peatland Restoration Agency (Badan Restorasi Gambut: BRG) and issued Government Regulation No. 57/2016, which expanded and clarified that the existing moratorium protects all peatlands and that companies must restore areas that they have degraded.
The One Map Initiative aims to harmonise several government maps and create a unified map of land use and land rights in Indonesia, to resolve overlapping land claims and land tenure disputes and to reduce environmental damage. The One Map, now available to view through an online portal, still lacks key data on oil palm concessions and customary, which will hopefully be added in the near future. Additionally, Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi: KPK), a government agency established to fight corruption, has already played a key role in exposing corruption in the context of concessions and will hopefully increase these efforts in the coming years.
Efforts from the international community, the private sector, non-profit groups, and the Indonesian government have contributed to slowing deforestation in Indonesia in recent years, but given that much of Kalimantan’s remaining forests remains under logging, pulpwood, mining, and oil palm concessions (Abood et al., 2015) not affected by the current criteria and regulations presented by the ISPO and the concession moratorium, the BOS Foundation still has great concerns for the future of the Bornean orangutan.
To ensure that we are part of the solution, BOS Foundation is member of the RSPO, which enables us to share our experience and concerns concerning the oil palm sector with the private sector and other oil palm stakeholders. We also work with several oil palm and logging companies to assist them with the development of Best Management Practices (BMP) for orangutan conservation in their concession areas. Outside of these activities, we have partnered with several oil palm companies to receive of a kind of ‘reparation’ for orangutans, where these companies have purchased or leased land and/or facilities for us to rehabilitate our rescued orangutans. As most of our costs are attributed to rehabilitating orangutans affected by habitat loss, we think it is only right that some the key players involved in the historical loss of orangutan habitat should have to cover the costs incurred by BOS Foundation to minimise the damage caused by their operations.
The BOS Foundation calls on the non-profit sector, the private sector, and the Indonesian government for more collaboration, support, and innovative solutions for creating a sustainable oil palm sector that truly benefits people and nature long into the future. Indonesia is a natural wonder admired by the whole world. Protecting, restoring, and sustainably managing its natural resources and natural wonders is the only viable pathway to sustainable development. Together we can make an Indonesia that works for every living creature.
Palm oil is a specific kind of vegetable oil that is made from the fruits and the kernels of the African oil palm tree, Elaeis guineensis. It is used in a wide variety of common products, including packaged foods, toiletries, household cleaning products, animal feed, and biofuel. While laws vary by county, it goes by a huge array of names on product packaging and can be found in approximately half of all packaged food products.
Our vision is the conservation of the Bornean orangutan and its habitat, but we can only accomplish this through meaningful multi-stakeholder collaborations across the public sector, private sector, civil society, local communities, and the wider public. This includes working with companies who produce commodities that have the potential to endanger orangutans and their habitats, such as palm oil. We only support the production of truly sustainable palm oil, which does not encroach on orangutan habitat, follows ‘Best Management Practices’ for orangutan conservation, and creates sustainable livelihood opportunities for the people of Indonesia.
Non-sustainable palm oil production only has one goal, profit. To reach this goal, plantations can be built by clearing rainforest with little regard for the biodiversity that resides there. There are also no checks on how these plantations treat their workers. In these scenarios both humans and the natural ecosystems can suffer for the profit of the few. Sustainable palm oil is produced within a set of regulations that aims to conserve biodiversity by prohibiting further deforestation and protects the rights of the workers and local communities. These standards must be enforced at every step of the supply chain for a palm oil product to be certified sustainable.
As the population continues to rise and human development expands, encroachment on orangutan habitat remains a problem. In turn, the loss of available habitat and natural food resources often forces orangutans to leave their native forests in search of food on agricultural plantations. This shift towards crop raiding compels local people to class orangutans as pests with the potential to cause them significant monetary loss. Their fear of them is then compounded by the orangutans’ large size and, sometimes, by local mythology regarding orangutans. Without the implementation of effective mitigation and mediation methods, human-wildlife conflict has the potential to escalate into retaliatory killings of orangutans and poaching of orphaned infants.
While oil palms are a hearty tree species, they are naturally occurring in lowland, tropical forests. To cultivate these trees and ensure the highest yield, they need to be grown in just a 20 degree range, within 10 degrees north and 10 degrees south of the equator. Essentially, the ideal growing conditions for oil palm is much the same as the ideal growing conditions for the tropical forests that contain orangutans. Over the past few decades, this has led to large-scale orangutan habitat loss, but now, with improved agricultural practices and the presence large areas of land already cleared of forest and not being used to their full potential, deforestation for palm oil does not need to happen.
Indonesia produces approximately 57% of the world’s palm oil. This is followed by Malaysia who produces about 28% and then by several other tropical countries with much smaller shares of the industry, including Thailand, Colombia, and Nigeria. Indonesia is the world’s leading producer of palm oil due to its sheer size, ideal tropical environment, and an economic need compounded by a social climate that drove the country to embrace its production and the economic benefit that followed. While there are other countries capable of producing high-yield palm oil, this would only deprive the Indonesian people of economic benefits and displace biodiversity loss onto other critically endangered species.
Palm oil can be used in many food items as it is very bland (therefore does not impact taste), has a high smoke point (therefore will not easily burn when fried), and is a vegetable oil (therefore cholesterol-free). It is also used in various household products because it is a source of fatty acids that can be used to effectively manufacture emulsifiers. The most crucial factor driving the widespread use of palm oil is its price point. Palm oil is cheap. Of all the vegetable oil yielding crops, oil palm is by far the most productive. While palm oil accounts for about 35% of the vegetable oil on the world market, of the total land area used for all oil crops, oil palm occupies less than 10%, as of 2019. This difference is due to the fact that palm oil can yield nearly 9 times more oil per unit area of land than the next most productive oil crop. Replacing palm oil would mean growing less productive oil crops that take up even more land, and therefore pose an even greater threat to biodiversity.
Over 40% of the Indonesian work force is engaged in agriculture, and palm oil is the second largest agricultural product (in terms of production volume) and the most substantial agricultural export in all of Indonesia. In Indonesia, poverty is seen largely in rural areas where agricultural job growth has been shown to have the greatest impact on poverty alleviation. Specifically, growth of the palm oil industry, has been linked to the development of infrastructure in remote areas and increased employment rates due to the labour intensive harvest process. Of course, this growth over the last few decades has frequently come at the expense of orangutans and other wildlife, and has not always met social safeguarding requirements, but today, the palm oil industry is in a unique position from which it can continue to contribute economically to Indonesia but follow global guidelines and grow in a regulated manner that does not threaten the irreplaceable biodiversity found in these tropical ecosystems.
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is a non-profit first founded in 2004 by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). The RSPO started with a vision of a marketplace where sustainable palm oil would be the norm. To accomplish this, the RSPO has brought together all major sectors, including oil palm producers, palm oil traders, consumer good manufacturers, retailers, investors, environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and social NGOs. Together, these stakeholders have developed the social and environmental criteria by which companies must abide if they wish to make Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO). By taking a multi-stakeholder approach to solving the global issue of unchecked oil palm production, the RSPO engages participants at all levels of the supply chain to develop a sustainable palm oil production system that will benefit can human society without destroying the environment.
The Principles and Criteria enforced by the RSPO are designed to be contemporary and appropriate for the issues of today. To accomplish this, they have created generic principles and criteria that are assessed and revised every 5 years. These basic guidelines are then adapted for each country through the National Interpretations process. This is done to mitigate the potential for conflict between international standards and varying national laws and local cultures. The most recent principles prepared by the Indonesian National Interpretation Taskforce and endorsed by the RSPO Board of Governors are presented in the document, “Indonesian National Interpretation of RSPO Principles and Criteria 2013,” and are as follows:
Each of these principles is has been broken down into multiple criteria that must be met in order to determine if the company is truly following these principles. To assess the criteria, the 3rd party Certification Body checks that the defined major and minor indicators have been met.
Read more about it on the RSPO website!
Even after a palm oil producer is certified sustainable, the RSPO maintains the right to withdraw their certification if they fail to maintain RSPO standards. To enforce this, a 3rd party accredited Certification Body can audit the products at any stage of production to ensure that the product is truly sustainable palm oil and not diluted with not certified, non-sustainable palm oil. These audits are part of the continuous assessment of all RSPO-certified bodies that are evaluated on a yearly basis, at the expense of the palm oil producer. To further uphold the integrity of the RSPO certification, every 5 years, the full certification assessment is repeated.
However, the auditing system still needs strengthening, as does real-time monitoring of forest cover change in and around concession areas.
Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) was launched in 2011 by the Ministry of Agriculture within the Government of Indonesia, as a response to the ongoing environmental issues associated with mass oil palm cultivation. The primary goal of the initiative is to reduce the total greenhouse gas emissions by creating an Indonesian accreditation scheme and guidelines by which all oil palm producers within Indonesia must abide.
The decision to reduce the environmental protection criteria of ISPO accreditation lies with the Government of Indonesia, so that is a question for them. Even before the revisions in 2015, the ISPO certification faced implementation issues due to inadequate base resources and baseline data. For example, protections within the ISPO are based on the government mapping of forest cover and concessions, but several maps contradict one another, making enforcement subjective at best. Issues such as this have been recognised by the government of Indonesia and steps have been made to correct these errors in the form of the OneMap Initiative. Once this and other issues are addressed, further revision has the potential to make the ISPO an effective form of sustainability accreditation.
If the proposal is signed into permanence during its renewal in July 2019, this will be a huge step forward for orangutan and habitat conservation in Indonesia, but not the end of their struggle. Even with this policy in place, the government must properly enforce it in order for it to be effective. Additionally, this moratorium only halts the issuance of new concessions. Currently, many existing concessions contain large expanses of undeveloped, High Conservation Value (HCV) forests which are still at risk of being cleared for plantation expansions. We also cannot forget that orangutans face numerous other threats such as being poached for the illegal wildlife trade and bushmeat, and being killed as agricultural pests.
In addition to aiding 1 company in Central Kalimantan and 3 in East Kalimantan in the implementation of Best Management Practices (BMP) for orangutan conservation within concessions, BOS Foundation participates in RSPO taskforces, conducts orangutan population and habitat field surveys within palm oil concessions, trains plantation staff on wildlife-conflict mitigation tactics, evaluates the implementation of BMP within orangutan habitat, and promotes the development of policies that support orangutan conservation. Furthermore, we stay closely involved with the work of the RSPO as our own Chairman of our Board of Trustees, Prof. Bungaran Saragih, acts as advisor to the RSPO Board of Governors.
Read more about our role within the RSPO on our member page!
Best Management Practices (BMPs) are used across many industries as a way to create guidelines for reaching goals in the most efficient and practical way possible. We support the use of BMPs that were developed in response to the ongoing human-orangutan conflict in Indonesia, most notably BMPs for orangutan conservation with concessions. The development of these guiding principles was the result of an open forum between conservation organisations and academic institutions that came together with the goal of managing the escalating human-orangutan conflict and protecting High Conservation Value (HCV) forests within oil palm concessions for the benefit of both people and nature.
Every purchase you make is a vote. Look for the RSPO certification logo on the products that you buy and try to research your favourite companies. Convenient smart phone apps, such as “Sustainable Palm Oil Shopping,” make it easy for anyone to become an informed consumer. If one of your beloved products contains unsustainable palm oil, reach out to the producer. In today’s world of social media and global connectivity it is easier than ever to make your voice heard. Let them know that you demand that they take responsibility and source their palm oil to support environmentally friendly and socially inclusive economic development at every point of their supply chain!
Read more about it on our “How to Live an Orangutan-friendly Life” Page!