Palm oil production and its consequences

Palm oil is widely used in our daily life and it has very negative consequences for human health as well as for the environment. It is commonly used and called “vegetal oil” in precooked food, industrial bakery, chocolate and many more products.

Palma de la cual se extrae el aceite de palma

Palm tree (Elaeis guineensis)

It can be considered a very convenient oil in economic terms. It has a very high yield per hectare, as well as low production costs. This is why its production is even higher than soya production.

Palm oil

Palm oil

It is produced mainly in Malaysia and Indonesia as well as other countries like Ecuador or Colombia.

Indonesias’ case is one of the most known and so measures and alternative solutions should be considered to decrease its massive production.

Indonesia has 70% of its territory covered by rainforest. However, between 2005 and 2010 the deforestation rate increased dramatically. Between 1985 and 2007 half of its rainforest were lost. This is due to the high demand of palm oil from European countries among others. According to UNEP, in 2012 the diary forest lots could be comparable to the area of a football field.

An example of a very damage area is the Gunung Leuser National Park.

Localización geográfica del Parque Nacional de Gunung Leuser

Map of Nacional Gunung Leuser location

Gunung Leuser National Park is located in North Sumatra and it covers 25,000 km2. It is considered one of the most bio diverse rainforests in the north of Sumatra. Some of its most known species are the orchids and the orangutans.

80 % of the global Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) population is in Gunung Leuser.

It is a place with many economic and turistic opportunities that can add value to the National park. One of the most attractive characteristics for tourism is the presence of the Sumatran orangutan. It is considered that worldwide there are less than 6,600 specimens. Since 1990 their populations have decreased dramatically around 92%.

Orangután de Sumatra

Sumatran orangutan specimen

The problem is the massive logging in the area to cultivate palm trees. In the last two decades, 380,000 hectares have been logged illegally. In the last decade around 80% on the deforestation is due to the expansion of palm tree plantations. The 20% remaining is due to other changes in the use of the land like coffee plantations.

Moreover, there are some other problems that threaten these ecosystems.

For instance, ecosystem fragmentation due to the construction of roads, both legal and illegal. This increment in the loose of rainforest not only threatens biodiversity but human health as well, food security, aquatic resources as well as climate change.

Some cost and benefit analysis have been done in order to see if its profitable to use rainforests for palm tree plantations or if it is better to preserve them. As an example, the study realized by UNEP : Why Investing in Forests is Win-Win for Communities, Climate and Orangutan Conservation.

In this study, it is concluded that rainforests are very efficient carbon sinks that give many other profits, higher than the economic profits. Consequently is important to consider that this area is very valuable and should be preserve.

It is important to prioritize investments in sustainable logging as well as REDD projects, that could lead to environmental profits related with climate change, conservation of threaten species like the orangutan, improvement of natural resource management and so on.

It is a very controversial issue with a difficult solution. However, what seems clear is that it is important to fight to improve the rainforest management in the long run since its inherent value is more important than the economic profits that could be gained from it.

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La naturaleza muestra su genuinidad a aquellos que prestan atención, ya la hago caso y amo a todos sus habitantes y bichejos no humanos.
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