RSPO meeting convenes in Malaysia

November 21st, 2011

Oil palm and rainforest in Costa Rica

In a few hours the 9th annual meeting of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) [and 8th annual General Assembly] opens in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. There are several important issues to be discussed at the meeting, including recent grievances filed against a several RSPO members, greenhouse gas emissions accounting, and mechanisms for better incorporating small holders into the body. is a media partner for the event so we expect to run a series stories and interviews over the coming week. Our RSPO feed is available at

Girl Scouts fighting palm oil receive wider media coverage (video)

May 24th, 2011

After five years of campaigning, two Girl Scouts fighting palm oil in Girl Scout cookies are receiving wider media coverage this week after meeting with heads of Girl Scouts of the US. The organization has now agreed to research different options, such as sustainably-grown palm oil or using another ingredient, reports the Wall Street Journal. Above, the Girl Scout activists are interviewed on the CBS Early Show.

For more information:

Girls Scouts censors Facebook page after coming under criticism for product linked to rainforest loss

(05/04/2011) Girls Scouts USA has censored its Facebook page after receiving comments criticizing the organization, according to Rainforest Action Network (RAN). RAN along with and two Girl Scout activists, Rhiannon Tomtishen and Madison Vorva, declared today a social media day of activism against the Girl Scouts for using palm oil in their popular cookies. The oil has been linked to rainforest destruction in Indonesia and Malaysia.

Avon commits to greener palm oil

(04/15/2011) The beauty products giant Avon will purchase enough GreenPalm certificates to meet 100 percent of its palm oil use.

KFC dumps palm oil due to health, environmental concerns

(04/08/2011) KFC Corporation, the fast food giant, will stop using palm oil in its deep friers, reports The Independent.

Girl Scouts question palm oil in their cookies

March 23rd, 2011

Forest clearing in Sumatra for palm oil plantation. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Two Girl Scouts are asking their organization why palm oil is an ingredient in pervasive and popular Girl Scout Cookies. Madison Vorva and Rhiannon Tomtishen, after their concerns about the environmental and social impact of palm oil have long been ignored by the heads of the Girl Scout organization, have joined with the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) to widen the campaign and have their voices heard.

“After learning of the disastrous effects that palm oil has on the people, rainforests, and orangutans of Indonesia, we were shocked to learn that palm oil is an ingredient in Girl Scout cookies,” Rhiannon Tomtishen says in a video produced for the campaign.

The two scouts and RAN are asking the Girl Scout Organization to stop using palm oil altogether.

Palm oil is the world’s most productive oil seed (far outstripping soy, which has been linked to deforestation in the Amazon), but is responsible for a significant percentage of deforestation in Malaysia and Indonesia. For example, a study in Conservation Letters found that 55-59 percent of palm oil plantations in Malaysia built between 1990 and 2009 occurred on forested land. Such aggressive deforestation has contributed to an environmental crisis in the region: biodiversity loss in some of the world richest habitats, conflict with indigenous groups who depend on the forests for their livelihood, and substantial greenhouse gas emissions.

For more information on the scout’s campaign: Rainforest Heroes: Make Girl Scout Cookies Rainforest Safe.

Cultural survival at stake for the rainforest Penan of Borneo

January 26th, 2011

Guest commentary by Pisang and Miriam Ross

The Penan tribe in Sarawak, in the Malaysian part of the island of Borneo, are trying to stop logging and palm oil companies destroying their rainforest home. Survival International, the organisation supporting tribal peoples, is campaigning for the Penan’s rights to their land. Survival researcher Miriam Ross traveled to Sarawak to meet some of the tribe. In one nomadic Penan community, Pisang, a Penan hunter, told her his story.

Penan woman. © M. Ross/Survival

When the first logging company came here, the manager promised he would give us development projects and money, and said he would help us Penan. Before development, we wanted to make sure the company would reserve some forest for us. The developments that they promised could come later. Now the company has gone, taking all the forest on this side of the river.

When I heard you were coming, I came back from hunting. I hope you can help us protect the only forest we have left – the bit on the other side of the river. Another company is trying to log there now. The other side of that ridge has been cleared already. I want you to help us protect this part. It’s the only place left for us to hunt, to find animals and food. But there is only a little bit left. That’s why when we go hunting, like I did last night, we come back with nothing. I’m asking you to help us protect this bit of virgin forest, or we will have nothing to eat. Our voices are too small for the companies to hear.

I asked the company to stop, but the workers said, this is a government project. If you fight us, we will shoot you and kill you. We will not be responsible. They said, this is not your area. The government gave it to us. It belongs to us. Go somewhere else.

If people chased you away from your area, how would you feel? We have been here since the time of our great-great grandparents. This is our ancestral land.

The company manager said, ‘Let me build a road to this area, and cut down the trees. I’ll give you a water tank and 45,000 ringgits (£9,000).’ I said, ‘Save your 45,000. Even if you give me hundreds of thousands, I will not take it. I only want the forest and the land. I will fight to protect it. If you give us water tanks, money, and brick houses, that will only kill us. We will not survive on that. The only thing that is important for our survival is the forest.’

The manger said, ‘No matter how many of your people defend your land, we will still continue with the logging.’ And then he walked away and got into his car.

Now we the Penan are asking for help because the company and the government refuse to listen to what we say.

Since the logging companies entered our area, they have polluted our river. Because of that we are always sick. Before, we seldom got sick, we were healthy because the water was clean and clear. Now the river is full of unwanted timber that the loggers throw into the river.

Penan armed with blowpipes block road as Shin Yang logging trucks approach. © Survival

The ‘development’ that we want is for our virgin forest to remain, and not be destroyed. We can still hear many types of sounds from the forest – from the animals, from the birds and from the insects. We want to see the rattan [a plant used to make baskets], the herbs that we use for our medicine, and the sago tree growing naturally in the forest.

We want to keep the fruit trees that provide food for the animals like wild boar, deer and monkey. The trees give them food and also give us food. The noise of the bulldozers and the chainsaws, and the other machines that are used for logging, is the poison in our lives.

Our ancestors lived happily in the forest, and they want us to live happily as they did, with all the jungle produce and the wild animals so that we can eat well and live well. I also want the same thing for future generations of Penan.

Contact Survival to find out more, make a donation or write a letter in support of the Penan.

The Initiative for Public Policy Analysis is a Nigeria-based palm oil lobby group

January 10th, 2011

The Initiative for Public Policy Analysis (IPPA), which describes itself as a think-tank or public policy group, has launched a campaign targeting the World Bank on its palm oil lending policy.

The Initiative for Public Policy Analysis says palm oil plays an important role in reducing poverty. What it doesn’t say is acting on behalf of the palm oil industry. The Initiative for Public Policy Analysis uses the same mailing list as World Growth International, a group that frequently lobbies on behalf of the palm oil sector, and the Consumer Alliance for Global Prosperity, a front group supported by Sinar Mas Group, an Indonesian conglomerate that controls palm oil and other forestry companies.

The Initiative for Public Policy Analysis is trying to get the World Bank to eliminate social and environmental safeguards from its framework for lending to the palm oil sector. Chief beneficiaries of the move would be large palm oil companies like Sinar Mas, which recently started building up operations in Africa, rather than small farmers.

The bank’s draft framework is available at IFC Strategy for Engagement in the Palm Oil Sector

Articles detailing the activities of affiliate of the Initiative for Public Policy Analysis:

Indonesian climate official: palm oil lobbyist is misleading the public

(12/29/2010) Alan Oxley, a lobbyist for industrial forestry companies in the palm oil and pulp and paper sectors, is deliberately misleading the public on deforestation and associated greenhouse gas emissions, said a top Indonesian climate official.

Logging, palm oil giant hires U.S. ambassador as lobbyist

(12/09/2010) Sinar Mas Group, the sprawling Indonesian conglomerate that has interests in coal mining, logging and wood-pulp production, palm oil plantations, real estate, and other industries, has hired Cameron Hume, the former U.S. ambassador to Indonesia, as an adviser, according to Ambassador Hume stepped down from his post at the embassy in August.

Nobel Prize winner, anti-poverty group, scientists fire back at logging lobbyist

(11/01/2010) An industrial lobbyist is facing mounting criticism for his campaign to reduce social and environmental safeguards in Indonesia.

Scientists blast greenwashing by front groups

(10/27/2010) A group of prominent scientists has published an open letter challenging the objectivity of World Growth International, an NGO that claims to operate on behalf of the world’s poor, and its leader Alan Oxley, a former trade diplomat who also chairs ITS Global, a marketing firm. The letter, published online in several forums, slams World Growth and ITS Global as a front groups for forestry companies. The scientists note that while the groups have not disclosed their sources of funding, they assert ITS receives funding from Sinar Mas, an Indonesian conglomerate that controls Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), a forest products brand, and Sinar Mas Agro Resources & Technology, a palm oil firm, among other companies.

Misleading claims from a palm oil lobbyist

(10/23/2010) In an editorial published October 9th in the New Straits Times (“Why does World Bank hate palm oil?”), Alan Oxley, a former Australian diplomat who now serves as a lobbyist for logging and plantation companies, makes erroneous claims in his case against the World Bank and the International Finance Corp (IFC) for establishing stronger social and environmental criteria for lending to palm oil companies. It is important to put Mr. Oxley’s editorial in the context of his broader efforts to reduce protections for rural communities and the environment.

Corporations, conservation, and the green movement

(10/21/2010) The image of rainforests being torn down by giant bulldozers, felled by chainsaw-wielding loggers, and torched by large-scale developers has never been more poignant. Corporations have today replaced small-scale farmers as the prime drivers of deforestation, a shift that has critical implications for conservation. Until recently deforestation has been driven mostly by poverty—poor people in developing countries clearing forests or depleting other natural resources as they struggle to feed their families. Government policies in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s had a multiplier effect, subsidizing agricultural expansion through low-interest loans, infrastructure projects, and ambitious colonization schemes, especially in the Amazon and Indonesia. But over the past two decades, this has changed in many countries due to rural depopulation, a decline in state-sponsored development projects, the rise of globalized financial markets, and a worldwide commodity boom. Deforestation, overfishing, and other forms of environmental degradation are now primarily the result of corporations feeding demand from international consumers. While industrial actors exploit resources more efficiently and cause widespread environmental damage, they also are more sensitive to pressure from consumers and environmental groups. Thus in recent years, it has become easier—and more ethical—for green groups to go after corporations than after poor farmers.

Malaysia/Indonesia partnership proposed to counter environmental complaints over palm oil

(10/18/2010) Malaysia and Indonesia should establish “a joint council based in Europe and the United States” to boost the image of palm oil and counter criticism from environmental and human rights groups, a Malaysian minister told Malaysia state press.

Fraud allegations against Indonesian palm oil giant widen, tarnishing auditors and sustainable palm oil initiative

(08/19/2010) Sinar Mas, an Indonesian conglomerate whose holdings include Asia Pulp and Paper, a paper products brand, and PT Smart, a palm oil producer, was sharply rebuked Wednesday over a recent report where it claimed not to have engaged in destruction of forests and peatlands. At least one of its companies, Golden Agri Resources, may now face an investigation for deliberately misleading shareholders in its corporate filings.

Activism: rural communities in the Philippines oppose mining, palm oil

December 15th, 2010

Note: does not endorse the action below, but believes its readers may be interested in taking action or discussing the issue in comments.

Dura oil palm fruit. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

Indigenous peoples and rural communities on Palawan Island, Philippines are facing loss of their forests, rice fields and livelihoods at the hands of oil palm and mining companies.

Palawan is part of the UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve program, with 49 animal and 56 plant species listed by IUCN as globally threatened. The Provincial Government in Palawan is proposing thousands of hectares of new palm oil plantations for biofuels, which will seriously harm biodiversity and indigenous people’s and farmer’s livelihoods. Concessions for nickel mining and related roads are being granted within biodiversity hotspot areas that are protected by law. They will devastate communities, watersheds and forests in large areas.

The local indigenous network ALDAW (Ancestral Land/Domain Watch), together with other local organizations and NGOs in Palawan, is calling on the government to stop palm oil expansion as well as the construction of mining roads and to cancel mining concessions which threaten watersheds, forests and communities: ALDAW’s petition

What a face!

December 5th, 2010

Orangutan making faces

A Sumatran orangutan (Pongo abelii) makes a face. Listed as Critically Endangered the Sumatran orangutan is largely threatened by habitat loss to plantations, such as wood pulp and palm oil, and logging. After losing their forests, many orangutans, such as this one, are now housed in rehabilitation centers. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Click to see more photos of orangutans.

Will forest conservation deal increase palm oil prices?

November 24th, 2010

Bloomberg is reporting palm oil companies will be big winners should any forest conservation deal arise out of next week’s climate talks in Cancun, Mexico. The article quotes members of the palm oil industry, who argue that “any UN-led accord that restricts clearing rainforest for planting more palm trees would limit the supply of the edible oil crushed from their fruit and be a boon to prices for growers.”

“It’s a no-brainer that such exercises are bullish for prices,” Dorab Mistry, a director at oil trader Godrej International Ltd., is quoted as saying.

While it is certainly a possibility that forest conservation will trigger a rise in palm oil prices, the article completely omits mentions of two important factors that could impact global palm oil production: conversion of non-forest land for plantations and expansion in regions outside Indonesia and Malaysia, which currently account for 85% of palm oil production.

Plantations on non-forest land

Under its national forest plan and the billion dollar agreement with Norway, Indonesia is already talking about shifting new plantation development from forest lands to grasslands. Indonesia has millions of hectares of non-forest land that, provided the right incentives and reforms, could be suitable for oil palm.

Brazil: the next palm oil power?

Meanwhile Brazil is looking to scale-up palm oil production on a never-before-seen scale under its Program for Sustainable Production of Palm Oil, which will provide $60 million to promote cultivation of oil palm in abandoned and degraded agricultural areas, including long-ago deforested lands used for sugar cane and pasture. In support of the initiative, Brazil is considering oil palm as a reforestation option for ranchers and farmers to meet their legal forest reserve requirements.

While ramping up production will take several years at minimum, Brazil’s move into palm oil could prove quite a shock to Asian producers, beyond increasing the supply of the edible oil. Brazil plans to mandate standards that would make its palm oil compliant with standards set by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), an eco-certification initiative. Few Malaysian and Indonesian producers currently meet RSPO standards.

Further reading

Could forest conservation payments undermine organic agriculture?
(09/07/2010) Forest carbon payment programs like the proposed reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) mechanism could put pressure on wildlife-friendly farming techniques by increasing the need to intensify agricultural production, warns a paper published this June in Conservation Biology. The paper, written by Jaboury Ghazoul and Lian Pin Koh of ETH Zurich and myself in September 2009, posits that by increasing the opportunity cost of conversion of forest land for agriculture, REDD will potentially constrain the amount of land available to meet growing demand for food. Because organic agriculture and other biodiversity-friendly farming practices generally have lower yields than industrial agriculture, REDD will therefore encourage a shift toward from more productive forms of food production.

Brazil launches major push for sustainable palm oil in the Amazon
(05/07/2010) Brazilian President Lula da Silva on Thursday laid out plans to expand palm oil production in the Amazon while minimizing risk to Earth’s largest rainforest. The plan, called the Program for Sustainable Production of Palm Oil (O Programa de Produção Sustentável de Óleo de Palma), will provide $60 million to promote cultivation of oil palm in abandoned and degraded agricultural areas, including long-ago deforested lands used for sugar cane and pasture. Brazilian officials claim up to 50 million hectares of such land exist in the country.

UK to fund efforts to shift towards greener palm oil production
(01/31/2010) Britain will contribute £50m ($80m) towards efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Indonesia, including a project that aims to encourage palm oil producers to establish plantations on degraded lands instead of in place of rainforests and carbon-dense peatlands, reports BBC News.

Tool for comparing value of forest conservation to logging, palm oil

October 19th, 2010

A new tool developed by Lian Pin Koh of ETH Zurich allows users to quickly compare the value of various forms of land use, including oil palm plantation development, logging, and carbon conservation for REDD+ payments.

The web-based tool provides a rough estimate for the net present value of economic activities as well as the impact on biodiversity.

The tool is available at LU Calculator.

land use calculator for economic value in terms of NPV for redd, rubber, cattle ranching, palm oil, timber harvesting/logging, and other activities

New Borneo photos on

October 13th, 2010 has added new photos from Sabah, Malaysian Borneo including wildlife, palm oil plantations, and landscapes.

 This Bornean rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis harrissoni), Tam, is a captive individual representing hopes for ex-situ breeding of the Crtically Endangered subspecies of the Sumatran rhino (also Critically Endangered)

One of the few surviving Critically-Endangered Bornean rhinoceros. Known as Tam, conservationists hope a female can be found for this captive male in order to help save the species. Photo by Jeremy Hance, 2009.

Rainforest at sunset in Tabin Wildlife Reserve, Sabah, Malaysia

Sunset over the rainforest at Tabin National Park. Photo by Jeremy Hance, 2009.

Palm oil plantations as far as the eye can see in Sabah, Malaysia

Palm oil plantations as far as the eye can see in Sabah. Photo by Jeremy Hance, 2009.