How do you fight illegal palm oil? Cut the sh!t down.
Tuesday 31 July 2012 Banda Aceh, Sumatra, Indonesia
By Holly Carroll
Growing up in Alaska, I still find it hard not to see palm trees as beautiful tropical scenery, a sure sign of a nice warm paradise. And palm trees, like anything ARE great in moderation. But in Indonesia and noticeably in Sumatra, they are a species of massive, large-scale monoculture! I.e. this plant seems to have replaced all but the most remote sections of wild forest! It has become such a cash crop that it’s planted EVERYWHERE. It was rare in all our endless hours of driving around this huge island that we ever saw real patches of endemic forest. Most of it has been replaced by oil palms- as far as the eye can see!
I’m all for the growing of a sustainable crop to improve the local economy but with palm oil, it’s NOT being DONE sustainably. Most of the time, the huge plantations are owned by foreign companies, locals are kicked off their land, and workers from outside of the region are brought in for the labor. So those kinds of operations DO NOT help the locals. The other thing that makes it unsustainable is that oil palms destroy the land for the future. After the tree has produced about 23 years of crops, it doesn’t produce any more and the land is no good for other crops. To add insult to injury, they COULD plant these trees in areas already disturbed or logged for other crops or developments, but they usually fell pristine forest so they get the bonus of selling all the logs first!
Even if you’re ready to take action to help prevent destruction of the forests of the orangutans and to limit massive monocultures of palm trees it’s hard to know what to do! Step one is to stop buying things that contain unsustainable palm oil (it’s in MANY food and toiletry products so if enough of us demand things without it, manufacturers will use other more sustainable oils). Step two is to support and demand properly legislated labeling of palm oil in our products and the creation of sustainable palm oil logo (visit here for more info).
But here in Sumatra, a section of the Aceh government called BPKEL is going one step further! When illegal palm trees are planted in the Leuser ecosystem, they go in and cut those trees down!! We met up with Mike Griffiths who has been leading this program for decades and the local man in line to take over his life’s work, Tezar Wong, who runs the section for the region. They work with the law on their side, and ensure the illegal trees are cut down! It was pretty awesome to see them knocking these trees over, not to mention a tree falling straight toward the camera looks SO cool in 3D. But just watching wasn’t enough for me, I wanted to take one down. I was too intimidated by the size of the chainsaw to even touch it, but was happy just to pound the wedge into the cut to make the final death-blow to an illegal tree. It was harder than it looked as they used a wooden wedge and small log to hammer it in. (As I was pounding and pounding, new blisters forming on my hands, I was thinking “you guys have heard of a sledgehammer, right?”) But it was a lot of fun and when the palm tree fell I was elated! I don’t usually enjoy killing things, but in this case I felt like I was making a dent in corporate profits, so it was a pleasure! I think they’ll have to bleep out the string of profanities I shouted at the illegal pest as it fell…
The daunting thing is, there’s 16,000 of these illegal trees just in this area, so Tezar and his crew have a lifetime of work cut out for them (pun intended).