Palm Oil, the consequences of progress.
In the 8 years that I have lived in Borneo with my family I have seen the effects of Palm Oil when travelling through this beautiful island. Hours after hours of driving through Sarawak and Sabah can be spent passing acre after acre of palm oil plantations. Having visited palm oil plantations I understand the benefits palm oil brings to the local people and the economy of Malaysia and Indonesia. I understand that development has increased and improved throughout Malaysia and that Malaysians have better health care and that children are being educated more readily………. this is positive and I would never wish to prevent a child from receiving a good education. So what’s the problem?
According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) ‘only half of today’s Borneo’s rainforest cover remains today, down from 75 per cent in the mid 1980s, with the a current rate of deforestation of 1.3 million hectares per year.
Another less known consequence of growing palm oil is the effect the destruction of the rainforests are having on the indigenous tribes of Borneo, such as the Penan and Iban. What must be remembered is that the tribes of Borneo are traditionally nomadic (wandering from place to place depending upon the changing seasons and food availability) and require vasts areas in which to practise their traditional way of life. With the increase in palm oil production and deforestation their traditional lands are becoming smaller, making their way of life more difficult; this means the Iban and Penan are increasingly having to adapt to a new way of life and are moving or being moved into fixed communities or the cities, where they receive little help. With these traditional ways of life being lost we are all losers! Why? Because we are losing the intricate knowledge of the plants from which we derive medicines.
This once beautiful and diverse landscape is now boring and devoid of any biodiversity. There are no longer monkeys, birds or elephants that once roamed this landscape, (as there is not enough food for them to eat); but have been replaced with rats and snakes. Rainforests provide more than just biodiversity, they help to reduce climate change by regulating our atmosphere, they provide water to help to grow our crops, they help to reduce flooding in our towns and cities and they produce food and medicines for our everyday lives.
So what is the reality….
Palm Oil is here to stay! I am not advocating for it to be removed and / or replaced with a lower yield substitute such as soya, because this would actually require more rainforest to be destroyed. What we now need to do is to support the groups such as the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (https://rspo.org/) where moves are being put in place to try and improve the production of palm oil, by making it more sustainable. The RSPO is a long way from being the finished article and we are yet to really see how this organisation will change the production of palm oil and so benefit the forests of Borneo, but it is a start. I would encourage everyone to look closely at the labelling of products and only buy those products where sustainable palm oil has been used. In the end there has to be a limit to our actions otherwise we will reach breaking point. We need start thinking about the other species whom we share this planet with and before they really are a distant memory and can only be found in books.
Our legacy to the next generation i.e. our children….
We are responsible for how we leave the planet to our children, which is why iameko thinks very seriously about how we make and source our goods, and have used Organic Cotton, Azo Free Dyes and Bamboo in the production of our items. It is also why iameko has teamed up with the Borneo Nature Fund (BNF -http://www.borneonaturefoundation.org/en/) to help with their rainforest restoration projects. Buy planting a seedling for every 100 pounds you have spent we will be helping to nurture the rainforests of Borneo back to their former beauty and helping to improve the home to a vast array of flora and fauna including the iconic Orangutan and Pygmy Elephants. Help us to help them!
“The questions is, are we happy to suppose that our grandchildren may never be able to see an elephant other than in a picture book? - David Attenborough
Photos courtesy of Pau Brugues Sintes, Andrew Walmsey, Chris Owen and the BNF.