Tropical rainforests and carbon-rich peatlands around the world are rapidly being destroyed to grow oil palm (Elaeis guineensis), which produces a vegetable oil high in saturated fats, commonly known as palm oil. In recent decades, palm oil has become a common ingredient in candy, peanut butter, soap, shampoo, conditioner, hair sprays, cosmetics, cooking oil, ramen noodles and other supermarket products, as well as biofuel. The oil palm is native to Africa but oil palm plantations have become one of the planet's primary drivers of deforestation and biodiversity loss, especially in southeast Asia (especially Malaysia and Indonesia). Rainforests are being chopped down to first sell the timber for an immediate profit and then to grow oil palm for sale domestically and on the international market. As of 2013, 85% of the world's palm oil comes from non-certified sources that have few environmental or social safeguards.
Palm oil plantation photo courtesy Glenn Hurowitz
The palm oil industry is directly responsible for: (1) the destruction of critical wildlife habitat in some of the world's most biodiverse areas; (2) heavy pesticide use and release of toxic chemicals as effluent from palm mills; (3) the release of huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere through the burning and clearing of carbon-rich peatlands and rainforests, contributing to global warming; (4) erosion, which clogs streams and facilitates landslides; (5) an increase in saturated fats in the human diet; (6) the displacement of indigenous people; (7) the use of child and forced labor; (8) direct killing of wildlife by plantation owners who view animals that eat palm fruit as pests; (9) an increase in fossil fuel use as domestic sources of vegetable oil in the west are replaced with palm sourced from the other side of the planet.
This is a clearing in Riau, Indonesia; photo courtesy of Aldenenvironment
(1) DO NOT BUY PRODUCTS WITH PALM! We suggest looking at the ingredient list of products you are considering buying, and if it says palm, buy another brand! Perhaps one day most of the palm oil that permeates our food and health care products will come from trustworthy, properly certified sources that ensure their palm oil did not contribute to the destruction of wildlife habitat or the displacement of indigenous people, but until then the best plan of action is to avoid any products that list palm in their ingredients!
(2) SAVE THE FROGS! seeks a volunteer to spend 12 hours per month on palm oil related action. Please contact us for more details.
(3) Spread the word about palm oil! Feel free to use any of the images or text on this page for educational purposes, and be sure to print this flyer!
This image from Rainforest Action Network shows some of the companies that use palm oil in their products.
Please right-click to download the flyer. Then print it and post it around town, school or at your local supermarket or coffeeshop. You can also download the image and post it on your website or social media page linked to: http://savethefrogs.com/palm
- Rainforests cover less than 10% of the Earth's surface, yet they serve as habitat to over 40% of the world's species.
- Oil palm production in Indonesia grew 12.5% annually from 1996-2006 and in Malaysia it grew 6.6% over the same time period. (Sodhi 2010). Indonesia and Malaysia account for approximately 85% of the world's palm oil production, and are home to 494 known amphibian species.
- In oil palm plantations, species that can utilize the palm nuts can be abundant and are often considered pest species by plantation managers (McShea et al. 2009). For instance squirrels (Callosciurus spp.), common porcupine (Hystrix brachyura), palm civets (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus) and bearded pigs (Sus barbatus).
- Between 1990 and 2013, global consumption of palm oil has increased by five times (Skinner 2013).
- Southeast Asia has the highest relative rate of deforestation of any major tropical region, and could lose three quarters of its original forests by 2100 and up to 42% of its biodiversity (Sodhi et al. 2004).
Image by Rainforest Action Network
"The present drive to convert peatlands to oil palm for biofuel is misguided since destruction of peat forests results in CO2 emissions up to 36 times higher than the amounts saved by using the biofuels. Far greater efforts must be given to peat swamp forest protection and rehabilitation."
-- Catherine M. Yule, Biodiversity Conservation (2010): Loss of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning in Indo-Malayan peat swamp forests
Gua Musang took this photo of a hillslide ready to slide away in the next heavy rains.
Rainforest Action Network (2013) Conflict Palm Oil
Forest Heroes (2013) Tiger-Friendly Halloween Guide
Ashley Leiman (2013) Palm Oil Development and Biodiversity Conservation. Orangutan Foundation
WWF (2013) Palm Oil Companies Scorecard
Gillespie et al. (2012) Conservation of amphibians in Borneo: Relative value of secondary tropical forest and non-forest habitats. Biological Conservation
Faruk et al. (2012) Effects of Oil-Palm Plantations on Diversity
of Tropical Anurans. Conservation Biology
Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (2012) Sustainable production of palm oil: UK statement
Yule (2010) Loss of biodiversity and ecosystem functioning
in Indo-Malayan peat swamp forests. Biodiversity Conservation
Sodhi et al. (2010) The state and conservation of Southeast Asian
biodiversity. Biodiversity Conservation
McShea et al. (2009) The importance of secondary forest blocks for terrestrial mammals within an Acacia/secondary forest matrix in Sarawak, Malaysia. Biological Conservation
Butler & Laurance (2009) Is oil palm the next emerging threat to the Amazon? Tropical Conservation Science
Koh and Wilcove (2007) Cashing in palm oil for conservation. Nature
Butynski and McCullough (2007) A rapid biological assessment of Lokutu, Democratic Republic of Congo. RAP Bulletin of Biological Assessment 46. Conservation International, Arlington, VA, USA.
Brown & Jacobson (2005) Cruel oil: How palm oil harms human health, rainforest & wildlife. Center for Science in the Public Interest
Sodhi et al. (2004) Southeast Asian biodiversity: an impending disaster. TRENDS in Ecology and Evolution
Aiken and Leigh (1985) On the Declining Fauna of Peninsular Malaysia in the Post-Colonial Period. Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
Mongabay, December 14, 2013: Indonesian palm oil company demolishes homes and evicts villagers in week-long raid
Orangutan photo courtesy Russell Watkins
- Rainforest Action Network's palm oil page
- Rainforest Alliance: Is there palm oil in that?
- Rainforest Rescue palm oil page
- Union of Concerned Scientists' palm oil page
- Breaking the link between palm oil and deforestation
- Verite page on forced labor and child labor in the palm oil industry
- Bloomberg BusinessWeek: "Indonesia's Palm Oil Industry Rife With Human-Rights Abuses"
- Palm oil company fined for rainforest slash and burn
- Invisible Voices page about Earth Balance's use of palm oil
- Say No To Palm Oil
- A list of products that contain palm oil
- Cheyenne Mountain Zoo's palm oil page
- Oranguteens, a website for teenagers
Photo courtesy Ryan Woo CIFOR
These photos from Borneo are coutesy of David Dennis www.daviddennisphotos.com who says of his trip to Borneo: "The destruction is horrendous".
Slash and burn palm oil plantation photo by Wakx
Photo courtesy Wakx
Photo courtesy Wakx
Habitat destruction photo courtesy MyBukit
Slash and burn agriculture, photo by Wakx
"In Bali, I read the local paper and one of the concerns was the clearing of forests for palm oil groves. All of the environmental problems were cited. Also, in Singapore after I left there was quite a bit issue about the poor air quality from slash and burn clearing on the Island of Java across the Strait of Malacca. Lots of air pollution and need for breathing masks. When we were flying over Borneo before landing in Bali I took a bunch of photos from the plane of forest clearing, and also the rivers running orange/red from all the soil running off from the cleared lands, thus evidence of erosion. Palm oil export is a big business in Indonesia and Malaysia."
-- Shirley, Geographer