Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Letter: A clear and present danger


Sat, 10/10/2009 1:24 PM | Opinion / Published The Jakarta Post

The palm oil industry is in denial and in a panic ( See "Green groups misinformed about palm oil, says report," The Jakarta Post, Oct. 10). It knows the industry is responsible for the deaths of thousands of orangutans, tens of millions of other wildlife forms, and logging - both legal and otherwise, on an industrial scale throughout all of Kalimantan and Sumatra. Of this, there is not a single doubt. It is now time for the industry to stop trying to deny the undeniable truth.

Trying to misrepresent the motives of NGOs will win the industry no friends in either the public or political arenas. The truth will win in the end and the public will decide with their credit cards and check books, as they have done so massively with Fair Trade products, whether or not they want palm oil in their homes or cars.

No one I know is opposed to palm oil. It is a very versatile oil and we all need and consume it. The problem is not palm oil, but the methods used to develop and manage plantations throughout Indonesia and Sarawak. To visit Kalimantan, Sumatra or Sarawak is to witness the catastrophic decimation of wildlife, forests, local communities, and rivers polluted with insecticides.

The scene resembles and feels like a Klondike gold rush, with palm oil companies grabbing what forest they can, whilst they can and, before a competitor does. Countless documentaries have shown thousands of hectares of bare land, where palm oil companies have bought a license to log a forest and convert the land to a plantation.

Once the forest is logged, many companies vanish with their quick profits from logging, leaving the land bare, only to start again under a new name not far away, time and again. Does World Growth chairman Alan Oxley honestly believe the BBC, Discovery Channel, National Geographic, etc are all wrong with what they have filmed and reported?

In Sarawak, there have been innumerable reports of this same industry denying indigenous tribes their rights to their land. Although less reported, the same happens in Indonesia. Alan Oxley claims NGOs are opposed to poor people improving their lives, when the truth is exactly the opposite.

In Indonesia, there are countless NGOs trying to help indigenous people improve their lives, which sometimes means helping them, at their request, defend their ancestral forests from the land-grabbing palm oil companies.

Any NGO brave enough to help tribes people repel loggers making way for palm oil plantations in Sarawak runs a very serious risk to their personal safety.

Only if and when the palm oil industry get out of denial will they begin to see the wood for the trees and start to address the real causes of the problems, rather than attempt to denigrate NGOs who expose this industry for what it is, arguably the most environmentally destructive in the world.

Sean Whyte