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Robert Steury

Undergraduate Researcher - Microbial and Molecular Pathgenesis, University of Oregon Institute of Ecology and Evolution

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How do we justify consumption of palm oil? What can we do to stop palm oil companies from destroying the African rainforest?

The Consequences of the Palm Oil Industry and African Primates

Primate communities in the African rainforest provide many ecosystem services and they are a critical source of protein for rural human populations. But primates are severely threatened by many activities including logging, development, agriculture, and overhunting for bushmeat and trophies. Rural Africans have little power (less than 2% of the rainforest is publically owned) over land that is increasingly sold to private companies by their governments.

Government of Cameroon recently offered Herakles Farms the use of 300 square miles of rainforest land at 50 cents per hectare per year, with exemptions; it even gave the company the power to "search, apprehend, detain, exclude, and evict” anyone trespassing on their leased land. The American corporation that promised to build sustainable development for local villages in the region started building roads and nurseries before any agreements were official. After 13 months, villagers realized Herakles didn't live up to their promises, so they seized the company’s equipment and nurseries. Now they await their government’s decision whether to allow Herakles to proceed or not. If Harakles’s oil palm plantation is allowed to proceed, it will majorly impact 45,000 indigenous people in 88 villages.

Africa is the next prime target of palm oil development. If this happens, Africa will likely experience the same fate as Asia in regards to deforestation and primate decimation. So, why palm oil? Palm oil is primarily used for household products. It’s farmed due to its low cost, superior production, low space requirements, and the promise of generating jobs. However, in light of the social and ecological impacts of palm oil farms in Africa, should these justifications satisfy consumers of palm oil products? Can consumers make decisions (e.g. petitions and product research) that will empower the indigenous peoples of Africa and protect the remaining biodiversity?

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    May 31 2013: Hi

    Stop using Palm Oil.
    • May 31 2013: Simple, right?
      • May 31 2013: To help give people clues as what to look for here are a few links:

        http://www.wwf.org.au/our_work/saving_the_natural_world/forests/palm_oil/fact_sheet/

        http://www.saynotopalmoil.com/palm-oil.php

        http://www.palmoilaction.org.au/downloads/palmOilShoppingGuide.pdf

        http://www.nbcnews.com/id/49466740/ns/rock_center_with_brian_williams/t/products-palm-oil/#.Uake4UC1HAQ

        FYI the fact Nutella is on this list makes me really sad in light of this little factoid from the WWF website (see the link above):

        "Q. How much land/forest is cleared every year for oil palm plantations?
        A. It has been suggested that up to 300 football fields of forest are cleared every hour. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) acknowledges that in Malaysia and Indonesia the main driver for this rainforest destruction is the development of oil palm plantations.
        Yet, there are approximately 300–700 million hectares of abandoned land globally that could potentially be used for oil palm plantations, 20 million hectares of which is in Indonesia alone."

        I am in favor of consumers empowering/pressuring companies to seek out SUSTAINABLE ways produce/harvest palm oil and that may be in part be done through educating consumers. Consumers have power in numbers and it is true that you vote with your choices in products to purchase. Yes, some people may not change their shopping habits but PETA for example as mentioned already in this TED conversation has shifted peoples awareness and as a result preferences for fur products changed. Demand for products is driven in by consumers preferences for products and companies respond accordingly.

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