The Human Cost Of Palm Oil Expansion

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“Before we had a happy life,” Ms. Gaong said she tells her grandchildren. “Now it’s a difficult life. There’s nothing left for them.”

Children in Indonesia

The future of these children remains at stake until the companies responsible for palm oil plantation expansion in Borneo start respecting human rights.

The recent story in the New York Times titled “Clashes Between Tribes and Agribusiness Increase in Malaysia” tells an all-too common story. It’s not a happy story. It’s the story of farming families getting forced off their land, of vanishing cultures, of corporations trying to “compensate” families for their livelihoods and decades of subsistence with $1,600.

Indigenous people in Malaysia have long complained that their historical claims to their land are being sacrificed in the name of progress. But as the country continues its push toward economic prosperity, with key commodities like palm oil a valuable export, rights groups and lawyers say that encroachment on indigenous land is increasing.

Read the powerful story for yourself. It takes place in Sarawak, which is Malaysia’s largest state on the northwest coast of Borneo. The state is known for its natural and cultural wonders, but Malaysian palm oil producers are destroying Borneo’s carbon-rich peat forests faster than ever before. According to Mongabay and Wetlands International, “more than one third (353,000 hectares or 872,000 acres) of Sarawak’s peatswamp forests and ten percent of the state’s rainforests were cleared between 2005 and 2010. About 65 percent of the area was converted for oil palm.”

The article goes on to say:

The land that he says once thrived with an abundance of crops that fed his family and provided their livelihood has been stripped bare. Young palm trees now sprout from the ochre-colored earth where he says his relatives had lived since before World War II.

Indigenous peoples and forest communities are not the only ones impacted by palm oil expansion. From an interview with Dr. Marc Ancrenanz of HUTAN in 2010:

Genetic studies in Sabah show that orang-utan population have declined by 50 to 90% over the past few decades. This severe decline is due to several causes such as hunting and pet trade, but the foremost reason is forest losses when the forest is cut down and converted to agriculture.

So we have to ask ourselves: Is using palm oil in Girl Scout cookies or Skippy Peanut Butter worth the wholesale destruction of cultural and ecological biodiversity that it creates?

7 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Laurie Higgins says:

    It has become so common-place that no one notices anymore. Please, please, please learn the difference between “its” and “it’s”. “It’s” is a contraction for “it is”. Every time you type “it’s”, replace it in your mind with “it is”. If your sentence still makes sense, then you’ve got the right word. If it doesn’t make sense, then you’ve got the wrong word.

    “known for it’s natural and cultural wonders”. The word in there should be “its”.

    Thank you for putting up with me.

  2. Cheryl Stansberry says:

    I have no doubt that
    stripping the forests, stealing lands from people, planting single crops in place of the biodiversity of the forest, then controling the people in the area basically forcing them to work for the “corporation” or be in poverty and die

  3. Cheryl Stansberry says:

    -Completion of above comment

    is a global ecological, social and moral tragedy. I wonder what course of action will help this situation and I come up with the following – If Banks were to develop internal non negotiable requirements that the loans they give out must meet certain criteria to prove that those loans are not going out to people or people hiding behing corporations, whose business enterprise will result in the damage of the environment or the culture and social fabric of the people in the area of the focus of that business enterprise. They can do this by requiring environmental and cultural impact reports and investigating the validity of the claims made and requiring scientific peer reviewed collaboration and approval of the projects that meet the required criteria ONLY.

    And Education of the public about the actions of the people and corporations behaving in this manner all around the planet, so they can choose not to purchase the products is very important. Also paramount is providing information and designs for alternative means of planting, harvesting and producing and distributing those products

    The banks giving out loans to such prospects should require the alternative methods

    Countries, states, social groups and oversight agencies should have the power to deny these enterprises and if necessary demand immediate cease and desist, and payment for clean up and rmewdiation of the areas to as close to original condition as possible

    just a few thoughts

  4. I have no doubt that stripping the forests, stealing lands from people, planting single crops in place of the biodiversity of the forest, then controlling the people in the area basically forcing them to work for the “corporation” or be in poverty and die is a global ecological, social and moral tragedy.
    I wonder what course of action will help this situation and I come up with the following
    If Banks were to develop internal non negotiable requirements that the loans they give out to enterprises posing these dangers must meet certain criteria to prove that those loans are not going out to people or people hiding behing corporations, whose business enterprise will result in the damage of the environment or the culture and social fabric of the people in the area of the focus of that business enterprise.
    They can do this by requiring environmental and cultural impact reports and investigating the validity of the claims made and requiring scientific peer reviewed collaboration and approval of the projects that meet the required criteria ONLY.
    And Education of the public about the actions of the people and corporations behaving in this manner all around the planet, so they can choose not to purchase the products is very important.
    Also paramount is providing information and designs for alternative means of planting, harvesting and producing and distributing those products
    The banks giving out loans to such prospects should require the alternative methods
    Countries, states, social groups and oversight agencies should have the power to deny these enterprises and if necessary demand immediate cease and desist, and payment for clean-up and remediation of the areas to as close to original condition as possible
    just a few thoughts

  5. Mike G says:

    @Laurie,

    Thanks for catching that. It was just an oversight. As you can see from the multiple uses of its and it’s preceding that one, Ashley is well aware of the difference.

  6. Dale Howey says:

    Girl scout cookies are huge, and symbolic, of the lack of connection between the impact of our “wants” on the rest of the world. We need to teach our children values and that means the value of the people who’s lives are being destroyed for Girl Scout Cookies use of Palm oil. Boycott Girl Scout cookies until they use a different ingredient and teach our children real values.

  7. Lisa says:

    Great article but the photos looks to be of non-indigenous children. What about a photo of Penan children for example?

    Thanks!

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  1. Land Conflicts Spark Occupy-type Protests In Indonesia » Rainforest Action Network Blog

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