Oil palm in Indonesia is a rapidly expanding industry for many agricultural smallholders. Since 1961, the area of agricultural landdedicated to oil palm plantations has increased from 3.6 million hectares to 8.1 million hectares (Rist et al., 2010), with many companies and members of the population realising the potential profits that can be gained from the product’s high demand. Both state and private companies are investing in oil palm plantations, as well as local farmers who set up small holdings of the crop.The associated costs of palm oil production have huge negative implications on the environment, biodiversity and for indigenous peoples, and all of these costs manifest themselves in the plantations of Indonesia. Here, the driver that links all of these affected areas is deforestation. Indonesia and Malaysia contain 80% of Southeast Asian forest (Fitzherbert et al., 2008). and 11% of the World’s tropical rainforest (Koh & Wilcove, 2008) but, as demand for palm oil continues to grow the amount of forest is decreasing. In Indonesia between 1990 and 2005 forest area declined by 28,072,000 hectares and 56% of this decline was the clearing of forests for conversion to oil palm plantations (Koh & Wilcove, 2008). This deforestation is a concern not only to the population of the country, but to a worldwide audience who are increasingly concerned about climate change issues and biodiversity decline.
With the clearing of tropical rainforests for the creation of oil palm plantations, comes a loss of a vital carbon sink. Tropical rainforests are responsible for storing 235 tons of Carbon per hectare, one of the most important carbon stores on the planet, whereas the palm oil plantations only amass 48 tons of carbon per hectare, a net loss of 187 tons of carbon per hectare which makes its way into the atmosphere accelerating the greenhouse effect (Reijnders & Huijbregts, 2008). Not only is the clearing affecting atmospheric carbon concentrations in this way, but the slash and burn techniques to clear the tropical forests also contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. By burning the felled areas, high concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane are emitted. A study of these techniques in Brazil revealed an estimated 1,700 megatons of Carbon dioxide and 10 megatons of methane released into the atmosphere in 1987 alone (Tinker et al., 1996). These are alarming figures considering the increase of oil palm production in Indonesia and a concern for the global population. Moreover, Indonesia is one of the most vulnerable countries to the associated outcomes of global climatic change: sea level rise could affect 94 million people by 2100; delayed monsoon could increase the frequency of drought in the country and with rising temperatures increases the amount of vector-borne diseases that could increasingly affect the Indonesian population (Case et al., 2010).
However, as the global demand for the product increases, Indonesia maintains the clearing of its forests to supply a global demand vital to boosting the country’s economy. As the associated costs grow, it is here that justice is not being done, as I will explore in later blogs.
Case, M., Ardiansyah, F. and Spector, E. (2010) ‘Climate Change in Indonesia: Implications for Humans and Nature,’ WWF [online] Available at: <http://www.worldwildlife.org/climate/Publications/WWFBinaryitem7664.pdf> [Accessed 20 March 2012]
Fitzherbert, E., Struebig, M., Morel, A., Danielsen, F., Bruhl, C., Donald,P. and Phalan, B. (2008) ‘How will oil palm expansion affect biodiversity?’ Trends in Ecology and Evolution 23 (10), 538-545
Irvin, Callicut (2012) ‘Oil Palm Plantation’ [electronic print] Available at: <http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Oil_palm_Plantation.JPG>
Koh, L.P. and Wilcove, D.S. (2008) ‘Is oil palm agriculture really dest
roying tropical biodiversity?’ Conservation Letters 1 (2), 60-64
Reijnders, L. and Huijbregts, M.A.J. (2008) ‘Palm oil and the emission of carbon based greenhouse gases’ Journal of Cleaner Production 16, 477-482
Riau Palm Oil 2007, [electronic print] Available at: <http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Riau_palm_oil_2007.jpg#filelinks>
Rist, L., Feintrenie, L. and Levang, P. (2010) ‘The livelihood impacts of oil palm: smallholders in Indonesia,’ Biodiversity and Conservation 19, 1009-1024
Tinker, P., Ingram, J. and Struwe, S. (1996) ‘Effects of slash-and-burn agriculture and deforestation on climate change,’ Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment 58, 13-22]