- Palm Oil Industry Leaves Indonesian Village Struggling With Loss ... ›
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By Rizki Nugraha, Michaela Cavanagh and Holly Young
Just like his father and grandfather, Alfian has spent his whole life working as a fisherman on the banks of the Batang Hari river in Rukam, Indonesia.
The Environmental Cost of Palm Oil<p>Touted as a wonder commodity, palm oil is found in a vast array of products and has been an undeniable driver of economic growth in the country.</p><p>But the environment has paid the price — namely through deforestation, loss of biodiversity, soil degradation, and polluted water and air.</p><p>Slash-and-burn techniques, used to clear large swathes of land for plantations, are particularly devastating in peatlands like those found in Rukam. Peatlands are made up of thick layers of decomposed organic material and burning them releases huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.</p><p>Rukam's residents have witnessed their landscape transform since they sold their land.</p><p>The peatlands were drained to make them usable for palm oil. A water pump brought in for irrigation disrupted the natural flow of water, redirecting it from the river to the plantation — which made it difficult for Rukam's residents' to access water for their own fields.</p><p>The situation worsened when a flood dam, used to protect the oil palm plantation from flooding, was built in 2009.</p><p>"As a consequence, villagers experience more damaging floods in the rainy season and don't have enough water in the dry season," says Rudiansyah, from WALHI, Indonesia's largest environmental organization. Farming has become difficult.</p><p>The profits from the sale of land, which were split evenly among residents, were not long-lasting. In fact, Rudiansyah claims Rukam's economy shrank significantly after the land conversion. While there is no data from before EWF came to the village, a study from WALHI and the University of Jambi found 366 of 494 families in Rukam were considered "poor" or "very poor" in 2018.</p>
Loss and Regret<p>Hikmawati can't imagine any future for Rukam and would turn back the clock if she could: "I'd go back to the olden days where we could grow rice, or when there were still plenty of fish around."</p><p>She's not alone. "When I see the vanishing forest, I feel sad... The future looks bleak," fisherman Alfian says. "If nothing changes, then the next generation will leave, and this village will go extinct. Because there is nothing to live for anymore."</p><p>Alfian expects he will be the last in the family line of fishermen. "Maybe my children will only learn the names and types of fish that used to live here," he says.</p><p>For former village chief Syafei, regret is tinged with frustration: "Everything I had planned for the future has gone to the bottom of the ocean because they didn't want to listen to me."</p><p>Many in the community feel a sense of loss, and not just concerning their livelihood. "Countless species of medicinal plants are also lost because of the land conversion from peat forest to plantation," says Rudiansyah.</p><p>It's a response common to many villages impacted by the industry. "There is without question an enormous amount of regret for those communities," says Terry Sunderland, a senior scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).</p><p>"Rukam's story is actually representative for a lot of the villages in Indonesia that are engaging palm oil," says Erik Meijaard, a conservation scientist and chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature palm oil task force.</p><p>"Certain communities benefit from palm oil, but for communities in which residents go fishing or hunting or collecting plants as part of their livelihoods, they tend to lose out quite badly when palm oil goes in and cuts down the forest, because you've got major environmental impacts."</p>
Wildfires and Mixed Progress<p>Despite established criteria from the <a href="https://www.rspo.org/key-documents/impact-reports" target="_blank">Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)</a> in data from 2018, only 19% of palm oil produced globally was certified sustainable. Furthermore, Greenpeace <a href="https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/news/5-problems-with-sustainable-palm-oil/" target="_blank">have argued deforestation</a> continues to happen even among certified palm oil companies.</p><p>The Indonesian government has frequently touted the economic benefits of the industry. However, in the wake of the 2015 wildfires, which destroyed 2.6 million hectares of land including large swathes of peatland, the government took steps that earned international praise.</p><p>The Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) was set up in 2016 and by the end of 2018, it had restored more than 679,000 hectares. In 2019, the same year as more intense wildfires hit the country, the Indonesian government also issued a permanent moratorium on new forest clearance for activities like palm oil development and logging.</p><p>But not all are convinced of the progress.</p><p>"[Palm oil] companies benefit from poorly enforced laws, which in some cases are also poorly drafted," says Sol Gosetti from Greenpeace, referring to the creation of the BRG and <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/twenty-three-companies-fined-for-causing-forest-fires-leading-to-indonesia-haze/a-18934750" target="_blank">renewed government action</a> against companies destroying forests and peatland, such as mandating punitive fines and revoking licenses.</p><p>"The intentions [of government plans] seemed good, but there has been very mixed follow up and research in the field shows that the plantation sector is still not changing its practices," says Gosetti. "In the meantime, a number of plantation companies continue expansion; clearing forests and draining wet, carbon-rich peatlands."</p><p>Despite the moratorium, a <a href="https://www.greenpeace.org/southeastasia/press/2834/one-million-hectares-of-forest-burned-inside-forests-moratorium-area-greenpeace-analysis-show/" target="_blank">Greenpeace investigation</a> in 2019 found that more than 1 million hectares had been burned in protected areas. The government has also been criticized for a failure to enforce industry transparency or regulations and tackle human rights abuses.</p>
Peatland Regeneration<p>Yet at the local level, some see reasons to believe the peatlands have a future.</p><p>Panace, 39, is a farmer living in Pematang Rahim, a village not far from Rukam. He used to cultivate palm oil on peatlands, but found it was very expensive as a smallholder farmer and was degrading the soil.</p><p>Now he is one of many farmers working to rehabilitate their land through the peat restoration program. The first step is rewetting the peatlands by installing infrastructure like deep wells and canal blockings to redistribute water. Then trees and other crops are replanted to repair <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/327881251_Implementing_Peatland_Restoration_in_Indonesia_Technical_Policies_Interventions_and_Recent_Progress" target="_blank">damaged land.</a> </p><p>"We are going to continue diversifying our own crops and try to establish polyculture," says Panace. "We have started with Pinang palm — which grows well in peatlands and has a higher price on the market than palm oil fruits — and so far, it looks really promising."</p><p><span></span>The program depends on the willingness of both farmers and palm oil companies to participate but Panace believes education is key in the future. The program also works with community groups, NGOs and universities to promote the advantages of peatland restoration.</p><p><span></span>Change will not happen overnight. "Peatland recovery takes decades, while restoration activities have only been running for four years," says Myrna Safitri, from BRG. But once established on a broad scale it could <a href="https://theconversation.com/4-steps-the-indonesian-government-can-take-to-ensure-locals-help-put-out-forest-fires-126330" target="_blank">help mitigate the spread</a> of wildfires. </p><p>While restoration has not yet reached Rukam, not all residents are resigned to their village's fate.</p><p>Following pressure from the region's provincial government and WALHI, EWF has agreed to meet three demands of the villagers in Rukam, set to be put into effect this year: To repair the health of the soil, to help residents set up rice fields and irrigation systems, and to restore the water source for agriculture and clean drinking water.</p><p>This comes almost two decades after the decision that changed everything for Rukam. "Years ago, we only needed to take what nature provided for us," laments Syafei. "Our entire way of life was dependent on the natural rhythm of the seasons."</p><p>But he hasn't completely given up hope there is still time to recognize what is at stake. "If we don't learn from the past, then this village might disappear."</p>
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By John C. Cannon
Change. That's what Monica Yongol has seen in her 54 years. In that time, the loggers and then the oil palm companies have moved into the remote corner of Papua New Guinea where she raised her family, altering the contours of the society she knew.
Fresh produce at the Kokopo market. John C. Cannon / Mongabay
East New Britain province has lost nearly 9% of its tree cover since 2001, and deforestation has accelerated since then, according to satellite data from the University of Maryland. The inset shows logging roads proliferating around the town of Pomio on Jacquinot Bay. To the northeast, in East Pomio rural local-level government on Wide Bay, deforestation for timber and oil palm has seeped inland. Source: Hansen/UMD/Google/USGS/NASA/Planet Labs, accessed through Global Forest Watch on May 13, 2020.
The Connection Between Violence and Deforestation<p>Around the world, the "colonial" approach aimed at extracting valuable resources has destroyed "traditional and customary social relations" in local communities, Jeanette Sequeira, vice director and gender program coordinator at the Global Forest Coalition, said in a telephone interview.</p><p>"Often, this is in the land of indigenous peoples and local communities where there's already insecure land tenure," she said. "When you have corporations coming in and occupying these lands, there's just total loss of governance."</p><p>Global Forest Coalition and its more than 100 member organizations around the world have studied the interplay between gender and forest loss around the world. While the context of each local situation is unique, Sequeira said that the coalition's partners have seen the impact that forest loss can have on the most vulnerable members of society. In many cases, that means women.</p><p>"Deforestation and climate change and environmental degradation do lead to an increase in violence against women," Sequeira said. "I think that's a claim we can make more and more."</p><p>Along with the evaporation of the trees, the rights of women to determine what happens to the land they depend on have likewise vanished, Monica Yongol said, as the other women in the room nodded in agreement. The changes have jolted their communities. They've made it harder to provide for their families. And problems like teenage pregnancy, drug use and domestic violence in their communities have cropped up that the women say didn't exist before.</p><p>Several argue that the problem is rooted in the silencing of women's voices that's become more common. Yongol recounted a meeting held by a landowner company, a common organizational structure in Papua New Guinea formed by landholders to negotiate with developers, such as logging companies, on behalf of communities.</p><p>A woman at the meeting stood up and asked why the group hadn't informed all of the landowners about what would happen if the outside company interested in their land secured development rights, Yongol said. The tenets of free, prior and informed consent, <a href="http://www.fao.org/indigenous-peoples/our-pillars/fpic/en/" target="_blank">accepted global standards</a> set forth by the United Nations, hold that all community members should be aware of the plans for the land they depend on. In this case, however, the chairman dismissed her comment, telling her that she shouldn't have a say — because she was a woman.</p>
Forest clearance and plantations have crept inland from Wide Bay, an arcing inlet in Pomio District. John C. Cannon / Mongabay
The airstrip at Tokua, south of Kokopo, with still-active volcanoes in the background. John C. Cannon / Mongabay
Cascading Effects<p>Tongne said that these developments often touch off a chain of consequences for women.</p><p>"Once land is sold and taken away from them, there is a greater violence against women," she said, for several reasons. The forests in East New Britain, and indeed many parts of the country, have long served as a storehouse of ready food and supplies. They're essential in times of plenty, and they serve as vital emergency caches when times are tough.</p><p>"If there's a drought, the women know where to find food in the forest," Tongne told me.</p><p>But as logging and industrial agriculture replace forests close to home, women are forced to travel farther to gather food and other resources or to tend their gardens. That time spent on the road is time they're not looking after their homes or raising their children, Tongne said.</p><p>"The men begin to beat them up," she added. "Violence comes about because there is no food on the table."</p><p>On these extended journeys to the forest, women might face the threat of attack from people from other villages or clans, or from the workers brought in from outside communities by the companies.</p><p>Before, "We had a lot of safety and security. We can walk, visit friends, long distances to other villages," said Lucy Teine, a 50-year-old woman from the East Pomio village of Iwai. "But now, with the population that's coming in to work in those developments, that's now a threat for us."</p><p>The fraying of the social fabric exacerbated by outsiders who might harbor different values is a symptom of a larger issue. Foundational blame for these changes lies with the mentalities that colonialism introduced, according to Sequeira.</p><p>While sexism has persisted in many societies around the world, "Indigenous communities had, in many cases, more equitable gender relations before the advent of colonialism," she said. "Women and men had different, respected roles and status in communities."</p>
John Suka, an elected councilor in the East Pomio local-level government, at the Vunapope Catholic Mission. John C. Cannon / Mongabay
A Global Issue<p>The Global Forest Coalition and its partners have been investigating issues like these around the world. They've found that, while the details may change from place to place, there are broad commonalities among the communities affected by land development and extractivism, Sequeira said.</p><p>"We know that these [roles] became eroded as we had colonial administrations and just the complete dispossession and destruction of indigenous identity," she said.</p><p>In Colombia, she said, women and men are supposed to have equal rights to the land. But, "That's not really how it plays out."</p><p>"You still have women who have to ask permission [from] their husbands or partners for being able to use a bit of land to cultivate medicinal herbs and other food for household consumption," Sequeira said.</p><p>In many places — though not everywhere —laws are in place that should protect land rights, including those of women, she added. Where the system falls short is in implementing these statutes. What that means, broadly, is that forests suffer when women don't have a say in land rights.</p><p>"[W]omen play a vital role in forest conservation," Sequeira and her colleagues wrote in a November 2019 blog <a href="https://globalforestcoalition.org/forest-conservation-must-address-violence-against-women/" target="_blank">post</a>. "Women interact daily with forests and other ecosystems, relying on them for household needs and their livelihoods, but also for conservation and restoration."</p>
Several active volcanoes sit just northwest of the town of Kokopo. Tavurvur last erupted in 2014. John C. Cannon / Mongabay
A new company has begun clearing rainforest in an area of Indonesia's easternmost Papua province earmarked to become the world's largest oil palm plantation, in a vast project that has been mired in allegations of lawbreaking.
A satellite view of Digoel Agri's forest clearance, seen in late November 2019.<p>Since it was first conceived in 2007, the rights to the project have changed hands several times, involving a string of investors who have deployed crude and complex corporate secrecy techniques to hide their identities.</p><p>The licensing process for the project has been plagued by irregularities. A cross-border <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2018/11/the-secret-deal-to-destroy-paradise/" target="_blank">investigation</a> by The Gecko Project, Mongabay, Malaysiakini and Tempo, published in November 2018, revealed that key permits were signed by an elected official who was simultaneously serving a prison sentence for embezzling state funds.</p><p>A subsequent <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2019/12/revealed-government-officials-say-permits-for-mega-plantation-in-papua-were-falsified/" target="_blank">report</a> found that officials believe other essential permits — for both the plantation and a giant sawmill to process the timber — were falsified.</p><p>Two companies, majority-owned by anonymous firms registered in the United Arab Emirates, began operating on the basis of these permits, to the north of the land now held by Digoel Agri. In response to written questions from The Gecko Project and Mongabay they have denied the allegation that the permits were falsified.</p><p>On paper, Digoel Agri's involvement in the project represents a clean break from those allegations. The firm arrived on the scene after the suspect permits held by earlier investors were revoked and reassigned to it.</p>
Enter the Rumangkangs<p>Digoel Agri was set up by members of the Rumangkang family, according to the Indonesian government's corporate registry. The late family patriarch, Ventje Rumangkang, who <a href="https://kumparan.com/kumparannews/pendiri-partai-demokrat-ventje-rumangkang-meninggal-dunia-1stwRMdnjsT" target="_blank">died</a> in February at the age of 74, was a founder of Indonesia's Democratic Party, the vehicle for Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's successful presidential run in 2004.</p><p>At their office in Jayapura, Jackson and his brother Jones Rumangkang, 44, said they had decided to invest in the Tanah Merah project after being encouraged to do so by bureaucrats in Boven Digoel, the district in which the project is located. They then formed several companies under the Digoel Agri brand and set about acquiring the permits.</p><p>The brothers said they were helped along by Fabianus Senfahagi, the head of a local indigenous people's association. He had played a role shepherding through the project in its early stages, <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2018/11/the-secret-deal-to-destroy-paradise/" target="_blank">accompanying</a> surveyors sent by other investors around 2012.</p><p>A paper trail of correspondence among Fabianus and government officials shows he subsequently agitated for the permits to be revoked and reassigned to the Digoel Agri Group.</p>
A road cuts through one of the Digoel Agri land concessions, seen in January. Pusaka
Competing Interests<p>The Rumangkangs insist that the project will benefit the Auyu people. Jones said the ones he met were overjoyed about the prospect of a plantation on their land.</p><p>"They didn't just ask, they cried," he said. "The Auyu tribe is the poorest in Boven Digoel, even though they're so rich [in natural resources]."</p><p>The Rumangkangs have enlisted foreign investors to help them develop the plantation. Their chief partner is a New Zealand property developer named Neville Mahon. In 2018, Mahon became the majority shareholder of the Digoel Agri subsidiaries with land concessions in the project. He could not be reached for comment.</p><p>Mahon associate Thirunavukarasu Selva Nithan, an Australian national, is the sole director of the three companies, corporate records show. Contacted by email, he said he had resigned his position and directed questions to Jackson.</p><p>The involvement of these investors adds to a growing list of actors from across the world with a stake in what could become the world's largest stretch of oil palm. Malaysian logging giant Shin Yang has constructed a sawmill to process timber from the project.</p><p>North of the Digoel Agri concessions, investors whose identities are hidden behind anonymously owned companies in the United Arab Emirates have also begun clearing land, with the Menara Group and the sister of a prominent politician from Indonesia's National Mandate Party as their minor partners. So far, they've bulldozed 8,300 hectares (20,500 acres) of forest, nearly 3% of the project's total area.</p><p>Yet another firm holds the rights to the northernmost block of the project. Corporate records show it is majority owned by two holding companies registered to a letterbox address in Malaysia. The minor shareholder in that venture is the Malaysian logging giant Rimbunan Hijau.</p><p>Many Auyu remain steadfastly opposed to the Tanah Merah project, according to Franky Samperante, the director of Pusaka, an Indonesian nonprofit that advocates for indigenous peoples' rights.</p>
Franky Samperante. Sandy Watt / The Gecko Project<p>On a recent trip to the area, he found that members of the Kemon clan, whose land has been targeted by Digoel Agri, did not want the plantation to go ahead on the grounds that it would destroy their food and water supplies.</p><p>He questioned the government's decision to allow the plantation to move ahead, without investigating the allegation that permits held by the earlier investors had been falsified.</p><p>"In light of the irregularities that have arisen, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry must review the decrees rezoning the land," he said. "The government must impose sanctions on the perpetrators."</p>
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By Sylvie Djacbou Deugoue, Greenpeace Africa
When I think of the forest, I remember playing in it. We would build huts of sticks and moss, and vehicles from bamboo trees. Getting lost in the forest was a real adventure. We used to turn the forest into a navigation game. We could get a sense of orientation without a compass or a GPS.
Sylvie Djacbou Deugoue, in the rainforest in the south region of Cameroon, 2017. Greenpeace Africa<p>I would go with my brothers, sisters and our friends into the nearby forest to collect seasonal fruits off the trees (bush mango, oranges, lemons). We would collect traditional medicinal herbs and scrape the tree barks with our grandma to treat our stomach aches, especially after eating too much of those fruits.</p><p>Playing and jumping in the bushes, looking for food and building materials, these were some of our favorite moments as children in Cameroon. The forest served me with free therapy sessions. When I was sad or needed to reflect, I used to go and rest under a tree. Alone, I could enjoy the shadow created by the branches. Listening to the squirrels' feet clambering in the trees or the birds singing, chirping, croaking and shrilling, it was a peaceful treatment for my mind.</p><p><span>Life seemed so simple then. We had a place where we found ourselves connected. The air was pure and fresh and we did not know many of the diseases we do now. The tranquil environment in the forest was reflected in the unity of our communities. There were hardly any conflicts over land and when they occurred they were solved peacefully around a fresh cup of palm wine.</span></p>
Sylvie Djacbou Deugoue, in the Baka house in the south region of Cameroon, 2019. Greenpeace Africa<p>Joining the fight through the forest campaign of Greenpeace Africa six years ago gave me an opportunity to defend my forest and stand for the rights of the people living here. Working with communities and learning to see the forest through their eyes, hearing their cry the forest is destroyed in the name of "development," makes me more eager to continue to stand with them and for their rights.</p><p>Here in Cameroon, many of the plantations that have replaced our natural forests are in fact tree monocultures. But not everyone understands the difference between a tree monoculture plantation and a natural forest. Even some governments. By replacing natural forests with monoculture tree plantations, not only are human communities and endangered species put at risk, but enormous stocks of carbon are released into the air.</p><p>Carbon is mostly stored in the thick stems and deep roots of trees that are hundreds of years old. Planting new trees to replace ancient forests is not a solution. It just serves to greenwash the conscience of executives in oil and gas companies, <a href="https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/remarks-president-trump-world-economic-forum-davos-switzerland/" target="_blank">declaring one trillion trees</a> will be planted and "offsetting" CO2 emissions from extractive industries with artificial forests is part of the problem. Planting trees with one hand, while the other one is pumping oil out of the ground is like putting a band-aid on an arm that has been dismembered.</p><p>Only a natural forest can be home to rich biodiversity, including rapidly disappearing medicinal plants. Only a natural forest can be a home to Indigenous and local forest communities. The solution requires acknowledging their unique role in good management of forests and recognizing their rights over their land. Give them back the forest. Ensure their participation and inclusion in all policies.</p><p>Seeing the scale of forest destruction in my land and understanding the risks for the entire planet, celebrating my birthday has become more difficult in recent years. I hope that this time around, my cry as someone who always loves to visit the forest — along with the cries of Indigenous and local communities who must live in the forest — will be heard by many more of you. That would be the perfect gift for my birthday. It would help bring a smile to my face and to so many more.</p>
Efforts to contain the Wuhan coronavirus and fears that it can spread and form a global pandemic have slowed industries around the world.
Shipping is delayed, cars and electronics are stalled on the assembly line, and commodity markets around the world are predicting losses because of the virus. Fears around the virus even have Olympic officials worried that it could impact Tokyo's planning for the summer games scheduled for the end of July, according to CNN.
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Human activity threatens to make summer nights a little less magical.
Habitat Loss<p>"Lots of <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/wildlife" target="_self">wildlife</a> species are declining because their habitat is shrinking," Lewis said in a <a href="https://now.tufts.edu/news-releases/lights-out-fireflies-face-extinction-threats-habitat-loss-light-pollution-pesticides" target="_blank">Tufts press release</a>, "so it wasn't a huge surprise that habitat loss was considered the biggest threat."</p><p>However, some firefly species are particularly vulnerable because they require very specific conditions. The Malaysian firefly <em>Pteroptyx tener</em>, famous for its synchronized light shows, needs mangroves to flourish. Previous research had noted the species' decline due to the clearing of mangroves to plant <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/palm-oil">palm oil</a> plantations and aquaculture farms.</p>
Light Pollution<p><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/light-pollution" rel="noopener noreferrer">Artificial light</a> is a major problem for fireflies because they use their famous bioluminescence to find mates, and bright human lights can disrupt these courtship signals.</p><p>"In addition to disrupting natural biorhythms – including our own – light pollution really messes up firefly mating rituals," study coauthor and Tufts PhD candidate Avalon Owens explained in the press release.</p>
Pesticides<p>The use of agricultural pesticides like organophosphates and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/neonicotinoids" rel="noopener noreferrer">neonicotinoids</a> threatens fireflies, especially during their larval stages, when they spend as many as two years living below the ground or underwater. This makes them especially sensitive to pesticides that end up on lawns or in the <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/soil" rel="noopener noreferrer">soil</a>, according to Popular Science.</p><p>While more specific research is needed on the impact of these chemicals on fireflies, the evidence suggests that they are harmful to the glowing bugs as they are to other insects, the Tufts release explained.</p>
'Insect Apocalypse'<p>Indeed, the plight of fireflies is reflected across the insect class. A <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/insect-apocalypse-will-have-dire-con-sequences-for-all-life-on-earth-report-warns-2641341433.html" target="_self">November 2019</a> study warned that 41 percent of insects are threatened with <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/species-extinction" rel="noopener noreferrer">extinction</a>, which could lead to an "insect apocalypse" with serious consequences for humans and other life on Earth.</p><p>Dave Goulson, the University of Sussex biology professor who authored that study, <a href="https://edition.cnn.com/2020/02/03/world/fireflies-extinction-risk-scn/index.html" target="_blank">told CNN</a> that the threats of habitat loss and pesticide use were also the leading causes of the overall insect decline.</p><p>"Of course fireflies are particularly vulnerable to light pollution, more so than perhaps any other insect group, so it makes sense that this also emerges as a major concern," Goulson said.</p><p>Lewis expressed hope that focusing the spotlight on fireflies could raise awareness about the plight of insects generally and build the will to save them.</p><p>"Fireflies are actually an insect that everybody can get behind," she told Popular Science.</p>
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By Alejandro Pérez, translated by Romina Castagnino
Fifteen years ago, Martha Valencia relied on the nearby river for water and for food. But then oil palm crops arrived in the area and polluted the river, say Martha and her neighbors. The community took the oil palm grower to court, which ultimately resulted in a ruling in their favor.
Oil palm cultivation is one of the primary drivers of deforestation in the province of Esmeraldas. Eduardo Rebolledo
Aerial view of a young oil palm plantation in Esmeraldas. Eduardo Rebolledo
Satellite image of oil palm plantations in San Lorenzo. Rodrigo Sierra
Oil palm plantations in San Lorenzo, Ecuador. Eduardo Rebolledo
Oil palm crops near the town of San Lorenzo. Eduardo Rebolledo
Inhabitants of La Chiquita are fighting against the pollution of their water sources. David Silva
Assemblyman Lenin Plaza has proposed a law to increase palm oil production. He says it is necessary to help small producers. Cecilia Puebla
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By Hans Nicholas Jong
The makers of Oreo cookies and KitKat chocolate bars are among the companies getting some of their palm oil from producers linked to the fires that have razed large swaths of land in Indonesia, a new report says.
Land burning in an oil palm concession owned by PT Agro Tumbuh Gemilang Abadi (ATGA).
Elviza Diana / Mongabay-Indonesia
Household Brands<p>The report first looks at the plantation companies with the highest number of fires on their concessions between January and September this year, the largest areas of burned land on their concessions between 2015 and 2018, and/or those that have been sanctioned for fires.</p><p>Greenpeace identified 30 such groups, 21 of which are current members of the leading certification body for ethical sourcing of the crop, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The RSPO has a strict "no burning" and "no deforestation" policy for its members.</p><p>Greenpeace then looked at whether the palm oil produced by these groups was present in the supply chains of major brands and traders. It found that all 30 of the palm oil producer groups most closely linked with the fires in Indonesia trade in the global market, supplying to leading consumer goods companies.</p><p>Four household names — Mondelēz, Nestlé, Unilever and P&G — are each linked to up to 10,000 fire hotspots, as they buy from palm oil producer groups with the highest numbers of fire hotpots in 2019. Mondelēz and Nestlé, the respective producers of Oreo and KitKat, among other brands, buy from 28 of these groups. Unilever buys from at least 27, and P&G from at least 22, according to Greenpeace.</p><p>These big brands also source from companies with legal problems or that are currently under public investigation for fires. Unilever, for instance, is supplied by eight plantation companies with court actions or sanctions against them, and 20 companies whose operations have been sealed for investigation as a result of the 2019 fires, according to the report.</p><p>Major palm oil traders are also still getting some of their supply from producers linked to the burning.</p><p>Wilmar, the world's largest palm oil trader, for example, is supplied by palm oil groups responsible for more than 1,400 square kilometers (540 square miles) of burned land between 2015 and 2018 and nearly 8,000 fire hotspots in 2019 to date.</p>
Burned area in oil palm concession owned by PT ATGA.
Elviza Diana / Mongabay-Indonesia
Poor Monitoring<p>Greenpeace's Annisa said burning-linked palm oil was being allowed to circulate through the global supply web because of weaknesses in the respective companies' monitoring of their supplies' provenance.</p><p>Some of the consumer goods companies failed to identify palm-fruit processing mills that were on their supplier lists as belonging to producer groups that they had in fact already banned. For instance, both Nestlé and Unilever's supply chain disclosures still show supply chain links to mills owned by Salim Ivomas Pratama, a member of Indonesia's Salim Group.</p><p><a href="https://www.eco-business.com/news/major-brands-break-ties-with-indonesian-palm-oil-giant/" target="_blank">Nestlé</a> and <a href="https://www.unilever.com/Images/unilever-response-to-allegations-against-salim-group_tcm244-523124_1_en.pdf" target="_blank">Unilever</a> previously removed the Salim Group from their respective lists of suppliers in light of longstanding allegations of <a href="https://www.ran.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Salim_Peat_Report_04102018.pdf" target="_blank">environmental</a> and <a href="https://www.ran.org/wp-content/uploads/rainforestactionnetwork/pages/15889/attachments/original/1467043668/The_Human_Cost_of_Conflict_Palm_Oil_RAN.pdf?1467043668" target="_blank">labor violations</a>.</p><p>In a response to Greenpeace, Nestlé said that since April 2018, following a supply chain mapping process, "several mills have been suspended or otherwise removed. This includes ten upstream supply chain companies published on our website, like the Korindo Group and Salim. This underscores our commitment to achieving deforestation-free supply chains."</p><p>Unilever said it had "suspended sourcing from six of the indirect suppliers identified in the Greenpeace tables. These are: Austindo Nusantara Jaya [ANJ]; Best Agri Plantation; Citra Borneo Indah [SSMS]; Jaya Agra Wattie; Salim Group …; Sungai Budi/Tunas Baru Lampung. These six suspended groups are no longer in our Supply Chain and will not appear in the next scheduled update to our mill list."</p><p>However, they failed to attribute Salim Ivomas Pratama mills as belonging to the Salim Group, according to the report.</p><p>Nestlé says "Salim Ivomas Pratama isn't one group with Salim Group. But they're clearly one group," Annisa said. "This is amazing because it means [the brands] aren't aware of what's happening at the level of traders and producers. So most of them don't know. They just believe what they've been told by their suppliers."</p><p>This is also happening with traders such as Cargill, Annisa said.</p><p>Cargill's grievance tracker states that as of May 2018, Indofood, an arm of the Salim Group, is no longer in its supply chain. However, Cargill's most recent supply chain disclosure reveals purchases from "Gunta Samba" mills, which are part of the Salim Group but not classified as such by Cargill.</p><p>Greenpeace identified 332 fire hotspots within the concessions associated with the Salim Group (including subsidiaries IndoAgri, Indofood and IndoGunta) between January and September this year, and 78 square kilometers (30 square miles) of burned area from 2015 to 2018. Plantation company PT Kebun Ganda Prima, which had its concessions sealed off by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry this year, is also identified by Greenpeace as belonging to the Salim Group.</p><p>The Salim Group declined to respond to Greenpeace's fire hotspot and burn scar data on the grounds that "your information and data is neither specific nor detailed," according to the report.</p>
A patrolling team hired by oil palm company PT ATGA to douse fires in the concession.
Elviza Diana / Mongabay Indonesia
Defining Producer Groups<p>Exposure to producer groups with links to environmental and social violations is common among big brands, but difficult to trace, the report says.</p><p>"[A]s a result of serious transparency failings, much of this exposure is not made explicit in their public supply chain disclosures, which require painstaking analysis to reveal the full extent of the companies' links to fires, deforestation, and human exploitation," it says.</p><p>This is in part because there's still disagreement over how producer groups are defined, Annisa said, even as many consumer goods brands and traders state that their sustainability policies are intended to apply to entire producer groups.</p><p>She said the definition should extend beyond formal parent-subsidiary corporate relationships because a large segment of the plantation industry, especially in Southeast Asia, has always been controlled by complex conglomerates owned by individuals and families.</p><p>Therefore, a group definition should take into account not only common ownership but also shared financial, managerial and/or operational control, Annisa said.</p><p>"So the definition of a group isn't firm yet, it's very elastic," she said. "But it's clear that if there's shared managerial and financial control, then it's a group. We also found many companies with the same addresses. Don't we include these companies in one group? So the definition of producer group has to be revised. Otherwise, companies can evade their responsibilities repeatedly."</p>
Smoke rises from an oil palm plantation on a peatland in Sumatra.
Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay
‘No Business on a Dead Planet’<p>Annisa said there was an urgent need for drastic transformation in the palm oil industry, especially as the fires in Indonesia were contributing significantly to carbon emissions and hence climate change.</p><p>According to data from the <a href="http://www.globalfiredata.org/index.html" target="_blank">Global Fire Emissions Database (GFED)</a>, this year's fires have released an estimated 465 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent as of Oct. 22 — almost the entire total greenhouse gas emissions of the U.K. in a year.</p><p>"If the forests are gone, we can't do anything," Annisa said. "This is what [the companies] fail to realize. We all know that there's no business on a dead planet."</p>
- Major Brands Source Palm Oil From Illegal Plantation Inside ... ›
- Indonesian Journalists Critical of Illegal Palm Plantation Found Dead ›
By Ayat S. Karokaro and adapted by Basten Gokkon
Two Indonesian journalists who had reported on an illegal oil palm plantation in Sumatra while also allegedly trying to gain control of the crop have been found dead at the plantation.
An oil palm worker harvesting palm fruit at a plantation in North Sumatra. Nanang Sujana for RAN / Oppuk
Golfrid Siregar, left, protests against the proposed Batang Toru hydropower project, which threatens the only known habitat of the critically endangered Tapanuli orangutan. Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi)
Environmental activists in Indonesia have raised suspicions over the death this week of a human rights defender who was a staunch advocate of communities threatened by palm oil plantations.
Golfrid Siregar, center, and his colleagues show the lawsuit they filed against the North Sumatra government over an alleged forgery in the permitting process for a hydropower project in Batang Toru, Sumatra.
Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi).<p><br>"We suspect the victim was beaten up at another location," Roy Lumbangaol, Golfrid's manager at Walhi, told reporters on Oct. 7. "To eliminate the evidence, he was brought to the location where he was eventually found."</p><p>Walhi has called on police to launch a thorough and transparent investigation into Golfrid's death. The group also asked the National Commission on Human Rights to monitor the police investigation.</p><p>Associates last had contact with Golfrid on the afternoon of Oct. 2, when he left home to deliver a package and have a meeting. By the evening, he couldn't be contacted. At 1 a.m. on Oct. 3, a rickshaw driver found his body on the overpass.</p><p>The police have said they will call in the rickshaw driver for further questioning and check footage from CCTV cameras installed near the location where Golfrid was found.</p><p><span></span>Golfrid was best known for his work with legal aid and civil society groups in helping local communities ensnared in land conflicts with palm oil companies.</p><p>His most recent work was on a lawsuit against the North Sumatra government over the <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2019/02/allegation-of-forged-signature-casts-shadow-over-china-backed-dam-in-sumatra/" target="_blank">alleged forgery of a researcher's signature</a> in an environmental impact assessment for a proposed hydropower project. Activists say the planned dam would threaten the only known habitat of the <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2017/11/the-eighth-great-ape-new-orangutan-species-discovered-in-sumatra/" target="_blank">Tapanuli orangutan</a> (<em>Pongo tapanuliensis</em>), a critically endangered species. According to Walhi, Golfrid had recently lodged a complaint to the National Police against the North Sumatra Police's decision to drop the investigation into the alleged forgery.</p><p>Golfrid's death is the latest in a disturbing pattern of environmental defenders dying under suspicious circumstances in Indonesia. From 2010 to 2018, there were 171 recorded cases of violence against activists in Indonesia, according to Ainul Yaqin from the Indonesian Human Protection Foundation (YPII). Most of the victims were environmental activists.</p><p>Earlier this year, the head of Walhi's West Nusa Tenggara chapter <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2019/02/arson-attack-leaves-activist-in-indonesia-shaken/" target="_blank">survived an arson attack</a> after assailants barricaded him inside his home and set it on fire.</p><p>"The struggle as human rights defenders will always continue," Walhi said in a <a href="https://walhi.or.id/pembela-hak-azasi-manusia-hrds-sumatera-utara-terindikasi-korban-percobaan-pembunuhan-meninggal-dunia" target="_blank">statement</a>.</p>
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