New evidence questions the popular picture of the palm oil industry as the leading destroyer of forests, suggesting the reality on the ground is very different and that a broader approach on forest loss is needed. A new report by Climate Focus and other collaborators on the progress of the New York Declaration on Forests (endorsed by GAR and leading palm oil companies in 2014), shows that the sector is actually leading the way in taking action against deforestation. And demonstrates that deforestation linked to palm oil development is nowhere as great as popularly imagined, representing only one-tenth of the destruction caused by cattle farming.
In his blog, Doug Boucher, an adviser on Climate and Energy with the Union of Concerned Scientists points out the worrying thing is that those sectors most responsible for deforestation are actually the ones taking the least action. This leads him to ask whether environmental activists including the UCS have got their priorities wrong by targeting the palm oil sector so exclusively.
I don’t want to downplay the fact that the palm oil industry is linked to deforestation and destruction of habitats. We have stated the reality of this even as we explain the measures that we have been systematically putting in place to deal with these problems. And the handful of big palm oil companies – and it is only really a handful as nearly half of the industry is in the hands of small farmers – are also doing the same.
While activism has played a part in the palm oil sector’s sustainability transformation, leading industry players have also taken the initiative. Palm oil companies like GAR are now pushing the boundaries and doing exciting new things on the ground in community conservation, alternative livelihoods, fire prevention, peat rehabilitation and in our extension of sustainability requirements and principles to our supply chain.
Collective action is key
The NYDF report shows forests are still disappearing at an alarming rate.
Like the palm oil companies which have started moving down the path of proactive innovation in environmental protection, there is a need for activists and other stakeholders to re-examine and if needed, drop outmoded ways of working with agribusiness and adopt different methods of triggering change. This includes looking at the big picture instead of selectively homing in on one facet of the problem. We urgently need broad, collaborative action from all stakeholders across all agribusiness sectors to tackle the shared challenges of reversing the loss of forests. We do not have the luxury of sitting in our own silos.
Having dealt with the many complicated issues on the ground especially around balancing production and protection, GAR and the palm oil industry have much to offer in lessons learned and best practices. We are more than willing to share our knowledge because we have learned that only collective action will help us solve the knotty, intricate and inter-linked issues that threaten our planet’s forests.