Dosan Villager

I'm Yang Jie, senior campaigner of Greenpeace East Asia's forest protection campaign, and earlier I discussed on this blog the threat our world's greatest forests are facing from the palm oil industry. Today, I want to talk about solutions, illustrated by a small village in the Sumatra islands and why saving these forests is so critical to humans, animals and the planet overall.

Dosan Village once viewed palm oil as their enemy. The promises for 'economic improvements' and 'creation of job opportunities' by the palm oil producers never happened. Instead villagers found that as the palm oil plantations expanded, their forests, animals and resources were all negatively and seriously affected. 

Then, in 2008, a brand new community project brought a glimmer of hope for both the rainforest and the villagers. The project made use of effective management and sustainable development principles. With suitable usage of abandoned land and by changing the behaviors of the Dosan villagers, the forests were left unharmed while palm oil yield continued to increase.

Today, poverty levels and unemployment figures in Dosan have decreased dramatically compared.

From big corporates to small societies, Greenpeace has discovered that palm oil can be produced with sustainable, environmentally-friendly methods. All we need to do now is to promote industry-wide adoption of such practices.

Dragon Lake

Image: Dragon Lake (Danau Nagasakti) is an incredibly crystal clear peat lake with a backdrop of primary forest. Once home to the critically endangered Sumatran tiger, the area still supports a great deal of biodiversity. The people of Dosan village believe the lake is sacred and understand the importance of safeguarding the area – they are the guardians of this forest. © Greenpeace / John Novis

Tropical rainforests, like the Paradise Rainforests in Indonesia, are one of the greatest storehouses of nature’s biodiversity on the planet. Its destruction will affect native tribes whose lives solely depend on resources from the forest. Precious animal species like Sumatran tigers and Orangutans also lose their habitat and could face extinction.

Earlier I received some bittersweet news: Indonesian animal rescue organizations recently rescued four dying orangutans from an oil palm plantation on the Borneo Islands. One of the orangutans, a pregnant female cradling her newborn baby, was perched on one of the few remaining trees, wondering why her home had disappeared. Luckily, the animal rescue team arrived just in time and all the orangutans were transported to rainforest areas untouched by palm oil activity.

But not all of the animals are that fortunate. In particular, the numbers of critically endangered Sumatran tigers are decreasing because of habitat destruction. Only around 400 Sumatran tigers remain in the wild and their numbers will continue to decrease if nothing is done.

Sumatran tigers

Image: Three Sumatran tiger cubs. © Greenpeace / Getty / Schafer and Hill

This July, one RSPO licensed ‘sustainable’ palm oil production factory was revealed to have illegally planted oil palm crops in Indonesia’s Tesso Nilo national nature reserves. The Tesso Nilo reserve is one of the few places in Indonesia that protect Sumatran Tiger habitat. You must understand how frightened and anxious I was when I realized the utter ineffectiveness of RSPO licenses in ensuring that wildlife and forests are protected.

The disappearing Paradise Rainforests also serves as the Earth’s lungs, taking in carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. If such a fragile balance is disturbed, it will lead to dire consequences. The Indonesian rainforests under threat today are mostly peatlands that store vast amounts of carbon. Once these peatlands are oxidized, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases will seep into the atmosphere and create changes in the global climate.

Because of the rapid destruction of its rainforests, Indonesia is now the world’s third largest emitter of greenhouse gases. If allowed to continue, this really would have a devastating effect on the world we live in.

Lead image: Rubber tapping in the Dosan Village rubber tree plantation. © Greenpeace / John Novis