Paradise Forests

My name is Yang Jie and I'm a senior campaigner of Greenpeace East Asia's forest protection campaign. For the last 10 years, we at Greenpeace have convinced over 130 international brands to commit to protect forests and develop in environmentally friendly ways. Earlier this year, our campaigns successfully applied pressure to Asia Pulp Papers (APP), the world’s second largest pulp and paper company, to announce a new Forest Conservation Policy aimed at halting the destruction of Indonesia’s natural rainforests.

Sadly, due to the rapid increase in demand for palm oil, the Paradise Rainforest is under threat again. During the period of 2009 to 2011, our mapping analysis showed a staggering 1.24 million hectares of rainforest have been eradicated in order to construct oil palm plantations. To put this into perspective – each week, rainforest areas equivalent to the size of Hong Kong are being cleared for the purpose of growing and refining palm oil.

The main reason for this deforestation is the rapid expansion of the palm oil industry. Every 100 minutes that passes - the same amount of time you and I need to finish watching a movie - forests the size of Hong Kong's Victoria Park are cleared away for palm oil production.

These statistics are frightening to look at and may even seem superficial. But unfortunately, this is the reality in Indonesia. If you were to examine the Paradise Rainforest from an aerial perspective, you would see that lush green trees are being ruthlessly sawed down. Replacing them are vast palm oil plantations that scatter over the landscape like hideous brown scars. You simply cannot imagine how devastated and stunned I was when I received the analysis reports.

I reminisce fondly about my first Greenpeace global campaign back in 2009, when I had the opportunity to see the splendor and fragility of Indonesia’s Paradise Rainforest with my very own eyes. No words can do justice to the majesty and stillness of Lake Serkap, surrounded by primeval rainforests and illuminated by the setting sun. And seeing this after an 11-hour ferry trip made it even more memorable. If heaven were indeed a place on earth, this would surely be it. What nature gives, we must learn to treasure and not take for granted. This journey reinforced that belief in me, and strengthened my resolve to protect our forests under threat. 

Primeval Rainforest

Image: Peatland rainforest reflected on the Serkap river. © Kajsa Sjolander / Greenpeace

Gone are the endless peatlands and rainforests, now rendered to nothingness. All that is left today are the charred black remains of trees that have been burnt away. It pains me to see that so many people still choose to ignore the importance of our ecosystems and continue to threaten it for the sake of personal economic gains. 

We must not allow decades of conservation efforts to be ruined by the palm oil industry. To combat against the increasing threats posed by it, Greenpeace launched a brand new ‘Protect Paradise’ campaign dedicated to saving the Paradise Rainforests. We're targeting the palm oil industry, persuading them to follow more sustainable methods of production.

I'm not sure if you recall the devastating forest fire that plagued Indonesia this summer, burning down much of Sumatra Island’s rainforests. The resulting haze spread to Singapore and Malaysia, causing air pollution figures to soar to record levels. The culprit behind this was none other than the palm oil industry. In Indonesia, palm oil producers often illegally burn away vast areas of rainforest to clear space for their plantations.

My colleague in Indonesia, Hikmat Suriatanwijaya, was responsible for investigating the aftermath of the fire and had the opportunity to interview many local families affected by it. When Hikmat told me the story of a farmer called Laskar and his family, it really touched my heart and I would like to share it with you:

“Laskar, a single parent, only owns one hectare of land which he uses to plant pineapples. Just when he was expecting to harvest his crops, a merciless fire turned everything to ashes. Food reserves for the remainder of the year, money saved to pay the school fees of his three children, and their much cherished bike, all disappeared along with his pineapples, as the fire burned on. As he spoke Laskar struggled to mask his pain, and yet found the dignity to end with saying it was good fortune the house was saved. I really did not know what I could say or do to comfort him …”

Now every time I go to the supermarket to purchase my daily necessities, I cannot help but think of Laskar and his family. I lament over the fact that so many of the commodities I commonly use are actually produced at the expense of the forests and its native citizens that I wish to protect. This ‘dirty’ palm oil has seeped into so many aspects of our lives.

For example, did you know that palm oil, due to its low costs, is often used in manufacturing processes for different industries? Many products we use daily, like shampoo, toothpaste, shower gel, snacks, cooking oil and pet food all contain palm oil. For every 10 items appearing on supermarket shelves, an estimated four of them contain traces of palm oil. What concerns me even more is that the global demand for palm oil is rising, meaning that our rainforests are facing an increasing threat. 

APP action

Bukit Tigapuluh, Jambi, Sumatra. Greenpeace activists unfurl a giant banner “APP-Stop destroying Tiger Forests” to expose rainforest destruction by the Sinar Mas group. The banner was deployed in an area being destroyed by PT. Tebo Multi Agro (TMA), an affiliate of the Sinar Mas group's paper arm, Asia Pulp & Paper (APP). © Ardiles Rante / Greenpeace

And while we at Greenpeace understand that for the average citizen completely avoiding palm oil products is currently close to impossible. But it is possible to pressure our favorite brands to end purchasing and using unsustainable palm oil. You only have to look back at our work over the last few years to realise how true this is. Since 2008 we have been able to:

  • Uncover the involvement of Golden Agri-Resources (GAR), supplier for the world’s largest palm oil consumer Unilever, in the destruction of Indonesia’s rainforests;
  • Initiate a series of awareness campaigns to inform consumers that purchasing Dove and other Unilever products will encourage deforestation;
  • Successfully mobilize 115,000 consumers in just three weeks. This resulted in Unilever making a commitment to only purchase sustainably produced palm oil;
  • Campaign Kraft, Nestle and many other consumer brands to eventually make subsequent commitments to protect rainforests;
  • Mobilize public pressure, resulting in GAR's commitment to preserving peatlands and forests in February 2011.

GAR and other major palm oil producers have already taken a step towards cleaner palm oil production. This shows that balancing economic development with sustainable production of palm oil is achievable.

Lead image: Rainforest clearance and burning in the RAPP concession (Riau Andalan Pulp & Paper) in Giam Siak Kecil area to clear land for plantation establishment. © Greenpeace / John Novis