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human activity and the destruction of the planet


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Growing palm oil on former farmland cuts deforestation, CO₂ and biodiversity loss

From The Conversation:

https://theconversation.com/growing-palm-oil-on-former-farmland-cuts-deforestation-co-and-biodiversity-loss-127312

Few natural products are as maligned as palm oil, the vegetable oil that’s in everything from chocolate spread to washing up liquid. On the island of Borneo, oil palm plantations have replaced nearly 40% of the native forest cover since 2000. Deforestation releases CO₂ into the atmosphere and deprives rare and endangered species with the complex habitats they need to thrive.

A new study has tried to find out if this valuable crop can be grown without destroying more forests, by converting existing pastureland into new oil palm plantations instead. Could growing more oil palm on land with already scarce wildlife be a solution to the deforestation crisis?

The oil palm tree produces two types of vegetable oil. Palm oil from the fruit is used in cooking and baking and helps feed over three billion people, mostly in Asia. The other oil comes from the palm kernel, or seed, which is used around the world to make most of our detergents, soaps and other cleaning products.

Palm oil comes from the tree’s bright red fruit and is one of the most valuable vegetable oils in the world. Eva Blue/Unsplash, CC BY-SA

The relentless increase in global demand for vegetable oil has driven the logging and draining of forests and peatland to grow soybeans in South America and oil palm in Asia. About 85% of oil palm is grown in just two countries: Indonesia and Malaysia. But other tropical countries, particularly in South America and West Africa, are establishing their own oil palm plantations. These are vast monocultures that very few species can inhabit, especially compared with the tropical forest they replace.

A drainage ditch in a recently created oil palm plantation, Sarawak, Borneo. As the peat dries, it can release large quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Denis Murphy, Author provided

Use farms not forests

In the recent study, researchers measured how much carbon – previously locked up in trees and other vegetation – was lost to the atmosphere when either pastureland or rainforest was converted to oil palm plantation.

The good news is that turning pastureland into oil palm plantations reduced how much carbon was released by 99.7%, compared to when rainforest was converted. Another bonus of using pastureland might be that its starting biodiversity is relatively low anyway, so the plantation may actually have a greater diversity of wildlife than the previous ecosystem.

Areas of forest that have been cleared for oil palm plantations, in Bawa village, Subulusalam, Aceh, Indonesia, July 27 2019. EPA-EFE/HOTLI SIMANJUNTAK

Converting grassland ecosystems like the Llanos in South America to oil palm plantations also released less carbon than converting forests. But in this case, the researchers found there were significant losses for biodiversity. If we have to produce more palm oil, the best outcome for wildlife and the climate would be to make former pastureland the first choice for future plantations.

But would it not be better to ban palm oil altogether? Campaigns have urged consumers to switch to products that don’t contain palm oil, while some retailers have announced plans to exclude such items from their own-brand products.


Read more: Replanting oil palm may be driving a second wave of biodiversity loss


Oil palm plantations produce 73.5 million tonnes of vegetable oil from a total land area of 27 million hectares worldwide. This might seem like a large area, but the second most important vegetable oil crop, soybean, produces 56 million tonnes from 97 million hectares – more than 3.6 times the oil palm area. This means that oil palm actually uses much less land than other crops, which is one reason why it’s so popular with growers.

Scientists measure greenhouse gas emissions and sample groundwater in an oil palm plantation in Sarawak, Borneo. Denis Murphy, Author provided

So boycotting palm oil could actually increase deforestation, since alternative tropical oil crops tend to use much more land. A better approach is to ensure that all the palm oil used in food and other products has been obtained from a “sustainable” source, and not from recently logged forests.

That’s why it’s important to base our decisions on sound scientific evidence. Oil palm will continue to be a vital crop for many developing countries in the future. Using former pastureland to grow the crop could ensure the product’s development isn’t at the expense of vulnerable ecosystems. Given how bad red meat production is for the planet, a switch from cattle pasture to oil palm plantation in the tropics could well be a marked improvement.”


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Successful petition to save the endangered Sumatran elephants

I received an email today from the Rainforest Action Network.  They have been campaigning to stop a palm oil company from destroying the habitat of the rare Sumatran elephants. I signed their petition, as did many others and include their email in its entirety, together with photographs.  Well done!

In honor of this week’s “World Elephant Day,”
we’ve got some GREAT news to share with you!

I’m SO HAPPY to share some great news with you! We’ve really got something to celebrate after “World Elephant Day!” We’re so proud to announce the protection and connection of the rainforest bridge Sumatran elephants use to migrate between important parts of their habitat, their home.

You see, this elephant migration route ran smack dab through a palm oil company’s operation in the northeast lowland rainforests of the Leuser Ecosystem. Actually, reverse that, a palm oil company’s operation ran right through the migration corridors elephants have used to move around their rainforests for generations.

Thanks to your petitions, strong negotiating by our campaign team, and powerful media exposés, Mopoli Raya (said palm oil company) was put on the “No Buy” list by many of the Snack Food 20, including Nestlé and Unilever, and by the biggest palm oil traders sourcing from the Leuser. And once Mopoli Raya was cut out from the global market for long enough, it decided to start doing the right thing. Naturally 😉

So now I have the good fortune of sharing with you that Mopoli Raya has committed to protect the remaining three-and-a-half thousand acres of forests within its operations. The protection of these forests will maintain the connectivity of thousands of acres of surrounding rainforests in this critical elephant corridor. Thank you for everything you’ve done to help make this happen!

Long live the elephants, long may they roam,

 

Gemma Tillack
Forest Policy Director
Rainforest Action Network

 



 


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“Favourite” crops provide little nutrition for pollinators

A report reviewed by Phoebe Weston in The Independent” suggests that western appetites for foods, such as avocados, coffee and citrus fruits, are threatening global food security.

https://www.independent.co.uk/environment/monocultures-coffee-avocados-threaten-global-food-production-a8999561.html?SPnews17July

The cited study analysed 40 years of data from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in the cultivation of field crops between 1961 and 2016.  They found that global diversity of crops has declined, as soyabean, canola and palm take up more land than ever – crops that only provide nutrition for pollinators during a narrow window of time, whilst they are in bloom.  As well as this, farmers are growing more crops that require pollination, such as fruits, nuts and oil seeds, because there is an increasing demand for them and they have a higher market value.

The report suggests that countries that diversity their crops are going to benefit more than those which expand with only a limited range of crops. Countries listed as most unstable in this respect are Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Bolivia, where expansion of soybean farms has driven deforestation and the loss of meadows. Soy production has risen by about 30% per decade globally.  These crops are an unstable source of food for insects, which are in decline globally.

fig22

Deforestation

A similar effect is occurring in Malaysia and Indonesia due to the clearance of forests to grow palm and market palm oil across the world.  These mono-culture crops are creating unstable agricultural environments, as well as the loss of many forest-dwelling creatures and pollinating insects, such as bees.

Europe has a different problem in that farmland is getting smaller, to be replaced by urban development, and to favour the growing of pollinating-dependent crops. This is happening in the UK, Denmark, Germany, France, Austria and Finland.

bee

Although it is mainly poorer regions which are most at risk, the consequencies of crop failure would be felt world-wide.



In recognition of the problems mentioned above, a seven-mile long bee corridor is being developed in London.  Wildflower meadows will be put in place in 22 of Brent Council’s parks in north London. The seeds will be sown across parks in the Brent Council area including Barham Park, Gladstone Park and Tiverton.  This initiative has been praised by Jeremy Corbyn (report from BBC).