Sunday, July 13, 2014

Palm Oil Problems

Fruit from which palm oil is produced
Palm oil is an ingredient in countless household items ranging from cosmetics to food items to biofuels. It's become a huge conservation issue because the majority of palm oil plantations come from Indonesia and Malaysia, where forests have been cut down to put up these plantations, causing massive habit loss for animals such as orangutans, rhinos, sun bears, leopards, other species of monkeys, and many more animals. Deforestation has resulted in forests that are increasingly fragmented, making it harder for animals to find potential mates, to disperse, and making it difficult for those species requiring large home ranges to survive. Additionally, all of this cutting has resulted in increased greenhouse gases, contributing to global warming.

The demand for this popular vegetable oil is growing. Already 40-50% of the items found in homes in the US and one out of every ten items in supermarkets in the UK contain palm oil.

A recently published study (July 10) in the journal Current Biology report the need to prevent these large plantations from spreading to Africa. The article states that of the area deemed suitable for palm oil plantations, 42.3% of that area overlaps with the African great apes (chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas). Almost 40% of the distribution of great apes in Africa on unprotected land overlaps with areas considered suitable for palm oil plantations.  The authors determined that palm oil plantations will pose a significant threat to apes in Africa. In some countries, areas suitable for growing this crop overlap with ape habitat by as much as 80%.

Palm oil plantation
So what do the authors suggest to prevent palm oil companies from extending their reach even further into Africa? Public awareness of the environmental and social impacts (such as issues with water quality  and poor working conditions) this industry creates. Most people have never heard of palm oil, which can also be labeled as palmate, vegetable oil, Elaeis guineensis, etc. They have no idea of the destruction it causes to forests across the world. So what can we do to help? Be informed, tell your friends, and reduce your usage of palm oil as much as possible. It's very difficult to do, as palm oil truly is in so many products, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try.

Food for thought: Apes have a very long life cycle. For example, orangutan offspring remain with their mothers until on average eight years old and won't give birth themselves until around age 15. When they do give birth, it's to a single offspring. How does this long life history work against them when it comes to conservation efforts? Think about population numbers.

No comments:

Post a Comment