Posts Tagged ‘palm oil’

Last week we took a camera to Fulford Secondary School in York, UK, to get reactions from students as they were introduced to the DeforestACTION project.

These students connected with Dr. Willie Smits via Skype, and began working together with other students around the world to learn about the issues of deforestion.

Later in the week, they were invited to meet the Crown Princess of Jogyakarta, and pledged to expand their involvement in the project to help fund further orangutan rescues and to fight the destruction of important forests for palm oil production.

This is such an engaging project, because it connects students with one of the most importat topics on the planet, and makes it as real as possible. A big thank you to all the students and teachers at Fulford Secondary School for sharing this with us.  Are you a teacher? You can connect your students with those at Fulford by signing up at http://www.deforestaction.org.

Are you are an expert in deforestation or orangutan conservation?  We are looking to provide as much information as possible to students from around the world and are always on the lookout for new, engaging content.


Read Full Post »

What if we could find a way to make the forests more valuable than chopping them down for timber and palm oil?

What if there was a  way that protecting the forests became the most financially beneficial option for local people – so much so that they would no longer be open to bribes and corruption from the palm oil companies?

What if protecting the forests could provide a new energy source that could significantly contribute to solving the global energy crisis, while radically improving the standard of living of the people whose forests are being destroyed and stolen?

It seems Dr. Willie Smits may have found a solution to this problem, which could literally change the deforestation game forever. (read a detailed, independent report from Ecofys here).

One of the reasons deforestation is so prolific in Indonesia, is because palm oil companies have faced very little resistance from local people in taking their land.  Much of this is because the palm oil companies cheat, lie, deceive and even steal land from the traditional landowners. But it’s also because in the short term, the pittance they are paid for their families’ land is too tempting for some people to turn down.

So, for a few thousand dollars, and a fist full of soon to be broken promises, the lands these local people have held for centuries are signed over to palm oil companies to destroy.

In the short term, such deals can allow the local people to buy fuel for their bikes (there is a massive shortage of fuel in Kalimantan), mobile phones or credit, or other simple luxuries. In the long term, it is the end of their communities, their livelihoods, and their futures.

If we as a planet are to reduce deforestation, we need to find an alternative for the local people. A way to ensure the value of keeping the forest in tact outweighs any short term financial tricks the palm oil companies can offer.

Sugar Palm is a very exciting option that may be our best chance ever.

To be clear –  Sugar Palm is the exact opposite of the highly destructive Oil Palm. These trees do not grow in a monoculture – they require the diverse forest to thrive.  Because they require the entire forest to be sustained, this sustains all kinds of life, keeping the natural balance of the forest in tact.  In palm oil plantations, on the other hand, only the palm oil trees grow.  The natural diversity is destroyed – the animals that aren’t butchered and killed are left to starve in a barren biological  desert.

Sugar palms releases large quantities of juice (up to 50 litres per day).  This juice can be efficiently converted into bio-ethanol, palm sugar (low GI), animal feed, electricity, medicines,  bio-plastics, and at least 50 additional products created to date using scientific methods developed by Dr.Willie Smits.

According to Willie, the amount of energy produced by a sugar palm beats that of all other crops (e.g. it provides over three times more energy than sugar cane).  In fact, as far as solar power goes, the sugar palm is a highly effective photovoltaic converter.

Local people have been collecting the sugar and using it for medicine, cooking, fire barriers, fiber (rope) construction for years.   So what’s new?

The first ever 'factory in a box village hub'

The first ever Village Hub - 'factory in a box' model by Dr. Willie Smits

In this photo, you can see two factories known as “Village Hubs”.   The larger one in the background is the original, the much smaller one in the front is a revolutionary new semi-portable factory.  Both factories include technology to  allow local people to convert their sugar palm into energy, giving them credits that can be used for electricity, clean drinking water, internet access, education service, animal feed, biofuel and more.  It is literally a currency exchange centre, allowing sugar to be converted into products and services on the spot.

Last week, Willie completed the first ever ‘factory in a box’ version of the Village Hub.  The concept is this factory can be transported to anywhere in the world in two large shipping containers.  It is then unpacked and assembled and within a few weeks, the entire village can enjoy a substantially elevated standard of living – but ONLY for as long as they have rich, bio diverse forests to sustain the sugar palms.

This is fantastic news for orangutans, gibbons, sun-bears and all the other animals that live in the forest. If this takes off quickly, and the demand from the local people drives the establishment of more of these hubs, it is one of the best chances we have to save the forests and the species that live in them.   I witnessed Willie present this to over 300 local people in Sintang earlier this year, and if their response was anything to go by, demand will be more than overwhelming.

As always, this is about education and free choice.  If this works as well on scale as the first production model (this is beyond prototype), and the local people choose this above the alternative (no comparison),  this is going to make a significant, positive difference to the planet forever.

Read Full Post »


The EcoWarriors Buildling Relationships with Local Communities

For the last twenty days, the DeforestACTION EcoWarriors have been on a life changing journey through West Kalimantan, Indonesia, seeing first hand the destruction caused by Deforestation.  What they have seen, and what they will be reporting to the world, is far more shocking than any of them expected.

The EcoWarriors are young adults (aged 19-35 years) who were selected from hundreds of applicants to represent the children responsible for establishing the DeforestACTION project.  They are truly an amazing, accomplished and inspirational group, including professional GIS technicians, veterinary technicians, journalists, teachers and more.  You can learn more about the Eco Warriors here.

In the last twenty days, the EcoWarrios have uncovered a largely unreported story of what can only be described as genocide, where local people are being killed, cheated, poisoned,  held without trial and brutalized under the lead of foreign owned palm oil companies.  The environmental devastation being deliberately imposed on the lands they own makes the BP oil spill look like a wine stain.  The way animals are being treated is something from a horror movie.  And the intricately constructed public relations campaign that shrouds the truth is of a scale that defies belief.

In one 30 minute boat ride, the EcoWarriors saw nearly forty illegal gold mines, each of which pumps over a litre per day of mercury directly into the river ecosystem.   The few fish that are left are contaminated with heavy metal and not safe to eat, and their breeding cycles are so disrupted new generations will be fewer. The water is so polluted it is beyond dangerous for bathing, let alone  drinking, cooking or irrigation.  Life expectancies from those dependent on the river system (hundreds of thousands) is dropping by the day.  Miscarriage rates are skyrocketing.  The IQ rate of local people is being severely impeded.  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Rewind to March this year.  A beautiful water hole that took nearly an hour of forest trekking to get to was surrounded by thick virgin rainforest as far as the eye could see.   Now, only a few months later, this creek is too polluted to touch, and there is no forest visible for kilometres to the horizon.  All that is left is devastated land, with rows of recently planted palm oil saplings – a biological desert that can sustain no animals, and provides less than .01 jobs per hectare for the local people. Huge profits are made offshore.  The locals in Indonesia are left destitute.

This story is commonplace in Borneo.  Somewhere in Kalimantan, this story is playing out again right now.  It is happening so fast (300 football fields per hour).  The amount of CO2 being pumped into the atmosphere from the clearing of the peat swamps is comparable to that of  a volcano.  Turn off your light bulbs when you can, but understand this amount of release, from these peat swamp regions alone, in only a  few months, emits more CO2 than Australia does in a year. It’s getting worse by the day.

CO2 emissions in Indonesia, a country with relatively minimal coal burning industry. The problem is getting worse every day. From the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Centre

The problem is truly global in nature, but the really scary stories come from the local people themselves.

Dr. Willie Smits translates for this man who explains how he has lost his land, his family, his livelihood and his hope at the hands of palm oil companies, who use the most sinister, evil and calculating tricks to cheat the local people.

This man (identity withheld at his request) was one of hundreds the EcoWarriors spoke with.  He talked of how his lands had been stolen by a palm oil company. He explained how the company had used deception, deceipt and nefarious trickery to destroy his people.  Others spoke of how officials from their tribes were invited to Jakarta for special meetings promising prosperity and to ‘explain how they could make money from planting new crops on their lands’.

On such stays, , the companies seduce the leaders with drugs, alcohol and prostitutes, film them, and use this footage to blackmail the tribal leaders to sign away their lands.   Similar stories were repeated by other local people in tribes across Kalimantan.  Others reported how the palm oil companies provided two documents for people to sign, one for those in favour of palm oil, the other for those against.  The local people uninimously signed against, but learned the documents had been switched, and they had been tricked into signing their lands away.  They have no recourse, no right of reply, and no appeal process. Within days, the forest they had lived on for centuries were gone, and they were forced to move on, destitute and hopeless.

The palm oil companies evangelise their ‘Job Creation’ schemes. They use carefully constructed, politically comfortable, and publicly palatable catch phrases to deceive the world about what is really going on.  This will all be exposed.

The man in the picture above explaned how his family had been forced off their own lands.  That the jobs they were promised were based on lies and smoke screens, and those who conceded to work for the palm oil companies are now treated as slaves. The company took double the land they had said they would,  stole the timber, which was send downstream as part of a constant, and blatant parade of criminal exploitation – a sort of proudly defiant challenge to the rest of the world begging the questions: “How can this be allowed ?”.  These stories were repeated by locals from far and wide, throughout the massive district of Sintang.  The more remote the villages, the more horrific the stories.

The endless parade of illegal timber can be seen day and night in the river systems of Borneo. Trees with a diameter less than 50cm (minimum legal size) comprise the majority of logs in this floating monstrocity. All the larger trees are gone.

When the local people in his tribe eventually fought back and tried to reclaim their land, over 30 children were thrown in jail for nearly fifty days without trial.  They have since fled and live in poverty across Indonesia.

This interview, and many others were filmed by the journalists, documentary makers and EcoWarriors  following this story.  As I write this, there is a tense standoff occurring with the villagers of Lansat Baru, Lansat Lama and Belenyut Sibau and the palm oil companies.  Buldozers and giant excavators are destroying their forests right now without any permission, agreements or authority.  There are a number of film crews on the ground recording this, hoping awareness may help save what is left. See below an email from Emily Hunter (EcoWarrior), describing what is happening at this moment.

Dr. Willie Smits , an Indonesian national, and one of the most highly regarded and celebrated environmental ecologists on the planet, is working in partnership with the EcoWarriors to bring these stories to the world.  He has dedicated his life to saving the forests of the planet and is considered the world’s foremost expert in Orangutans and other Indonesian Wildlife.  He is also a critical part of the DeforestACTION educational team, working with students around the globe to provide the latest scientific, political, cultural, historical and conservation information available.  (Understanding 54 languages and having a near-photographic memory makes it easier for him to stay across all the research available).

Independent journalists have accompanied the team, along with film makers, print journalists, and documentary makers, to ensure completely transparent, first hand accounts of this project and what it bears witness to.

Willie Smits rescues Jojo - a baby orangutan who was kept in a small wooden box for the last year, and fed coffee, cigarettes and junk food. Within a few days of being rescued her face has come alive, she is happy, active and surrounded by loving carers.

In the coming months, the EcoWarriors will be working to bring these and other messages to the world with compelling footage and undeniable evidence.

They will be working with local people to create sustainable alternatives to Palm Oil, to regrow rainforest, to rescue wildlife, and to work with students in schools around the world, so they can have authentic, empowering and meaningful learning experiences.  They are the first of many EcoWarriors who will carry out the on-the-ground components of the DeforestACTION strategy.

If you haven’t done so already, be sure to join our regular DeforestACTION webinars, or notify your local school they are happening.  They are specifically designed for students from school age to post secondary, and are accompanied by virtual online classrooms, teacher guides, lesson ideas and DeforestACTION education materials. These are solutions focussed, designed to engage and inspire hope.  They are regularly updated and revised.

The demand for Willie Smits from local people in Borneo is endless. Across Kalimantan the villagers are begging for more information from Willie Smits on sustainable alternatives, and to learn about the magic of Sugar Palm as a real solution.

Stay tuned for some of the most unbelievable footage you are ever likely to see.  Visit www.deforestaction.org to keep up with the EcoWarriors.

Here is a statement released last night from EcoWarrior Emily Hunter (journalist, author, television documentary host):

On Sunday, a group of approximately 40 Dayak people began the first day of a weeklong protest to reclaim their land 80 kilometres outside of Sintang in West Kalimantan, Borneo.  The action represents a last stand to defend their ancestral land against palm oil company encroachment.

The villagers from Lansat Baru, Lansat Lama and Belenyut Sibau gathered at a 30-hectare spot claimed by a palm oil company in July. The once-forested land is now barren with only scattered palm oil saplings. The villagers believe the company to be Wahana Plantation and Products, as a company truck confiscated by the villagers and used for a blockade, bore the letters “PT.WPP.”

“Nobody has agreed to this and the palm oil company just steals and rapes our land,” said Mr. Yohanes Aliam, one of the village leaders. “This here is our land and they’ve cut everything down.”

He said the company has tried since 2008 to occupy the land by inciting conflict among villagers and bribing officials. The land fringes on a 1,000 hectare forest believed to be home to 40 orangutans.

According to several other villagers, bribery and the use of forged land certificates are common tactics used in the takeover of their ancestral lands. These lands are passed down from the previous generation and do not come with any official documentation. The lands are ruled under the adat or traditional law, which protects the rights of the Dayaks, they said.

With the latest infringement on their land by the company and talks with its representative breaking down – company officials abruptly left discussions before the Dayaks demands were presented – the villagers decided to take stronger action.

After writing a letter of appeal to the Sintang Bupati, the villagers escalated their protest by confiscating the company’s heavy equipment. On Sunday, after a traditional ceremony, the villagers uprooting several palm oil saplings as a symbolic reclamation and erected a road blockade to the palm oil planation to send strong signals of their defiance.

“If this land is ever stepped on by any occupier, we will fight and defend it to the death,” said the spiritual leader during the ceremony as he summoned 20 Dayak gods.

For now, the villagers wait and watch, wary but ready to defend their land against unwanted outsiders.

Read Full Post »

The DFA Equation

How can young people around the world really make a difference to the forests of the planet?  And why do they think this will really make a lasting change?  Is this truly something that will engage them in learning across a range of discipline areas?  The answer is in the six parts to the DeforestACTION student project.

The DeforestACTION equation

The six components for learning and the future of life on the planet

 Part 1: Regrowing a rainforest with Dr. Willie Smits.

Thousands of hectares of destroyed forest in Indonesia will be returned to a healthy forest, rich in biodiversity. This will be a large scale implementation of Samboja Lestari (see Willie’s TED talk for how this will be achieved).

For $2US, young people are rainsing money to ‘buy’ 1 square meter of land for reforesting, and to be protect it for 100 years.  Soon students will be able to view their forest online, via high definition video cameras, and will be provided virtual tools to measure the growth of the various trees and plants in their personal patches. They will also be able to measure online how much carbon has been sequestered, how many animals can survive in their patch, and to explore the variety of plant life in their land. The funds raised using this model will be used to create nurseries, necessary environmental documentations / surveys, and to train local people to care for the land and preserve it, and other necessary expenditure to preserve the land on these conditions, and to save wildlife who inhabit them. ‘

Part 2: Earth Watchers

Using a range of satellite imagery, with the latest tools from Bing, and specially developed software by Geodan, students will be able to monitor the rainforests and protect them from illegal deforestation. See my earlier post – How School Students Can Save the Planet on One Year for more details.  Students will also be able to compare, contrast and analyse spatial data for a range of other hands on activities to help protect and regrow forests.

Part 3: Mobile and Interactive Games

DeforestACTION partners are developing a range of electronic games, to allow students to experience the challenges of living in the rainforests, by taking on the role of orangutans.  The Orangutan Survival Game will pull in real time data about the forests, so as the young people learn about orangutan survival, they will be accutely aware of what is happening to the forests.  If they find themselves playing in an area of the forest where deforestation is occurring, their character will die- even if they were doing everything right.  This is the reality of life for orangutans.  Students could even play these games on a smartphone like Windows Phone etc.

Part 4: Dome Tree

Dome Tree

Students will help build the worlds largest tree as a centre for orangutan protection, preservation, rehabilitation and research

Dome tree will be the worlds largest tree.  Initially constructed using steel and concrete, this 70m high tree will be coated with a fertilizer coating to accelerate the growth of strangler fig shoots.  In approximately six years, this construction will be completely covered by a network of figs, and will become a rehabilitation centre for orangutans rescued by the DeforestACTION team. 

Dome Tree will feature touch screen technology, high definition video cameras, observation decks and high tech laboratories. Students will be able to view it online and in person.  The first stone of Dome Tree was layed in March 2011  with the Sultan of Yogyakarta.  This is a long term project, with an expected completion date of 2016-2018.

Part 5: Orangutan Rescue and Conservation:

The rescue and care of critically endangered orangutans from devastated regions is a central aspect of the project.Online participants will be able to monitor the progress of the orangutans being cared for at the Sintang Orangutan Centre and even adopt their own orangutan. For $5US a student will care for an orangutan for a day, including food, shelter and veterinary care.

Part 6: Global Awareness, Assistance to Local Landholders and Incubation of New Economies

Palm oil farming is literally destroying our planet. It has been estimated up to 40% of the products we buy in supermarkets contains some palm oil. There are real alternatives to palm oil that are both better for our health, and environmentally sustainable.  Through DeforestACTION, young people will seek to create global awareness about the destruction caused by palm oil farming, and to actively pressure consumers and producers for change.

One of the great myths palm oil companies would have us believe is farming palm oil is good for local landowners.  It is not.  In fact, it is catastrophic for locals, destroying their livelihoods, and leaving them homeless and without income.

A key aspect of DeforestACTION is providing local land owners with sustainable income, new economies and ongoing ability to generate an income in their villages by utilizing the land effectively.  For this project, the effective use of sugar palms (a highly valuable tree that lives in the rainforest and depends on the ecosystem for survival) will be a key aspect of this project.

Read Full Post »