Palm Oil Deforestation
What You Can Do About It
A brief introduction to Palm oil
Palm oil is a type of vegetable oil that comes from the palm fruit, which grows on the Elaeis guineensis or simply African oil palm. Palm oil trees grow naturally in tropical forests, and originate from west and south-west Africa.
Palm oil trees were introduced by Dutch colonists to Indonesia and Malaysia in the late 19th century and have been planted extensively to satisfy global demand. Now, Indonesia and Malaysia together make up over 85% of global palm oil production.
Especially in Indonesia palm oil production has soared in recent years. It is a significantly more profitable commodity for farmers than traditional farming and has helped lift many people out of poverty. According to Indonesia’s Ministry of Industry, the palm oil industry employs 4.5 million people, and is the single biggest export product of the country.
Why is Palm Oil an issue at all?
Palm oil destroys rainforests and kills orangutans
Palm oil is a major driver of deforestation of some of the world’s most biodiverse forests, destroying the habitat of already endangered species like the orangutan, pygmy elephant and the Sumatran rhino. In Indonesia alone, a forest area the size of Belgium is lost every 2 years (let this sink in).
While the deforestation directly contributes to the population decline of orangutans, the good news is that orangutans are resilient and can adapt to some level to new environments such as palm oil plantations. However, deforestation severely deteriorates the orangutan population indirectly through the increased killings by farmers protecting their harvest and through the new infrastructure making it easier for poachers to get further into the rainforest.
A recent study from 38 international institutions found that nearly 150,000 orangutans were killed in the period 1999 – 2015 in Borneo. In the last 75 years, the population has dropped by 80% to an estimated population of 104,000 orangutans on the island. And according to the researchers it will further fall by at least 45,000 by 2050 due to habitat loss alone without fresh efforts to protect them.
Palm oil is a major source of CO2 emissions
In preparing rainforest land for palm oil plantation, the most valuable trees are cut down and removed first. What remains is burned. Tropical deforestation is currently responsible for about 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions according to the IPCC, and the plantations to produce it account for 10% of permanent global cropland .
Palm oil facilitates child labor and inflicts local conflicts
The USA ranks the palm oil industry as one of the worst for forced and child labour , where children “carry large loads of heavy fruit, weed fields, and spend hours every day bent over collecting fruit from the plantation floor” for little compensation. The Indonesian government claims that “thousands of communities are involved in conflicts with companies, the state and each other” consequent to the industry.
Palm Oil and Tanjung Puting National Park
While Central Kalimantan has one of the fastest rates of oil palm expansion in the world, an unaware visitor to for example Tanjung Puting National Park – where we offer Borneo orangutan tours – may not even notice this.
If you look closely, though, you will see that as you cruise through the Sekonyer river that the Tanjung Puting National Park is on one side where you will have all the activities, while the other side is private land with palm oil trees.
We have noticed that some of our clients in Tanjung Puting National Park tend to blame “palm oil farmers” for the harmful effects of this industry to the rainforest destruction and the killing of orangutans.
While we understand this sentiment, we also recognise that local farmers simply try to keep themselves and their families out of poverty. Moreover, harvesting palm oil on private land is not an environmental issue if that land was already used for agriculture.
But then whom to blame? Well, it’s a complex issue, but instead of pointing at farmers, we think it is better to increase scrutiny on the following players:
The big industries – such as BW Plantations in Kalimantan – that expand their activities through deforestation and stealing land from native communities.
The village of Tanjung Harapan on the Sekonyer river in Tanjung Puting has over 100 families who are actively opposing the palm oil plantation and its expansion and demand the rights of the Sekonyer community to be returned.
Your political representatives that have not yet advocated the mandatory labelling of palm oil in your daily products to enhance customer awareness
The consumer. Let’s face it… in the end the palm oil industry just has a demand to meet… While blaming ourselves is inconvenient, it also means that we hold the key to solve the issue.
Then Why Is Palm Oil Used?
Palm oil simply serves the global demand for vegetable oil, accounting for about half of all packaged products in the supermarket according to WWF.
Compared to other vegetable oils such as soy, rapeseed, coconut or corn, palm oil has a superior yield and it produces up to 3-8 times more oil per unit area! Its high melting point make it smooth and easy to spread and it is the cheapest vegetable oil to produce and refine.
FIGURE 2. A comparison of the land efficiency for different vegetable oils relative to palm oil.
Which Products Contain Palm Oil?
Well, the better question is which products do NOT contain palm oil. Fifty percent of all packaged products in the super market contain palm oil according to the WWP.
It provides the foaming agent in virtually every shampoo, liquid soap or detergent. It is widely used in tooth paste, frozen meals, sauces, oat meal and cleaning products. The below illustration gives you an impression of how you consume palm oil on a daily basis.
FIGURE 3. A Day in Your Life with Palm Oil, based on a design by Philadelphia Zoo (edited for readibility).
Yet, most consumers are not aware of their immense palm oil consumption, and even if they want to be more conscious about it they struggle because palm oil is rarely clearly labeled in the ingredients list.
Ingredients list for palm oil
Many products that use palm oil aren’t clearly labeled. Palm oil and its derivatives can appear under many names. Here are some of the used synonyms for palm oil according to the WWF.
INGREDIENTS. Vegetable Oil, Vegetable Fat, Palm Kernel, Palm Kernel Oil, Palm Fruit Oil, Palmate, Palmitate, Palmolein, Glyceryl, Stearate, Stearic Acid, Elaeis Guineensis, Palmitic Acid, Palm Stearine, Palmitoyl Oxostearamide, Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-3, Sodium Laureth Sulfate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Kernelate, Sodium Palm Kernelate, Sodium Lauryl Lactylate/Sulphate, Hyrated Palm Glycerides, Etyl Palmitate, Octyl Palmitate, Palmityl Alcohol
CONTAINS. Palm oil
How Can You Fight Palm Oil
The most effective solutions come from the demand side as suppliers are going to keep clearing forests until consumers force them to stop. Consumer awareness is needed about the link between the purchased products and the environmental disaster they’re causing. Beyond these generalities, here are 4 concrete actions you can take:
1. Consume Less Palm Oil
The most effective measure is simply to reduce your palm oil consumption. Use fresh ingredients for your meals as opposed to frozen dishes or processed food and switch your hand soap, tooth paste, shampoo or brand of biscuits to a sustainable alternative.
With such small changes to your shopping habits, you reduce your palm oil consumption and influence directional changes for global corporations.
2. Look for the RSPO Label
Major palm oil producers, consumers and the WWF established the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which is a certificate for palm oil that is produced in a sustainable manner.
There are still some issues with the RSPO label. It does not rule out the clearing of the rain forest, climate protection is ignored, compliance with the criteria is not consistently reviewed, and violations are rarely punished. Greenpeace even considers the RSPO to be “little more than greenwash”.
Nevertheless, it is the strongest certification for sustainable palm oil. Moreover, the RSPO management recognises the criticism and tries to address them with the help of NGOs.
If you aren’t sure whether a company uses sustainable palm oil as an ingredient, use the rating tool of the WWF.
Fortunately, there are many bright conservation organisations, activists and communities fighting the palm oil industry and rehabilitating wildlife suffering from it. Think of International Animal Rescue, Rainforest Action Network, Friends for National Parks Foundation and Save our Borneo.
However bright they are, this is a fight between David and Goliath and they depend on kindhearted volunteers and sponsors. Make a difference by financially supporting them.
4. Promote Eco-Tourism
You may think “Isn’t the most sustainable way of travelling, not to travel at all”? Mass tourism has severely impacted Indonesia, with fresh water reserves cemented for hotels, beaches littered with debris from revellers, and wild animals captured and displayed for entertainment.
While not travelling has the least direct environmental damage, the indirect damage could be much worse as it forces local governments to find other income streams and further strengthens the palm oil industry.
Instead, we advice to travel sustainably. Ecotours incentivise locals to conserve the rainforest and not destruct it. Choose a tour operator that genuinely cares about the environment. Read more about the importance of ecotourism in this post.
It’s surely our responsibility to do everything within our power to create a planet that provides a home not just for us, but for all life on earth.
– David Attenborough –
A Final Word
We have written this article to enhance costumer awareness about the devastating effects of our daily lives on the beautiful rainforests and wildlife in Indonesia and Malaysia.
We realise that we only reach a very small audience and that our contribution is tiny. But if we all would make a tiny contribution, couldn’t the sum add up to something immense? Couldn’t we make the difference together?
We only reach a small audience. Please help us spread the awareness and share this article with your network.
The Ultimate Guide
About Tanjung Puting National Park
One of the best destinations in the world to see orangutans is Tanjung Puting National Park. In a beautiful setting in a wooden boat, called “Klotok”, you cruise through the jungle for several days.
The park has 3 regions with different levels of accessibility. The Nucleus Zone is the most inner part of the park where most animals are and the most unique plants grow. This area is only accessible for research activities.
The Buffer Zone is basically the transition area from the inner Nucleus Zone to the outer Utilization Zone, in which only selected paths are accessible for common visitors, for which supervision by a ranger from the National Park is mandatory. We provide long jungle treks with rangers in this part of the park with our 5D4N Orangutan Tour.
(click on the tab “Orangutan Tours” above the image slider)
The Utilization Zone is the outer area of Tanjung Puting National Park that visitors can access. Although almost all visitors only see this part of the National Park in their multi-day visit, the Utilization Zone only covers a tiny part of the National Park. The most famous sites of this zone are described below.
The 3 Days/2 Nights Orangutan Tour is the shortest and most popular tour, during which you visit all three orangutan feeding stations.
- Tanjung Harapan has historically been a site of the Sekonyer Village, while today it is a ranger’s post and an orangutan rehabilitation center. The feeding takes place at 3pm, and therefore this site is visited already on the first day of the Orangutan Tour. As it takes 3-4 hours to get from Pangkalan Bun to Tanjung Harapan, visitors should arrive before 11:30 am at the airport in Pangkalan Bun in order to do visit this site.
- Pondok Tanggui is a relatively new rehabilitation center for orangutans. This is also a popular place to start treks into the jungle. The feeding at Pondok Tanggui starts at 9am.
- Camp Leaky is a world famous research facility set up in 1971 by Louis Leakey and is the single reason behind the successful preservation of orangutans in Tanjung Puting National Park. Louis Leakey was the teacher of a few young primatologists, amongst whom were Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey who went on to become known worldwide for their research on chimpanzees and gorillas, respectively. Another student, Birute Galdikas, is currently the president of the Orangutan Foundation International. The feeding at Camp Leaky starts at 2 pm.
There are several other sites of interest that you may visit with the 4D3N or 5D4N tours. Camp Pesalat is a reforestation site which has been of indispensable value to the park after the fires in 2015. You can plant your own tree here for a donation, while this is also a good starting/ending point of a longer jungle trek. The Sekonyer Village is the only local village around Tanjung Puting National Park. The Palm Oil Factory is sadly still one of the main economic driver of the local community, and you could take a look at how such factory works.
What are the best orangutan tours
There are 3 different orangutan tours with a tour length of 3, 4 and 5 days, respectively.
- We advice to take the 3D2N orangutan tour if you want to see as much as possible in as little time as possible. It is fantastic value for money as you get to see all feeding stations in Tanjung Puting. Unfortunately, you will not have any time for jungle treks beyond walking to the feeding stations.
- The 4D3N orangutan tour is for travellers that wish to combine visiting the feeding stations with jungle treks, a night trek, or even want to visit a reforestation site or the Sekonyer village.
- The 5D4N orangutan tour is for the outdoors and adventurous travellers that don’t mind getting a little bit dirty. Additional to the 4D3N itinerary, you will do one long jungle trek together with rangers in a very remote and untouched part of the jungle (the “Buffer Zone”). At the end of the jungle trek, we return to our boat by a canoe through a small river in the dense jungle. There are no other activities in Tanjung Puting that will take you further away from the crowd than this trek, but be prepared to get a little bit dirty. With this tour, you will also have the option to visit a palm oil factory.
- With the Orangutan & Dayak Tours you combine an orangutan tour with a one or two night stay at the Dayak village which is 5 hours driving from Pangkalan Bun. Overnight in a traditional longhouse or in a tent in the jungle near a waterfall.
Below is a description of the 3D2N Orangutan Tour. You will find the day-to-day itineraries of the 4D3N and 5D4N orangutan tours as well as the Dayak Tours on the Tanjung Puting Tour page (click on the corresponding tab above the image slider).
Itinerary for 3D2N Orangutan Tour in Tanjung Puting
DAY 1: Pangkalan Bun – Kumai – Tanjung Harapan (L D)
Transfer service from Pangkalan Bun Airport (or at your hotel) to Kumai, where you’ll board the Klotok boat and meet your staff.
We use traditional Klotok wooden river boats of which the size depends on your group size. We only make use of boats with a Western toilet (not a squat toilet) and a Western shower (not a mandi).
There is a bottom deck for the crew and a top deck exclusively for you. The boats are open on the sides for the view, but in case of rain they can be closed. All your meals, snacks and drinks will be served in the boat. At nights your mattresses and mosquito nets are prepared.
It takes about an hour to get from the harbor in Kumai to the entrance of Tanjung Puting National Park. The first stop is at Tanjung Harapan where the orangutan feeding takes place at 15h.
We continue the cruise as the jungle is at its noisiest. We hear Proboscis monkeys, Macaques, Silver Langurs and colorful birds. Finally, it is time for a candle light dinner, and an exciting night in the jungle.
DAY 2: Pondok Tanggui – Camp Leakey – Nipa Area (B L D)
Included: entrance fee, boat, guide & boat staff, meals as mentioned
After breakfast, we cruise through the habitat of the Proboscis monkeys and the crocodiles as we go to Pondok Tanggui.
We visit the orangutan feeding here at 9 am. Then, we continue the cruise, turn in a junction of the river where the water color changes and gives a surreal dark reflection of the jungle.
We arrive at Camp Leakey, a research- and rehabilitation center for orangutans. The feeding takes place at 2 pm. If you are lucky you will meet here the “King of Camp Leaky”: a male orangutan named Big Tom.
After Camp Leakey, we cruise down slowly to the Nipa Palm Area, where we may see fire flies in the evening depending on the weather. We will have candle light diner and spend the night in this area.
DAY 3: Nipa Area – Kumai – Pangkalan Bun (Airport) (B)
Included: drop-off by car, entrance fee, boat, guide & boat staff, meals as mentioned
After breakfast we cruise through the lush jungle back to Kumai. You say goodbye to your staff and will be dropped off by car at Pangkalan Bun airport or at your hotel (around 10-11 am).
How to get to Tanjung Puting National Park?
The gateway to Tanjung Puting National Park is Pangkalan Bun. The most common way to get to Pangkalan Bun is by flying to the airport in Pangkalan Bun (Iskandar Airport). Currently, there are direct connections from Jakarta, Semarang, Surabaya in Java, and from Ketapang and Palangkaraya in Kalimantan.
A popular destination near Pangkalan Bun is Banjarmasin. There are no direct flights currently, and the most common way to get from Banjarmasin to Pangkalan Bun is by flying via Semarang. The more adventurous option is to first take the bus to Palangkaraya (±5 hours) and then continue by air.
You could use SkyScanner to search and book both the international flights to Indonesia as well as the domestic flights to Pangkalan Bun.
Where to stay in Pangkalan Bun?
The best hotel in Pangkalan Bun is Grand Kecubung Hotel (link to booking.com). Especially when you are with kids or you want to rest well in a luxury hotel for a relatively low price, this is the place to be. While the best around, Grand Kecubung Hotel is less luxury than resorts in popular destinations like Bali.
What is the best period to visit Tanjung Puting?
You can visit Tanjung Puting all year round. The temperature is rather constant and while it is often raining in Kalimantan, historically the most dry period has been July-August and the most wet period has been January and February. However, in recent years the rainfall has been unpredictable, so the above should not be delt with too strictly.
Partly for the above reason, the most popular period to visit Tanjung Puting is July-August. However, we want to emphasize that besides the weather advantages of this period, there are several downsides doing the Orangutan tour in July-August:
- It is very crowded
- It is relatively expensive as you are charged the high season price.
- Although it is called a 3D2N tour, all boats (for any operator) will leave the national park on the last day already in the morning.
- Under the event of a force majeure break-down of the boat engine, it is difficult for tour operators to hire another boat (which can easily be done for months outside July-August).
Considering the crowds and the value for money, in our opinion the best time to visit Tanjung Puting is in the shoulder months September-October and April-June.
Most travellers however do not have much flexibility and are restricted to the high season period. As long as you manage your expecations that it will be crowded and that you return early on the last day, you will still have a wonderful experience!
Which tour operator to choose for the Orangutan Tour?
There are many tour operators for the Tanjung Puting Orangutan Tours. The tour itineraries are fairly similar across tour operators so it can at times be difficult to make a choice.
We advice you to select the tour operator based on the boat quality, guide experience and of course the reviews they get.
We are obviously biased, but we believe that our Tanjung Puting Orangutan Tours are among the best. We only use boats with Western facilities, we are known for working only with licensed guides that have a terrific track record and we have a user-friendly booking system and require only a relatively small deposit. Check out our reviews from travellers.
Packing essentials for the Tanjung Puting Orangutan Tour?
- Comfortable, closed shoes
- Light trousers & shirts with long sleeves
- Towel and shampoo
- Insect repellent (DEET 40%)
- Small backpack for the treks
Also, while there are sockets onboard, we advice not to use them for charging electronic devices because the power is not constant and could break your device. Instead, bring a mobile charger with you! Consult your doctor about whether malaria pills are necessary. In case you wish, bring alcoholic beverage with you into Pangkalan Bun, as you cannot purchase it here.
Tanjung Puting is quite a detour from most people’s holiday itinerary, because there is not much else to do around Pangkalan Bun. So you want to make sure that the Borneo Orangutan Tour is worth the hassle to get here.
Here a few tips to help you choose a reliable tour operator and get a high-quality boat, and some thoughts on useful things to bring beyond the obvious (e.g. insect repellent, good shoes, long sleeves and sun cream) that will make your Orangutan Tour even more special:
- Do these boat checks. Ask the tour operator whether their boats have Western showers (as opposed to a Mandi) and Western toilets (as opposed to a squat toilet). Check that they use fresh water in the boat and not river water (toilets are flushed into the river).
- Ask for a Licensed Guide. Make sure that the tour operator only works with licensed guides, because these do not only know about the animals and flora and safety rules, but they are also trained in the English language.
- Do a Night Trek. If you book a 3D2N Orangutan Tour, usually a night trek is not in the default itinerary, but chances are the tour operator provides this for free on demand. Night walks are very special and you may witness beautiful glowing mushrooms. Let your guide know even before you arrive in Pangkalan Bun that you wish to do a night trek.
- Be the first to leave the feeding station. You will visit 3 feeding stations where you will see orangutans been fed on a platform. The feeding typically takes an hour or so, and the highlight is usually the beginning when orangutans arrive swinging from tree to tree. If you leave just before the crowd does, you will have no other boat in front of you as you cruise to the next stop and will enjoy the serenity of the river and jungle even more.
- Bring Coffee & Beer. As part of the orangutan tour, you will be served with standard, local coffee, which is basically hot water with filter coffee, but then unfiltered. You may want to consider bringing your own instant coffee (or French Press) if you are sensitive for a good coffee. You may also want to consider bringing your own white wine or alcohol beverage to optimally enjoy the beautiful and romantic setting from the Klotok. You cannot buy alcohol in Pangkalan Bun because of the muslim customs, but you can bring it with you to Pangkalan Bun and consume it during the tour.
- Mobile Charger. Although there are sockets aboard, we do not recommend to use these to charge electronic devices because the power engine of the boat does not supply a constant voltage (this holds for ALL boats). Please consider to bring an external battery charger, which can be bought at any outdoor store.
- Hammock. If you have a hammock, bring it! The ultimate chill experience is to lay down in your hammock in the klotok as you cruise through the lush jungle.
We are obviously biased, but we believe that our Tanjung Puting Orangutan Tours are among the best. We use boats with Western facilities, we are known for working with licensed guides that have a terrific track record, we have a user-friendly booking system and require a relatively small deposit. Check out traveller’s reviews about our Orangutan Tours in Borneo.
However, also if you book your tour with anyone else, feel still free to ask us for free advice so that we can make sure you leave Tanjung Puting National Park with a smile on your face:-)
In case there is anything we can help you with or you have to share, just contact us.