UNESCO World Heritage: tell the palm oil barons to back off!

Protest against palm oil plantation in Sarawak Penan and Berawan people are resisting the destruction of their forest (© Bruno Manser Fonds)

Oil palm plantations are closing in on the ancient rainforests of Sarawak's only UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mulu National Park. The local indigenous Berawan and Penan communities are resisting the project, which would destroy their ancestral forest and livelihoods.

News and updates Call to action

To: Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad, Sarawak Chief Minister Abang Johari Openg

Please withdraw the concession in the immediate vicinity of the Gunung Mulu National Park and issue a moratorium on new oil palm plantations without delay.

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"Get out of our forest! Stop stealing our land!" Willie Kajan is shouting against the noise of bulldozers sent by Radiant Lagoon, a palm oil company. But the head man of the Berawan indigenous people can't stop the machinery that is devastating the forest where his people have lived since time immemorial. The Penan people are also powerless in the face of the assault – the police have threatened to arrest their head man, Ukau Lopeng.

This is just the latest episode in the 40-year history of deforestation in Sarawak, the Malaysian part of the island of Borneo. It began in 2008 when Taib Mahmud, Chief Minister of Sarawak at the time, granted an oil palm concession to Radiant Lagoon – a Malaysian company in which his son happened to be the director and controlling shareholder.

Mulu rainforest is not the only one in danger – oil palm plantations are still spreading at an alarming rate in Malaysia. This goes against pledges by the Malaysian government and the late Sarawak Chief Minister Adenan Satem to stop the expansion of oil palm monocultures.

According to the Swiss NGO Bruno Manser Fonds, deforestation for the 4,400 hectare plantation is now in full swing. But if we act now, the rainforest of the Penan and Berawan can still be saved. In our joint petition with Bruno Manser Fonds, we demand a moratorium on the cultivation of new oil palm plantations and an immediate stop to the destruction of irreplaceable rainforest in the Mulu National Park area.

To witness the beauty of the Mulu region, the threats the forest faces and the heartbreaking impacts on its inhabitants, please watch The Mulu Land Grab (11:54).

Back­ground

The affected indigenous communities submitted the following letter to the Chief Minister of Sarawak on 17 January 2019:

RE: Concessions on Lot 2,3,4 Tutoh and Apoh Land District

Dear Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Bin Tun Hj. Openg,

We, the people of Bateu Bungan, Long Terawan and Kampung Melinau are all affected by the planned oil palm plantation of Radiant Lagoon Sdn Bhd and Formasi Abadi Sdn Bhd (Lot 2, Lot 3, Lot 4; Tutoh and Apoh Land dirstrict). Hereby, we would like to express our deepest concerns about the destruction of our forest by the mentioned companies.

The mentioned area is crucial part of our traditional land. We wish it will stay our home and the home of our children and all future generations. Since immemorial times and until today, we live in and highly depend on our beloved forest. We cannot accept it to be destroyed and transformed into a plantation. Rather than losing it, we want to protect the diversity of the surrounding of the Mulu World heritage in the Heart of Borneo. I should remain an attraction for tourists and an important ecosystem for the whole world.

We haven‘t been cosulted by the companies, although we are living here since many generations. We strongly oppose to the plantation, because it will not be good for us. We kindly ask for our native customary rights to be respected and to let us living pearcefukky and in harmony with our forest.

We hope our voices are being heard. Only if society respect our rights, we can be full citizens of this country and cpntribute to the future of it.

We are thanking you for your attention and firmly awaiting your response and action.

Yours sincerely

Letter

To: Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad, Sarawak Chief Minister Abang Johari Openg

Dear Prime Minister, Dear Chief Minister,

The palm oil company Radiant Lagoon is currently destroying an area of 4,400 hectares of rainforest for an oil palm plantation in the immediate vicinity of Gunung Mulu National Park. The logging, which is taking place against the expressed will of the local Penan and Berawan communities, is a serious threat to the biodiversity of the nearby UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Despite the Malaysian government's promises, rainforests are still being cleared for palm oil. But it is not too late to stop the destruction: please revoke the Radiant Lagoon concession immediately and issue a moratorium on new oil palm plantations.

Please respect the will of the Penan and Berawan communities and stop the destruction of Mulu rainforest.

Yours faithfully,

Topic

The issue – rainforest on our dinner tables and in our fuel tanks

At 66 million tons annually, palm oil is the most commonly produced vegetable oil. Its low world market price and properties that lend themselves to processed foods have led the food industry to use it in half of all supermarket products. Palm oil can be found in frozen pizzas, biscuits and margarine, as well as body creams, soaps, makeup, candles and detergents.

Few people realize that almost half of the palm oil imported into the EU is used as biofuel. Since 2009, the mandatory blending of biofuels into motor vehicle fuels has been a major cause of deforestation.

Oil palm plantations currently cover more than 27 million hectares of the Earth’s surface. Forests and human settlements have been destroyed and replaced by “green deserts” containing virtually no biodiversity on an area the size of New Zealand.

The impact – suffering and death in producer countries, climate havoc

The warm, humid climate of the tropics offers perfect growth conditions for oil palms. Day after day, huge tracts of rainforest in Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa are being bulldozed or torched to make room for more plantations, releasing vast amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. As a consequence, Indonesia – the world’s largest producer of palm oil – temporarily surpassed the United States in terms of greenhouse gas emissions in 2015. With their CO2 and methane emissions, palm oil-based biofuels actually have three times the climate impact of traditional fossil fuels.

Palm oil is not only bad for the climate: As their forest habitat is cleared, endangered species such as the orangutan, Borneo elephant and Sumatran tiger are being pushed closer to extinction. Smallholders and indigenous people who have inhabited and protected the forest for generations are often brutally driven from their land. In Indonesia, more than 700 land conflicts are related to the palm oil industry. Human rights violations are everyday occurrences, even on supposedly “sustainable” and “organic” plantations.

As consumers, we are largely unaware of these broader issues, yet our daily palm oil consumption also impacts our health: refined palm oil contains large amounts of harmful fatty acid esters that are known to damage DNA and cause cancer.

The solution – a revolution on our dinner tables and in our fuel tanks

Only 70,000 orangutans still roam the forests of Southeast Asia, yet the EU’s biofuels policy is pushing them to the brink of extinction. Every new plantation on Borneo is destroying a further piece of their habitat. Stepping up the pressure on policymakers is a must if we want to save our tree-dwelling kin. Apart from that, however, there is still a lot we can do in day-to-day life.

Follow these simple tips to recognize, avoid and combat palm oil:

  1. Enjoy a home-cooked meal: Use your imagination: why not try almond-coconut-pear biscuits? Or pizza with potato and rosemary? A meal cooked from fresh ingredients beats processed foods containing palm oil every time. Oils such as sunflower, olive, rapeseed or flaxseed are ideal for cooking and baking.
  2. Read labels: As of December 2014, labeling regulations in the EU require food products to clearly indicate that they contain palm oil. However, in the case of non-food items such as cosmetics and cleaning products, a wide range of chemical names may still be used to hide the use of palm oil. A quick check of your favorite search engine will turn up palm oil-free alternatives, however.
  3. Remember that the customer is king: Ask your retailers for palm oil-free products. Write product manufacturers and ask them why they aren’t using domestic oils. Companies can be quite sensitive to issues that give their products a bad name, so inquiring with sales staff and contacting manufacturers can make a real difference. Public pressure and increased awareness of the problem have already prompted some producers to stop using palm oil.
  4. Sign petitions and write your elected representatives: Online campaigns put pressure on policymakers responsible for biofuels and palm oil imports. Have you already signed all of Rainforest Rescue’s petitions?
  5. Speak out: Protest marches and creative action on the street raise public and media awareness of the issue, which in turn steps up the pressure on policymakers.
  6. Leave your car at home: Whenever you can, walk, ride a bicycle or use public transport.
  7. Be informed and inform others: Big Business and governments would like us to believe that biofuels are good for the climate and that oil palm plantations are sustainable. Spread the word – share this information with your family and friends and encourage them to rethink their consumption habits. It’s in our hands!
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