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  • Writer's pictureRyan Kane

2019: A Year in Review - The Environment & Palm Oil

Updated: May 7, 2020

As our world’s population grew, and our consumer mentality became further fixated on our environmental footprint this year, the palm oil industry has seen numerous changes, both good and bad.

With many food and personal care brands responding to a market with a strengthening focus on the natural world and its health, 2019 has seen a monumental number of new companies and old companies creating and marketing palm oil free products. As with LUSH releasing a limited time palm oil free soap in the shape of an orangutan to publicize how the fate of an entire hominid species lies in our hands. With so many more palm free products available, becoming a palm oil free consumer has never been easier.

As mankind’s food consumption expands thanks to the ever increasing population, palm oil production and consumption has continued to parallel these numbers. According to Index Mundi, the United States has shown a 1.13% increase in palm oil consumption in 2019. In comparison to previous years, this number is much lower than most and shows the potent power bad media attention and a negative public image can wreck on an industry and product. Despite this slowing of palm oil consumption, it still highlights the harsh reality that humanity’s growth is still driving the deforestation of now sparse rainforests, rich in biodiverse.

2019 also marked another year of upset in the environmental sector of the Indonesian government. In 2018, 30.53% of the Indonesian labor force worked in agriculture, making it a vital aspect of their economy. Considering the contribution to GDP it is evident why the government chooses to continue to exploit their nation’s natural resources. As in the case of the Batang Toru Hydropower Plant project, which has caused nothing but tension in North Sumatra, one of the last environmentally “intact” regions of this island. After construction started in 2015 there has been labor riots, illegal logging, lawsuits over the dam’s construction in an earthquake prone area, environmental protests over endangerment of the Tapanuli Orangutan, and even assassinations. On October 6th, the suspicious death of a Batang Toru protester and environmental activist, Golfrid Siregar, gained media attention. Although Indonesian police have ruled his death a drunk-driving accident, many argue with this claim and see it as a cover up for an assassination. In addition to this incident, there has been numerous Batang Toru Dam scandals circling the media, including the supposed forged signature of a researcher that was needed to gain authorization for construction. With all the supposed scandals, turmoil and rumors occuring in 2019, the Indonesian media has been able to call media attention to the dark nature of Indonesian industry particularly when involving the environmental health and conservation.

There is a perilous imbalance of economics and ecology at play, and the coming decade will be pivotal in determining the very future of Indonesia and other palm oil producing countries.

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