Friday, January 15, 2010


An online organisation called Deforestation Watch has taken offence at a 

report which was aired on BBC Radio 4's Today programme. 

It accuses Malaysian plantation giant IOI of land grabbing, in cahoots with 

the Sarawak government. 

The end of the jungle?

By Angus Stickler 

BBC Today programme

The Malaysian government and the palm oil industry has been accused

of laying waste to last remaining rainforests of Borneo in what has been 

described as a corporate land grab.  

A BBC investigation has uncovered evidence of the latest jungle 

clearance - where vast tracts of land are being bulldozed to make 

way for plantations. Indigenous tribes say they are being driven 

from their lands.

Palm oil is found in household products including soap and margarine

Malaysia sells its sustainable palm oil to the world. A slickly produced 

advert, banned in the UK by the Advertising Standards Authority, 

proclaims that palm oil is "a gift from nature - a gift for life."

Palm oil production in Malaysian Borneo - Sarawak - is on an industrial

scale. One of the major producers is the IOI Group, a global player 

serving markets in more than 65 countries.

Palm oil is found in one-in-ten supermarket products: from margarine

to soap and shampoo. Last year, IOI turned over more than £2.5bn.

Devastated land

Most of the oil plantations in the part of Sarawak I visited are controlled 

from IOI's base camp in Tejab. Here you can get a sense of the scale 

of the company's operations, with mile upon mile of oil palms as far as

 the eye can see in every direction, all of which used to be rainforest.

"What is the government priority? It's greed"

Harrison Ng

But though, from a distance, the plantations look quite green 

and lush, in reality they are barren: the life has basically gone.

It's estimated that only 3% of the primary rainforest of Malaysian 

Borneo remains.

Logging has devastated much of the land, but now campaigners say

the palm oil plantations have taken over.

And it's not just the forest that's gone. Since the early 1990s whole communities

have left - driven, they say, from their farms.

Read the full report here     

When I went online to check out Deforestation Watch it appears to be 

a nameless and faceless organisation. You can check them out here

I'm naturally very suspicious of any site that boasts that it's greening

the earth, which this site does. It's all very reminiscent of the late 80s and

early 90s when many oil palm plantations had greening the earth 

posters and mottos as propaganda under Mahathir's administration

to counter international critisism of Malaysia's management of its

rainforests. Indeed, I suspect this organisation has been set up by 

the oil palm lobby.  The statistics they throw back at the BBC are 

unsubstantiated in terms of no source being given.  I think they also

miss the point that what the BBC report says is that there's only about

3 percent of PRIMARY forest remaining in Sarawak which wouldn't 

surprise me at all.  I live in Ulu Selangor in the foothills of the main range

and although the hills are covered with trees, there's not a single primary 

rainforest tree in sight until you reach Taman Negara.

The other issue that Deforestation Watch haven't taken onboard is the

impact of oil palm plantations, or any other monoculture, on bio-diversity, 

which is the key to the health and well being of all species on this planet

including homo sapiens.

I tend to have much more faith in the BBC (who stand to benefit nothing

from this report) and their chief source, Harrison Ngau who has been 

actively involved in rainforest issues in Sarawak for more than 20 years, 

than I have in some mystery organisation.

Anyway you can check out both sides of this spat and decide for yourself

and if anyone has some information on Deforestation Watch, 

I'd be glad if you would share it here.