What India Has Got To Do With The Extinction Of The Orangutan

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They found him with 130 pellets in his body, and his left leg foot cut off. There were 74 pellets in his head alone, and 19 fresh stab wounds on his body. He died twelve hours later following an emergency treatment and surgery.

His fault: the orangutan had dared to enter an oil palm plantation. Every hour, it is suggested that 300 football fields of precious forest is ploughed to the ground across South East Asia to make way for palm oil plantations. It is  also estimated that over 50 orangutans are killed every single week due to deforestation and habitat loss.

In the last 16 years alone, 100,000 Bornean orangutans have been lost. All three species – Bornean, Sumatran and the Tapanuli, a species discovered only last year – are now on the critically endangered list.

Once thriving in Indonesia’s lush, green rainforests, scientists warn that the orangutan could be the first major great ape species to go extinct, as massive deforestation of their habitats to make way for palm oil plantations.

A mother orangutan with her child, Borneo. (Photo: Pixabay)

Existing in 50% of all packaged products that exist on supermarket shelves worldwide, the global demand for palm oil has increased six fold since 1990.

And this demand is unlikely to abate anytime soon, with current production projected to double in the next decade, threatening biodiversity even further. In 1996, global production of palm oil totalled 16 million metric tonnes. By 2019, it is 73 million.

Why You Can’t Have A Conversation About Palm Oil Without India

A developing economy, India is set to play a major role in driving this demand, with consumption of palm oil having increased by about 230% in the last two decades alone. The country currently drives 23% of total global demand from plantation in Indonesia and Malayasia.

With over 1.3 billion people, India is also the world’s largest consumer as well as the biggest importer of palm oil, and its use remains fundamental to the country’s challenge of providing inexpensive to an increasing population with limited agricultural land.

And this scenario is unlikely to change in the near future, with palm oil remaining central to India’s edible oil needs. Interestingly, the government had already sensed this need, with increasing palm oil development having been a priority for most since the days of Dalda.

The fruit from which palm oil is extracted. (Photo: Neexdpix)

For example, under the 12th Five Year Plan, The National Mission on Oilseeds and Oil Palm (NMOOP), already aims at shifting farming practices in about two million hectares of land in the country. The current government too has been working towards increasing domestic production, with both the central and state governments setting up a number of programmes to increase the overall yield from palm oil, apart from expanding the planted area.

In 2017, the government even removed all land ceilings for cultivation of palm oil for companies offering 100% FDI to lure them to ‘Make in India.’

The government is trying, but domestic production is nowhere near the growing demand, so experts say that we will continue to import palm oil from countries like Malaysia and Indonesia to meet these needs. In January 2018, India imported about 8,34,444 tonnes of palm oil – an increase of about 36.17% from previously known import figures.

What makes matters worse is that as a consumer market, we aren’t too worried about sustainable sourcing, a factor directly responsible for severe environmental destruction, and extinction of precious wildlife, including but not limited to the orangutan.

Sure, bolstering domestic production can help India reduce dependence on environmentally problematic sources of palm oil, but there is also a larger conversation to be had about personal responsibility.

Presently, the demand from consumers for sustainable palm in India is minimal, putting little pressure on industry to source products responsibly. But more consumer consciousness can alter this scenario visibly – as has happened in markets in Europe and America.

Featured image for representative purpose only.
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