New deal for orangutans in Kalimantan

A new tri-party agreement on the protection of the Bornean orangutan in Kalimantan, Indonesia will give Singapore-based Wilmar International, one of the world’s largest palm oil producers, a chance to prove it can be part of a sustainable future for the apes.

Details of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), signed by Wilmar, the independent non-profit Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF) and the government of Central Kalimantan, were released in a statement last week.

The three signatories agreed to a formal partnership aimed at long-term protection of the orangutans and their habitat.

Wilmar’s head of corporate social responsibility, Jeremy Goon, said the company had been in discussions with BOSF for some time on how to address the plight of the orangutans.

BOSF, which has a policy of accepting no money from companies, has rescued over 1,000 apes and currently cares for more than 800 orangutans that are waiting for safe, permanent land to call home.

“We recognise that this issue is more than just an environmental challenge, so the involvement of the local government will help escalate our efforts for orangutan conservation,” said Mr Goon.

Those efforts will include developing and testing oil palm plantation management methods that ensure orangutan conservation, including habitat enrichment, the establishment of protected regions  and buffer areas for the animals, the relocation of isolated orangutans and training people within the plantation how to avoid human-orangutan conflict.

Once those methods are developed, they will be established as Best Management Practices (BMP) and enacted as formal policy in Central Kalimantan governing all oil palm plantations.

BOSF chief executive Dr. Togu Manurung welcomed the partnership as a means of ensuring the survival of the Bornean orangutan, saying the MOU was a perfect example of how major stakeholders must work together toward environmental goals.

“We are pleased to be able to help advise Wilmar, one of the largest stakeholders in Central Kalimantan, on Best Management Practices for oil palm companies in orangutan areas. We are also pleased to be able to assist the government of Central Kalimantan in its effort to balance economic development with conservation in a collaborative manner,” he added.

Another aspect of the agreement is the involvement of local communities in the conservation process in ways that will promote community development.

Wilmar’s Mr Goon said, “We are hopeful that an equitable balance between economic, social and environmental values can still be achieved… if all sectors of the society are truly committed to finding solutions to the sustainability cause.”

Cooperation between oil palm growers and local communities has not traditionally been easy in the region. A recent report by a local environmental agency found that the rapid expansion of oil palm plantations in neighbouring West Kalimantan increased the likelihood of local conflicts. The agency documented 630 conflicts regarding oil palm plantations up to 2010.

Central Kalimantan’s governor, Augustin Teras Narang, said he believed the Best Management Practices would contribute not only to the preservation of the region’s biodiversity, but also to a measurable reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the forest sector. “To that end I hope that we can together search for a way in which we can contribute to the commitment of our country to reduce emissions by 26 per cent, as declared by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in Copenhagen in 2009,” he said.

The province of Central Kalimantan was chosen last December for a pilot project under the REDD Plus scheme, a voluntary UN-backed forest conservation programme. The deforestation of Indonesia’s rainforests is the nation’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Under the REDD Plus scheme, Norway has agreed to donate US$1 billion in aid to Indonesia in exchange for the preservation of rainforest, but an official from a district environmental agency revealed in March that violations of land-use laws by some oil palm growers were rampant.  The official said more coordination was needed between local forestry offices and environmental agencies to crack down on violators.

The Central Kalimantan government has historically lagged behind more progressive neighbours such as East Kalimantan on sustainability issues, said Michelle Desilets, who is executive director of the Orangutan Land Trust, a United Kingdom-based charity that secures land for the permanent preservation of orangutans. Ms Desilets told Eco-Business in an e-mail interview that pressure from non-government organisations, civil society and the international community was essential to bolstering government efforts to protect the orangutans and their habitat. She added that she hoped the increased attention on conservation in the region would “put the spotlight on Kalimantan and its opportunities to address development sustainably.”

Orangutan habitat is considered land of high conservation value (HCV), and as such is off-limits to new planting by plantation companies.  Developing sustainably in areas with apes begins with respecting that regulation. “It all comes down to the land use planning – not planting in HCV areas, developing wildlife corridors and buffer zones, having an human-wildlife conflict management plan in place, and careful monitoring and evaluation,” said Ms Desilets, who last year compiled a report on human-wildlife conflict in oil palm plantations for the industry best practice group called the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). “A sustainable company that undergoes a reliable HCV assessment and follows the guidelines of the RSPO should be able to cultivate palm oil without impacting orangutans,” she added.

She is convinced that Wilmar, who earlier initiated discussions with her about making their operations more sustainable, is on the right track. “I have been communicating with them directly for some time…Their willingness to involve wildlife experts and NGOs represents a more robust and transparent commitment to these issues,” she said.

Ms Desilets stressed that concerted efforts, including measures such as workshops to communicate findings and expectations, would be needed to get other growers to comply with new guidelines pertaining to orangutan preservation. She predicted that only a few plantation operators will be openly accepting of the guidelines, “but hopefully more will be when they see the industry leader setting a strong example.”

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