Using Certified Organic Palm Oil

Because Palm Oil is an excellent replacement for trans-fat in our food, production has skyrocketed. In addition, soapmakers appreciate palm oil's characteristics for adding body and hardness. The rush to develop palm oil plantations has resulted in massive and unnecessary tropical hardwood forest destruction, particularly in Indonesia and Malaysia. Companies prefer to clear forest land for palm production rather than planting on already degraded abandoned agricultural lands because of lower costs and because they can get early profits from tropical timber while waiting for the palms to grow.

Palm oil production is the primary cause of tropical rainforest loss in Indonesia and Malaysia. These South Pacific tropical hardwood forests affect local and global climates because of their important role in sequestering carbon in the atmosphere, moderating air temperature and maintaining humidity. In addition, like most forests, they are significant in maintaining soil and water resources through absorbing rainfall to slowly release it into streams and rivers. This reduces flooding and soil loss. Shade from the trees keeps soil moist and the roots resist soil compaction. When conversion to agriculture occurs, other activities also harm the environment, including the use of pesticides, fertilizers and palm oil-mill effluent that enter rivers and streams or stay in the soil.

The forests are wildlife habitat for many species that can not be found anywhere else in the world. Seventy percent of the Earth's flora and fauna is supported by tropical rainforests. Sumatran (Indonesia) forests are 2.5 times richer in biodiversity than Amazonian rainforests. As forests are destroyed, the biodiversity the forests supports- hundreds of mammals, birds, fish, plants and other species -is taken away. Emblematic mammal species include Sumatran tiger, Sumatran and Bornean orangutans, Asian elephant, and Sumatran rhinoceros all of which are endangered due primarily to habitat loss. Palm oil plantations are the major cause of habitat loss in Indonesia and Malaysia where these species live.

Indigenous peoples of Indonesia rely on the tropical forests. While only about 2% of the Indonesian population makes a living from the palm oil industry, nearly 44% rely on the natural resources of the native forests. More than 500 million people live in these regions and depend on tropical rainforests for food, shelter and economic resources. Cultural and spiritual traditions are often embedded in native forests and most of the indigenous people of Sumatra and Borneo are forest-dwellers.

Why not boycott - A boycott of palm oil would be unproductive and could make matters worse instead of better. The industries that now benefit from palm oil production are likely to turn to increased timber harvest to maintain their profits, accelerating the rate of tropical forest destruction.

There are solutions, however. Indonesia has millions of hectares of unused deforested land. Palm oil suppliers must be provided with incentives to establish plantations on these lands rather than continuing to clear rainforest. Some farmers are growing organic, sustainable palm oil.The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is an alliance of palm oil producers, processors, traders, retailers, and non-government organizations established to develop principles and criteria for sustainable palm oil production. Sustainable production includes a focus on Integrated Pest Management, use of organic fertilizers and the provision of quality housing and schools for workers.

At Tambela we have a strong environmental ethic and understand the high conservation value of forests, freshwater ecosystems and species habitats, especially in the tropical areas where palms are grown. It is expected that the demand for palm plantations will be an additional 6-10 million hectares over the next 20 years. Instead of boycotting palm oil, we support those farmers that are trying to produce palm oil with social and environmental responsibility and with a low impact on our planet. Tambela soaps use only certified organic palm oils. It is more expensive, and it's not the perfect solution, but we think it's our best choice.

1. Center for Science in the Public Interest, 2005. Cruel Oil: How Palm Oil Harms Health, Rainforest & Wildlife.

2. Films4Conservation, 2007. Palm Oil: An Environmentalist's Perspective.

3. Orangutan Conservancy 2005. Orangutans and the Rainforest.

4. Unilever 2003. Sustainable Palm Oil: Good Agricultural Practices.

5. Wright, Simon, 2005. The Concerned Users Guide to Palm Oil, Organic and Natural Business (April/May),

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