Last week, we were surprised to receive an invitation to a "Public Consultation on the results of a survey of the Population, Distribution and Habitat of Bornean Orangutans, as well as Human Socio-Economic Aspects in Palm Oil Plantations especially in PPB Oil Palms Sdn Bhd-CKP (Central Kalimantan Project )/ PT Mustika Sembuluh Group”. Public Consultation Surveyors

This is the first time we had heard of a palm-oil company surveying orangutan populations and could not tell from the invite whether the idea was intriguing or scary. I could not go, so my colleague Astri Rozanah went, along with Mr Ade Suharso, the local head of the Forestry Department’s Office for the Conservation of Natural Resources. Other participants in this public consultation came from government (province and district level), private institutions, universities, NGOs, local community groups and the press.

This is what Astri reported:

“The Orangutan population survey was conducted by WWF survey team who made a presentation of their findings. Based on the survey research, WWF and team found that PT Mustika Sembuluh Group forest area has a quite high biological diversity. They found orangutans, 8 other primate species, 25 mammal species, 168 birds species, more than 10 reptile species, 29 fish species and 88 plants species. The highest estimated population density (found in an area near the Seranau River), was 2.2 orangutans per km2. (NB: This is a high density)

After their presentation, the program continued with an open discussion. The palm-oil company PT Mustika Sembuluh Group intends to set aside over 7,000 ha of forest which is assessed as being of high conservation value as a conservation area. This is even though the forest is located inside their existing plantation area.

At the end of discussion, they recommended a 'full assessment’ to generate a spatial plan for the areas which have high conservation value. This assessment will indicate how the forest will be managed; conservation must be combined with helping to meet local communities’ social and economic needs. The assessment will also indicate who best should have management responsibility for the conservation-forest, the Company, an NGO or the Forestry Department”

Oil Palm Plantation

Oil palm plantation - once tropical forest now a desert landscape

Here’s a palm-oil company apparently, voluntarily, choosing not to destroy rainforest; They are seemingly prepared to put “their money where their mouth is” by setting aside an area for conservation; The area they are proposing to conserve is sizeable – over 250,000 palms could be grown on 7,000 ha and they are talking of setting aside more; The Company is clearly prepared to work with NGO’s and the Government in a transparent way; Surely they must be thinking of trying to sell their produce at a premium with some kind of green-label.

Now, despite all my “seeminglies, apparentlies and surlies” those are all positive developments. Yes, we still have reservations - I will try to explore those with you some time soon. But I want to end this quick blog on a positive note – and it is this.

PT Mustika Sembuluh Group is clearly aware of the rising tide of public opinion against the destructive practices of palm-oil companies. And what does that mean? It means, your and my voices are being heard. As ultimate consumers you can ask your supermarkets to source responsibly and you can create markets for the products you want to buy.

I am not saying this is anything but early days. But we are detecting signs of change and for that I thank you. We can all be orangutan conservationists.

Thank you Theresa S for your very generous donation of US$500 we really appreciate your support and interest in our work. In a few of my posts I have mentioned that we hope to raise funds in order to build a new orangutan release site, in Lamandau. We will direct all open donations received from Wildlifedirect towards the release site, which we plan to build in 2008. We will keep you updated!