Zac Mills



Latest news from Sumatra: May 2017


New Governor in Aceh

In Indonesia, there have been some positive developments in recent months. There was an election in Aceh province (80% of the precious Leuser Ecosystem is in Aceh province) for the Governor. It was a calm election with little violence and the winner was declared to be Irwandi Yusuf. This is good news from our perspective as in his previous stint he was known as the Green Governor. He has pledged to stop the building of the Kappi geothermal project, which was planned in the heart of the Leuser Ecosystem by the previous Governor.

Restoring Peatland

On a slightly less positive note, the Indonesian government agency charged with the job of restoring drained and damaged peatlands, has made limited progress to date. We hope that the data collection they have been focusing on at this stage is a precursor to vigorous activity in restoring peatlands. The will at senior government level appears to be there, but whether this will translate down to progress on the ground, remains to be seen.

Palm oil suppliers

There has been a lot of coverage recently about palm oil and the negative consequences of unregulated palm oil production on orangutan habitat. This has had some fantastic consequences – for example some big palm oil firms have been slated for deforestation, which has led in some instances to consumer outrage and brands severing trade deals. One such firm is the notorious IOI, which was ousted from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil last year. One of the consequences was a significant drop in their share price as large western firms refused to buy their palm oil. Since then, IOI have made a pledge to improve their practices and Greenpeace have pledged to closely monitor their progress.

Whilst of course this is fantastic news, because it means that consumer pressure from people like you is influencing what happens on the ground in Indonesia, there are some less desirable consequences. The larger companies may have land banks in high conservation value areas. Frightened to use them in case it leads to a boycott by major palm oil buyers, they are keen to rid themselves of these assets, which are then sold on to smaller producers. The smaller producers can afford fewer scruples and may then go on to deforest surrounding land to increase their holding.

Ultimately of course, we hope that unsustainable palm oil will become a non-saleable commodity, but until an alternative income is available for local people, it is likely that these problems will continue to some extent. One of the projects we hope to get off the ground this year, is a research and analysis project looking at alternative means of finance and income for the local communities to ensure that conserving primary rainforest becomes profitable.

And finally

Some wonderful footage from the camera traps in Besitang

Besitang is an area of the Leuser Ecosystem that the Orangutan Information Centre team have been working to restore since 2008. So although the trees grow at a remarkable rate, they are still a long way off the 45 metre  primary rainforest. Nevertheless, we always take great joy when new camera trap footage comes through, as it is the most direct assurance we can have that this work is helping orangutans. There used to be oil palm trees here and now look!

(Ignore the dates on the camera trap pictures – they were not re-set when the batteries were changed…!)

A macaque caught by the camera trap
Orangutan caught in Camera trap
orangutan mother and baby climbing

Zac Mills

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