top of page

Palm Oil's Ecological Impact

spread of deforestation 2011 to 2014  Global Forest watch

The Spread of Deforestation between 2011 and 2014. Source Global Forest Watch.

deforestation by palm oil
biodiversity in borneo

The shy Bearded Pig (Sus barbatus)in the forests of Borneo.
Photo by Chien C Lee.

sumatran rhino affected by palm oil

Sumatran Rhino is the most threathed Rhino Species in the World. Photo : WWF

indonesia peat fires palm oil free

Landsat image of Borneo : NASA

Indonesia peat fires palm oil free

Fire set for peatland clearing burn in Indonesia’s Riau province in July 2015. Photo by Rhett A. Butler

deforestation by palm oil

The aftermath of an Indonesian palm oil plantation. Photo by Wakx

deforestation by palm oil

On a plantation in West Kalimantan in Indonesia, oil palms have replaced all but small patches of forest.ARROWHEAD FILMS

deforestation by palm oil

Oil palm is grown as an industrial plantation crop, often (especially in Indonesia) on newly cleared rainforest or

peat-swamp forests rather than on already degraded land

or disused agricultural land. Indonesia and Malaysia Palm

Oil Companies have destroyed enormous tracts of

tropical rainforest which contain the world’s longest

lists of threatened wildlife.


"Of Indonesia's nearly 400 land mammal

species 15 are critically endangered

and another 125 threatened.

The numbers of threatened species climb higher when terrestrial reptiles, amphibians, birds, insects, spiders, flowering plants, non-flowering plants and trees are included. There are over 300,000 species which live in Indonesia & Malaysia. Moreover, certain animals, such as the orangutan, sun bear, Sumatra tiger, pygmy elephant and others, are only found in these countries; when their rainforest habitat vanishes, so will they.


Of Malaysia’s nearly 300 land mammal species,

6 are critically endangered and 41 threatened.

Over 25% of Indonesia's rainforests have been deforested and replaced with vast palm oil plantations.


There are many reasons but the main ones are because

in these man-made monocultures, local wildlife can't

survive and the palm trees' roots soak up huge amounts

of water, destroying the soil. These man-made

monocultures are damaging on a local and a global environmental and extinction level.


Palm oil trees grow naturally in tropical forest areas, but have now been planted and farmed extensively to produce enough palm oil to satisfy global demand.


The palm oil industry has made a huge impact on the natural rainforests of Southeast Asia. Our current consumption of products containing palm oil is unsustainable.


Massive amounts of CO2 is released into the air as rainforests are cleared. Rainforests' soils hold about 45% of the world's terrestrial carbon, cutting them down is like releasing a carbon bomb.


Palm oil plantations accelerate the rise in global temperatures (trees, especially old trees in primary rainforests, are the most efficient carbon absorbers

in the world). " - Ecoasia


“For almost four decades the toxic smoke and air pollution from out of control yearly forest and peatland fires (via the slash & burn technique) have exacted a huge toll on the communities, biodiversity, environment and economy of Indonesia and its neighbouring countries.

Successive governments have considerably downplayed the scale of the impact on human health. After the devastating 2015 fire season, the official death toll was put at just 24 lives lost. In contrast, epidemiologists estimate tens of thousands of people died; monitoring reports note the fires had created “perhaps the worst sustained air quality ever recorded worldwide”; and other researchers calculated tens of millions of people had been exposed to levels of air pollution ranging from ‘unhealthy’ to ‘hazardous’.

The health of people across the ASEAN region has been damaged and many thousands have died prematurely, because of exposure that could have been avoided. Commercial activity, particularly forest clearing and peatland draining by the palm oil, pulp and paper industries has dried out huge swathes of the Indonesian landscape, creating the perfect conditions for fires to take hold. Despite having the authority to prevent this devastating process, the Indonesian government has consistently enabled the industry to continue down this destructive path.” - Greenpeace

"They directly threaten 193 of the world's critically endangered, endangered and vulnerable animal species, including the sumatran and the bornean orangutan (source: International Union for Conservation of Nature)

In the past 10 years, the orangutan population has decreased by 50 percent as a result of habitat loss from forest clearing for palm oil plantations.

Palm oil makes up about 10% of all Indonesian exports and 5% of Malaysia’s, which makes it their most important agricultural export commodity.

Palm oil also has a huge impact on the lives of local farmers, who have sold their land to huge companies. Often, even whole pieces of land are sold to palm oil businesses, in exchange for much-needed money for food, health or the education of their children. Often, local communities are also promised roads to access otherwise nearby hospitals. However, these roads are usually not fully built by the corporations and rather resemble a mud path.

That’s why finding alternatives to palm oil is a process with no quick solution. There is no single product or company that can undo the damage caused. The solution to palm oil needs a bigger structural change involving consumers, big corporations, as well as national and transnational institutions. If we want to undo the trend, we will have to create alternatives to palm oil that offer these communities an income from different crops and forest goods as they can’t do it on their own. “

By the way Ecosia is reforesting former palm oil plantations in Sumatra and helping create alternative income solutions to palm oil.


Ecoasia – the search engine that plants trees install the Ecosia extension and download their app!

Since Palm Oil is the biggest industry in Indonesia bringing in millions of dollars each year it seems inevitable that the government will never really protect the rainforests no matter what they claim.

bottom of page