Palm oil plantations are expanding into the planet’s most biodiverse ecosystems, including the rainforests, grasslands and peat swamps of South America, Southeast Asia, the Pacific and Africa. Transforming ecosystems into monocultural palm oil plantations is devastating local and Indigenous communities and contributing heavily to climate change.
The spread of massive palm oil plantations often violates traditional and Indigenous land rights by forcing small family farmers to shift from subsistence to export-driven commodity farming or, in some cases, pushing them off their land entirely. In addition, many plantation workers face abuse, harsh working conditions, unfair pay, and exposure to toxic pesticides. In Papua New Guinea, a gendered system of palm oil harvest called the Mama Lus system pays women less and forces them into harder, more dangerous labor than their male counterparts.
In Sumatra, Indonesia, Protect-an-Acre grantee Elang is working to increase awareness about the expansion of palm oil plantations. Working with SawitWatch and LifeMosaic, which created an hour-long film based on community testimonies from 20 villages across Indonesia that have been impacted by palm oil plantations, Elang trained leaders to organize and educate within their communities. The film (the English version, “Palmed Off,” can be viewed here) provides information not offered by palm oil companies that promote their destructive industry.
Twenty-four community representatives attended a four-day training to learn how to promote and use the film, which resulted in two-day workshops in more than 50 communities. With karaoke a popular pastime in the area, nearly every community had a karaoke machine that could be used for screenings.
Testimonials from those who have felt the negative consequences of palm oil plantations have proven very effective for helping communities to make informed decisions. In karaoke parlance, the result has usually been akin to a collective rendition of “Hit the Road, Jack” dedicated to palm oil representatives.