As part of the volunteer program we went nuttie for pure, organic, virgin coconut oil at a visit to the coconut oil processing factory here on the island. This 3-year old labour of love by Luke and Jane, the proprietors of Mahi Mahi, is a model for economically viable impact development. The idea is to use an environmentally friendly crop (in this case coconut) to produce a premium organic product that provides ongoing employment, and education about sustainability to the wider net of families involved. At the moment there are 80 people working at the factory itself, which likely makes the factory the biggest wage and tax paying organisation here.
By working with a large number of smallholder farmers, the message and economic benefit spreads further so that at this time at least 800 families are touched buy the project.
The big pressure in Sumatra is the large agro companies who wish to turn over pristine rainforest to palm oil production. The hope is that by establishing an economically viable alternative the pressure and lobbying can be resisted to keep Simeulue’s rainforest intact. Coconut trees grow on the crappy land by the coast, avoiding a chainsaw slash fest, and they don’t absorb ground water like palm oil which causes havoc on small islands, as they can leave nothing you’d want to drink.
To make this product economically viable and pay fair wages it needs to be premium: huge credit to Lush who both provided seed funding and buy the wholesale end product to put in their soaps, and to consumers who enjoy the product via the Āluān brand. There was a moment of celebration for Jane and Luke as at a conference in Bali on Saturday, Richard Branson selfied with a bottle of their virgin coconut oil.
How is the world doing on deforestation? Well … looking into this shows what a complicated question that is. If you care most about the impact on life on this planet, then loss of high biodiversity, primary rainforest, is key; if your lens is on global warming then arguably loss of tree cover is the top ticket. In Indonesia rainforest was removed to plant commodity crops like palm oil, which absorb carbon too; however Brazil is big on clear cutting for ranching which is a bad carbon trade.
The world as a whole has made real progress in reducing the rate at which tree cover is lost, from a high in 2002, to a low in 2009. Things have been creeping up again, with 2017 the second worst year on record; largely due to huge forest fires, which is no surprise as it was one of the hottest years on record.
Indonesia had a better year in 2017, having reduced its annual increase in deforestation in Sumatra by 60% in which this project will have paid its part.
For a sense of scale: Wales is 2.0 million hectares (Mha)
In the meantime, if you want to use products that use Responsibly Sourced Palm Oil (RSPO) you can use the WWF’s Palm Oil Scorecard, that rates manufacturers. Avoiding palm oil is hard, as it appears as it may appear as vegetable oil in food ingredients lists, which is basically in everything.
I tried to pickup a KitKat, and was met by these faces ….
So looks like I have to “take a break” ’till 2020, by which time Nestlé have signed up to using RSPO globally.