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Addressing the impact of large-scale oil palm plantations on orangutan conservation in Borneo: A spatial, legal and political economy analysis

Palm oil is one of the most controversial yet ubiquitous agricultural commodities in the world, used in everyday products ranging from cooking oil and chocolate to toothpaste and soap. Over the past few decades, the palm oil industry has contributed significantly to the economic development of Indonesia and Malaysia, which together produce an estimated 85 to 90 per cent of global supply. However, the industry has also caused widespread deforestation of tropical ecosystems renowned for their extraordinary biodiversity, as well as numerous conflicts with indigenous peoples and local communities.

This report synthesises key findings from a case study that aimed to assess and address the impact of large-scale oil palm plantations on orangutan conservation in Borneo. The case study found that if the current approach to plantations continues, the window of opportunity to protect key orangutan populations and their natural habitat will close in the near future. However, a number of ambitious private sector commitments and regulatory improvements offer glimmers of hope. If these are strengthened, scaled up and embedded within broader legal and institutional frameworks, they could shift the trajectory of the palm oil industry in Borneo towards more responsible forms of production – including by protecting the significant areas of orangutan habitat within undeveloped oil palm estates.

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Jonas H, Abram NK and Ancrenaz M (2017) Addressing the impact of large-scale oil palm plantations on orangutan conservation in Borneo: A spatial, legal and political economy analysis. IIED, London.
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Recent years have witnessed a new wave of large scale acquisitions for agribusiness investments in Africa and Asia. Countries that house a large proportion of the world's biodiversity and ape habitats and populations have lost areas of high biodiversity land to commercial agriculture. Despite much effort at local, national and global levels, evidence on the exact scale, location and coverage of agribusiness investments remains patchy and often unreliable.

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