Lipstick, chocolate, shampoo, ice cream, bread, ketchup, Nutella, detergent, fizzy drinks… the world’s most popular vegetable oil can be found everywhere you look in the supermarket. It is used in half of all packaged food worldwide, and as the world’s population increases, so does the demand for this highly-saturated vegetable fat, which is grown best in wet and warm conditions- rainforest territories.
Plantations of African Oil Palm, farmed for Palm Oil, Palm Kernel Oil and their derivatives, cover millions of hectares of land in the tropics, causing huge losses in biodiversity and rich tropical habitats with high carbon storage around the world. But the incredibly high demand for this product promises wealth and prosperity for populations living in developing countries in the tropics such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Colombia and Nigeria.
Growing Oil Palm in Guatemala
According to the Oil Palm Growers’ Guild in Guatemala (GREPALMA), Oil Palm plantations in Guatemala have the highest productivity per hectare of any country in the world. The world average in palm oil productivity is four tonnes per hectare, whereas Guatemala is reportedly producing seven.
So the Palm Oil industry in Guatemala is expanding rapidly to capitalise on the high yields that can be produced by plantations in the northern lowlands and exported to the European Union, United States and Mexico. This threatens the remaining wild habitats left in the departments of Alta Verapaz, Izabal, Quiché and Petén, which would need to be cleared to capitalise on the potential productivity GREPALMA is hoping for.
At the moment GREPALMA reports that there is about 370,000 acres (150,000 hectares) of cultivated Oil Palm plantations in Guatemala, representing four per cent of the total agricultural area of the country. The native biodiversity and carbon storage within oil palm plantations is relatively high compared to other agricultural land uses. However, there is no doubt that the native habitat of tropical forests which were originally cleared had much higher species diversity and carbon storage.
Marco Cerezo, FUNDAECO
In regions such as the mountains of Izabal, the issue is not just with biodiversity loss but also the permanent loss of unique wildlife. Marco Cerezo, General Director of Foundation for Eco-development and Conservation (FUNDAECO), explains why these mountains need to be preserved for their unique species:
“What we have is isolated evolutionary processes,” says Marco. “So even though one mountain range is only 20km or 25km away from another mountain range, we have unique species of frogs, unique species of insects and trees that evolved in this isolated mountain range and now deforestation has transformed these forests once again into islands in the middle of a very barren landscape.”
Protecting the forest islands
Marco’s organisation FUNDAECO have been working to protect the legacy of Guatemala’s unique wildlife in the Caribbean and the watersheds which supply communities with freshwater from the mountains by creating several protected areas in Izabal, pictured right (click to enlarge).
At the moment World Land Trust (WLT) is working with FUNDAECO to create a 2,500 acre (1,000 hectare) core reserve which could be expanded to protect the whole Sierra Santa Cruz mountain range, the last unprotected rainforest in Caribbean Guatemala.
Donate below to help WLT reach the £625,000 target needed to protect this important habitat from deforestation. All donations made between October 4 – 18 will be doubled by WLT’s match sponsors.
You can also donate by texting TTCA17 with an amount up to £10 to 70070.