Oil palm growers in Alliance to Protect orangutans

Press release

PONGO Alliance: Oil Palm Growers and Conservation Practitioners Collaborate for Orangutan Conservation 

Yayasan Sime Darby has channelled RM1.2 million for the programme to create a paradigm shift in traditional agriculture and conservation practices 

KINABATANGAN, 23 June 2020 – An alliance of oil palm growers, businesses and conservation practitioners, called PONGO Alliance, is developing guidelines for best management practices (BMP) to support sustainable palm oil production that includes safe spaces for wild orangutans outside of protected areas. With a vision to make resilient landscapes for wildlife and people a reality, PONGO Alliance uses an evidence-based approach, that has found some orangutans not only survived large-scale habitat loss in the 1980s and 1990s but adapted to a landscape of forest patches and oil palm plantation.

PONGO Alliance Kinabatangan project director Dr Felicity Oram said that measures can be put in place to support co-existence of the surviving wild orangutan population where only ten percent of the half-million-hectare land area is forest. PONGO Alliance Kinabatangan project director Dr Felicity Oram said that measures can be put in place to support co-existence of the surviving wild orangutan population where only ten percent of the half-million-hectare land area is forest. “We need to better understand orangutan habitat needs in this altered landscape and work out how to facilitate human and orangutan co-existence in the long term. In practice, this means leaving wild orangutans wherever they are in the landscape and developing better ways to support the adaptions these animals have made thus far,” she added.

Under a two-year sponsorship agreement titled “Creation of a Human and Orangutan Coexistence Landscape in Kinabatangan”, Yayasan Sime Darby (YSD) has committed RM1.2million to enable the programme to conduct detailed information-gathering, engagement with various players, and develop best management practices. The sponsorship is in line with YSD Environment pillar’s focus area of protecting and preserving vulnerable and endangered species; as well as the education and awareness focus area as it involves building awareness within oil palm plantation communities, environmental NGO’s, government agencies, and international communities.

YSD chief executive officer Dr Hjh Yatela Zainal Abidin noted that research has shown that female orangutans live and raise their young in forest fragments surrounded by oil palms, while the males travel long distances through oil palm plantations between these patches. “This project aims to find out in more detail what is going on in Kinabatangan, to the level of individual orangutans,” she said.

“We hope that this effort will also assist growers and NGOs alike to view and manage oil palm forest landscapes in favour of human-orangutan coexistence; government agencies to develop a new policy on orangutan management; and the international community to understand that such coexistence is possible in mixed landscapes such as those comprising oil palm plantations and forests,” she added. 

Full partner companies involved in this paradigm shift that have holdings in the project engagement area include Sime Darby Plantation Berhad (SDP), which hosts the secretariat of PONGO Alliance; and Sabah based partner, Sawit Kinabalu, which has committed 3,757 hectares of its land area to conservation set-asides. SDP’s group managing director, Mohamad Helmy Othman Basha said the initiative by PONGO Alliance aligns with SDP’s ambition to achieve a deforestation-free palm oil industry and the Company looks forward to implementing the BMP at its estates. “We are cognisant of the need and importance of safeguarding the habitats of endangered species and not only will continue to work with like-minded organisations such as YSD and our partners in the PONGO Alliance but encourage other plantation companies to come on board to achieve this goal,” said Helmy. Helmy also noted that the project in collaboration with PONGO Alliance is a logical follow-on of YSD’s 10-year collaboration with Sabah Forestry Department on the ‘Reforestation and rehabilitation of orangutan habitat in Northern Ulu Segama (presently known as Bukit Piton Forest Reserve)’ project. He explained that the RM25 million project, in which SDP provided its technical expertise and assistance, improved orangutan habitat by planting 1,448,822 trees within the previously highly degraded Forest Reserve and contributed economic benefits to the local community in the surrounding area.

The PONGO Alliance is an alliance of oil palm growers, businesses and NGOs, who aim to make resilient landscapes for wildlife and people, by seeking ways to allow lands outside protected areas to play a role in conserving wildlife. Our partners: PT Austindo Nusantara Jaya, Musim Mas, Sime Darby Plantation Bhd, Wilmar International Limited, Aidenvironment, Borneo Futures, Borneo Rhino Alliance, HUTAN, Orangutan Land Trust, Copenhagen Zoo, Bunge Loders Croklaan, Alliance for Preservation of Forests, Aksenta, Bumitama Agri, Sawit Kinabalu, and South East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership.