Many of you will have heard of Charles Darwin but I bet fewer of you will have heard of Alfred Russel Wallace. He actually co-discovered the theory of evolution but he was not on board the voyage of the Beagle. Instead, Wallace was travelling through Indonesia and Malaysia. He was an explorer and a scientist and a bit of a hero of mine.
So since I am also travelling through Indonesia, I thought I would bring along a copy of his book ‘The Malay Archipelago’ to give me a little bit of inspiration as I go. So first of all, lets hear from Wallace about what he had to say of Sumatra when he first arrived:
“In Sumatra, monkeys are very abundant… as is the Siamang. The orang-utan is known to inhabit here too… The other great mammalia, the elephant and the rhinoceros are more widely distributed… there are climbing plalms, orchids and ferns. Here too, is the domain of the wonderful pitcher plants…”
About 150 years separate Wallace’s journey and my own so I expected a lot to have changed in that time. Although nothing could have prepared me for what I saw when I first arrived. As our car left the city and headed towards a village we came across a patch of trees. Almost instantly I noticed something was wrong.
The trees were all very regular. They had the same height and many even pointed in the same direction. The spaces between them were very even and they were lined up in a diagonal pattern. They were up to 30 foot tall. At that point I didn’t get a chance to see the fruit up close but they were clusters of walnut sized, red coloured fruits. Every single tree looked the same.
Palm oil. This fruit produces and oil that goes into around 50% of the products that we buy when we go shopping. And to grow this fruit huge parts of the forest are being destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations. Scarily, we drove for 3 hours and saw nothing but this one plant. It is said that production of palm oil is set to double by 2020.
There is no way a monkey could swing from tree to tree here. Nor is there anyway a tiger could hide to ambush its pray.
So this isn’t exactly what I had in mind for my first travel blog. I was hoping to show you some pictures of the really cool animals out here. But the palm oil situation has made such an impression on me, I thought it was very important to share with you guys back home exactly what it is like out here.
We can try to reduce the amount of palm oil that we use everyday, but another factor of the problem is that over 20 million people are employed by the palm oil business, including local farmers who depend upon the income to support their lives. The problem is a lot more complex than it seems.
One thing I think we can do is to try to support sustainable palm oil. The next time you are out shopping look at the labels of the things that you are buying, try to favour products using sustainable palm oil.
Luckily for me, not far from here there is a part of the national park which is UNESCO protected meaning that it should not be targeted for destruction for palm oil trees. It is into that forest that I head next time.