The rebuttal is penned by prominent authors of the GRASP report, including ALERT member Erik Meijaard as well as Marc Ancrenaz and Serge Wich:
Oil Palm Strategies: A Response from GRASP
We agree with Linder et al.’s views that our Palm Oil Paradox report, by focusing on great apes, neither represents all elements of tropical biological diversity nor the full range of social and political factors involved. As in Southeast Asia, great apes in Africa overlap only partly with areas suitable for oil palm development.
Great apes, however, remain powerful symbols of the fight against unsustainable oil palm practices, and could play this role in parts of Africa where their ranges overlap with areas of high oil palm potential.
Great apes can also be icons for more-sustainable oil palm. Such an aspiration has brought together palm oil and nongovernmental organizations to form the PONGO Alliance in Southeast Asia, where joint efforts are ongoing to improve practices in the oil palm industry.
A major point of controversy—which we recognized when we developed our Palm Oil Paradox report—is our proposal to locate responsible oil palm companies on the forest frontier. The idea is that this could help to stabilize the frontier and prevent deforestation—which would arguably have happened regardless, especially if no coordinated and responsible landscape plan was in place.
Our unpublished analyses show that, at least in Borneo, “responsible” oil palm has caused much less deforestation than has oil palm that is not certified by the RSPO.
RSPO-certified concessions mainly develop on already-degraded lands, which leaves unscrupulous companies to develop near the forest frontier. Out of 815,000 hectares of land held in RSPO-cerfiied concessions, just 8.9 percent was deforested between 2000 and 2015. However, the deforestation rate was about twice as fast, 18 percent, over the same period in non-certified concessions, which are very extensive in Borneo (9.6 million hectares).
Thus, responsible oil palm is not perfect, but it is a lot better than uncertified oil palm, which causes deforestation in the most critical areas for conservation. We are currently seeing some individual oil palm plantations in Borneo setting aside more than 25 percent of their concessions for conservation.
For example, one company in Indonesian Borneo contains 150 orangutans that are currently safer than most other orangutans on Borneo.