Palm Oil in Snack Foods Could Be Destroying the World’s “Orangutan Capital”

Picture a rhinoceros in the rainforest, add a herd of elephants, families of orangutans swinging through the treetops and tigers prowling the understory, and there is only one place in the world you could be.

Indonesia’s Leuser Ecosystem is one of Earth’s most ancient forest ecosystems, a laboratory of life’s potential where the alchemy of evolution has been allowed to experiment, uninterrupted for millennia. And the results are astounding. Green upon green, vines hanging from towering old-growth trees, moss growing on ferns growing on bromeliads… you get the picture.

It is the kind of place one imagines primeval nature to be wild, abundant, impenetrable.

With more than a century of proud conservation history responsible for its continued existence, the province of Aceh where the Leuser resides is, against all odds, a sparkling ecological jewel standing in stark contrast to the devastated landscape that surrounds it. Most of the rest of Sumatra — once known as Indonesia’s “Emerald Island” — and sadly much of the rest of lowland rainforests across Indonesia, too, have been exploited and denuded by wave after wave of scorched Earth, industry, colonial extraction and modern-day corrupt corporate greed. What has already been lost is incalculable, but here, in this special place, remains a rare opportunity to stop the cycle of destruction and protect a globally valuable treasure before it’s too late.

A palm oil refinery
A Musim Mas palm oil facility on the edge of the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra, Indonesia.

The Leuser Ecosystem is considered the heart of Southeast Asia’s rainforest region, which, alongside the Amazon and the Congo Basin, is one of only three tropical forest regions on Earth. The beating heart of the Leuser is the lowland forests and peat swamps of the Singkil-Bengkung region. This area is part of the last remaining healthy peat swamp ecosystem in western Sumatra. This lush jungle contains some of the world’s richest levels of biological diversity.

The lowland peat forests of the Leuser Ecosystem deserve the highest levels of protection for multiple critical reasons. Dubbed the “orangutan capital of the world,” this region is home to the highest population densities of critically endangered orangutans anywhere. This includes a special, culturally distinct subpopulation of a few thousand individuals in the Singkil-Bengkung region, which demonstrate social structures and tool-using behaviors unique from all other orangutan populations. These forests are also home to some of the healthiest remaining breeding populations of highly imperiled Sumatran elephants, rhinos and tigers.

The health of the Leuser Ecosystem’s Singkil-Bengkung landscape is internationally significant because its deep, carbon-rich peatlands are among the most valuable and effective natural carbon sinks on Earth. Conversely, when drained, cleared and burned for conversion to palm oil plantations, this soil type is transformed into a carbon bomb that emits catastrophic levels of pollution into the atmosphere.

Hundreds of thousands of people rely on the area’s rich natural resources as the basis of their livelihoods. Downstream villages are already suffering severe, sometimes deadly threats from devastating floods, landslides, and the loss of subsistence resources like fish and forest products as a direct result of the rapid rates of deforestation caused by palm oil. Communities also continue to suffer due to the loss of access to their customary lands that have been taken over by palm oil companies, without their consent, and failures of the government to take decisive action to resolve conflicts and restore to communities the rights to their lands.

The Acehnese people have fought for over a century to protect the integrity of the Leuser Ecosystem’s extraordinary forests, and in the past decade the Leuser has become internationally famous for its intact expanses of verdant trees and its stunning wealth of imperiled wildlife species. But also over the past decade, more than 18,000 hectares of forests within the Singkil-Bengkung region have been cleared, leaving roughly 250,000 hectares of rainforests remaining — and this area decreases each and every year due to deforestation and the drainage of peatlands.

RAN conducted a series of undercover investigations in 2019 due to the alarming destruction of peat forests occurring within the lowland rainforests of the Leuser Ecosystem. The field research was conducted to determine if the forest clearance was being driven by major snack food brands, even though these brands had adopted policies years ago to end deforestation in their supply chains.

The results of the investigations are definitive. Palm oil is being grown illegally inside the nationally protected Rawa Singkil Wildlife Reserve, and it is being sold to mills that provide the palm oil used to manufacture snack foods sold across the world by Unilever, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Mondelēz, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Mars and Hershey.

These mills are located immediately next to areas of illegal encroachment into the Leuser Ecosystem and lack the necessary procedures to trace the location where the palm oil they sell is grown, a key requirement for complying with the No Deforestation, No Peatlands, No Exploitation policies to which all of these brands have publicly committed.

Progress has been made by some companies implementing their No Deforestation policies. Brands like Unilever and Nestlé, for example, have begun the process of increasing supply chain transparency by publishing the mills they source from, but they have not yet achieved traceability to the plantation level, so they remain unable to offer certainty as to exactly where the palm oil they consume was grown. The findings of these investigations clearly show that paper promises are not enough to keep the forests from falling.

The Leuser Ecosystem at large, and the Singkil-Bengkung region in particular, still offer a rare and fleeting opportunity to get it right and avoid the devastating mistakes made throughout so much of Indonesia in the past. It remains possible here to prevent the destruction of habitat that drives iconic wildlife species toward extinction, to avert the human suffering from inevitable floods and landslides caused by deforestation, and to end the reckless burning of carbon-filled peatlands contributing to the climate crisis.

The international attention resulting from the release of this latest report has helped to pressure the brands to respond and take further action, but the high stakes and urgent threats to the Singkil-Bengkung demand more bold, decisive action to ensure that the area receives permanent protection.

Tell General Mills, Kellogg’s, Nestlé, Mondelēz, Mars, Hershey, Unilever and PepsiCo to cut ties to illegally produced conflict palm oil and stop the deforestation in the Leuser Ecosystem.

This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Cadbury bars leave orangutans on ‘brink of extinction’ thanks to ‘destructive’ palmoil

Your Cadbury chocolate bars, Oreo cookies and Ritz crackers are leaving orangutans on the “brink of extinction”, campaigners warn.

Greenpeace says orangutans are “literally dying for a biscuit” in a new report that slams snack giant Mondelez over its controversial use of “destructive” palm oil – which is created by destroying rainforest habitats.

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Palm oil shot to nationwide attention this month after Iceland’s Christmas TV ad about the ongoing crisis was banned in the UK.


The notorious substance is widely used in products found in British supermarkets, and the ad drew attention to its impact on orangutans.

Voiced by actress Emma Thompson, the ad tugged at heartstrings by showing the destruction of a young orangutan’s home – but was deemed too political by Britain’s ad watchdog.

Now new mapping by Greenpeace has linked Mondelez – which makes Cadbury, Oreo and Ritz products – to the destruction of a major orangutan habitat in Indonesia.

“It’s outrageous that despite promising to clean up its palm oil almost 10 years ago, Mondelez is still trading with forest destroyers,” said Kiki Taufik, who leads Greenpeace Southeast Asia’s Indonesia forests campaign.

“Palm oil can be made without destroying forests, yet our investigation discovered that Mondelez suppliers are still trashing forests and wrecking orangutan habitat, pushing these beautiful and intelligent creatures to the brink of extinction.

“They’re literally dying for a biscuit,” Kiki added.

Mondelez’ own records show it purchased more than 300,000 tonnes of palm oil and palm oil products in 2017.

And Greenpeace says 95% of this is purchased using the “weakest of the certification models” – a regulatory shortcut, basically.

“This means that the plantations and producer groups from which the overwhelming majority of the palm oil that Mondelez purchases is sourced are not governed by any sustainability initiatives,” the report blasts.

Mondelez is part of several industry groups working towards sustainable palm oil usage.

But Greenpeace warns: “Mondelez continues to source palm oil from rainforest destroyers, despite its stated commitment to responsible sourcing.”

Earlier this year, Greenpeace published a report detailing “recent rainforest destruction” by 25 palm oil producers in Southeast Asia.

According to Greenpeace, Mondelez was sourcing palm oil from 22 of these groups – between them, over 70,000 hectares of rainforest was destroyed between 2015 and 2017.

Of that area, 25,000 hectares were “forested orangutan habitat”.

But Greenpeace warns that the scale of the problem may be even worse: “These are just the cases that Greenpeace was able to identify – Mondelez sources from hundreds of palm oil companies and this destruction is likely just the tip of the iceberg.”

The report claims that Mondelez gets lots of its “dirty palm oil” from Wilmar International, the world’s biggest trader.

Greenpeace says that Wilmar fails to monitor its suppliers, and has “refused to make the radical changes that would end its trade with forest destroyers.”

It’s not just wildlife at risk, either.

It’s claimed that Mondelez palm oil suppliers have been accused of “child labor, exploitation of workers, illegal deforestation, forest fires and land grabbing”.

“Mondelez’s new tagline, revealed in September, is ‘snacking made right’, but there’s nothing right about palm oil produced by killing orangutans and fuelling climate change,” said Richard George, Greenpeace UK Forests Campaigner.

“This must be a wake up call to Mondelez and other household brands to take action, starting with cutting off the dirtiest palm oil trader of all, Wilmar, until it can prove its palm oil is clean.

“Ultimately, if big brands can’t find enough clean palm oil to make their products, they need use to less.”

Oreo, one of the products named in the report, is a hit with vegans due to the fact that it contains zero animal products.

But the use of palm oil that contributes to the destruction of the rainforest will raise concerns about the ethics of Oreo consumption.

We spoke to Elisa Allen, director at animal welfare charity Peta, who said: “PETA supports the move towards sustainable palm oil, which doesn’t involve devastating destruction of orangutans’ homes.

“We encourage consumers to check labels on food and – if they contain palm oil – purchase products that have been certified by the Palm Oil Innovation Group in order to ensure that no new deforestation has occurred to create palm plantations,” Elisa told The Sun.

She went on: “Of course, anyone who’s serious about protecting the environment – and the animals who live in it – knows that the meat industry is responsible for an enormous amount of deforestation (for instance, 70 percent of the Amazon rainforest has been cleared for raising cattle), and we can do our part by eating a wholefoods–based vegan diet.”

Responding to the report, a Mondelez spokesperson told The Sun: “Mondelez International is committed to eradicating deforestation in the palm oil supply and we’re actively working with our suppliers to ensure palm oil is fully traceable.

“We’re calling on our suppliers to further map and monitor the plantations where oil is grown so we can drive further traceability. We’re excluding 12 upstream suppliers from our supply chain who have not met our standards.

“For many years we have been calling for 100% sustainable and 100% traceable palm oil and we’re making good progress on our Palm Oil Action Plan.

“This includes actionable steps to ensure the palm oil we buy is produced on legally held land, does not lead to deforestation or loss of peat land, respects human rights — including land and labour rights – and does not use forced or child labor.

“At the end of 2017, 96% of our palm oil was traceable back to mill and 99% was from suppliers with policies aligned to ours.

“We’re calling on our suppliers to improve practices across their entire operations and to engage their third-party suppliers to ensure their palm oil production is 100% sustainable and traceable.

“We will continue to prioritize suppliers that meet our principles, and exclude those that don’t.”

This story originally appeared in The Sun.

Oreo and Ritz Cracker Producer Drops Palm Oil Suppliers Linked to Deforestation

If you’re ecologically-minded, you probably already know how the production of palm oilravages the environment. Perhaps you’ve even been boycotting products that contain palm oil as a form of protest.

If you’ve been avoiding Oreo cookies, Cadbury candy bars, Triscuits, Chips Ahoy and Ritz Crackers for this reason, you can consider enjoying them once again.

Mondelēz International, maker of these products and many more, announced that it is dropping 12 palm oil suppliers that contribute to deforestation. The company also called for 100 percent sustainability and 100 percent transparency across the palm oil industry.

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Mondelēz International now demands that its palm oil suppliers:

  • Commit to palm oil concession mapping – Suppliers must map all mills they buy from, to identify and focus on areas of highest risk for deforestation. It also means upstream suppliers must provide “universal, group-wide concession maps” as a condition of doing business
  • Act faster to eliminate deforestation in their palm oil supply chain – This requirement mandates “time-bound remediation plans or Mondelēz International will cease contracts with upstream suppliers engaged in deforestation.”


Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil that comes from the fruit of the African oil palm tree. Though it’s technically West African in origin, the oil palm tree can grow anywhere with a tropical climate. Producers now grow this tree on vast plantations in Asia, North America and South America.

In recent years, palm oil has become a wildly popular ingredient in many products, because it’s the most efficient source of vegetable oil. Producers make a whopping 66 million tons of palm oil every year.

These days, you’ll find palm oil in 50 percent of all foods and household goods in your grocery store, including:

  • Peanut butter
  • Pizza dough
  • Microwave meals
  • Ice cream
  • Potato chips
  • Instant noodles
  • Chocolate
  • Milk
  • Cookies
  • Margarine
  • Detergent
  • Toothpaste
  • Candles
  • Body lotions
  • Makeup

In some products, palm oil adds creaminess or foaminess. In others, it adds Vitamin A. It stops pizza dough from sticking and, in shampoos, it helps restore hair’s natural oils. Palm oil is used in margarine because it’s solid at room temperature and has no trans fat.

It’s estimated that we each use products with palm oil 11 times a day. It’s tremendously useful, but the manner in which we obtain palm oil is horrifically damaging to the indigenous populations and wildlife.

  • Producers clear cut thousands of acres of tropical rainforests to make way for oil palm tree plantations.
  • Growth of these massive plantations displaces local populations, causing poverty and conflict with palm oil concession companies.
  • Endangered species like the orangutan, Sumatran elephant, Bornean Pygmy Elephant, Sumatran rhino and Sumatran tiger are losing their habitats due to palm oil-caused rainforest loss

Orangutans in particular suffer due to palm oil production. Indonesia and Malaysia, the only places where orangutans still survive in the wild, account for 85 percent of the world’s palm oil production. An estimated 50,000 orangutans have died in Indonesia because of palm oil harvesting and production.


How can you help? Shop for products that use only sustainably produced palm oil. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certifies more than 20 percent of the global palm oil supply.

Buy products carrying the RSPO label or the Green Palm label so you’ll know the palm oil used was produced sustainably or the product is transitioning to sustainability.

Photo credit: Getty Images

One Casualty of the Palm Oil Industry: An Orangutan Mother, Shot 74 Times

BUNGA TANJUNG, Indonesia — The men came at Hope and her baby with spears and guns. But she would not leave. There was no place for her to go.

When the air-gun pellets pierced Hope’s eyes, blinding her, she felt her way up the tree trunks, auburn-furred fingers searching out tropical fruit for sustenance.

By the end, Hope’s torso was slashed with deep lacerations. Multiple bones were broken. Seventy-four pellets were lodged in her body. Her months-old baby had been ripped away.

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Hope, who was named at a rehabilitation center, is a Sumatran orangutan — a critically endangered animal that scientists warn could be the first major great ape species to go extinct. As jungle and swamp are cleared for palm oil plantations, orangutans, whose name means “people of the forest” in Malay, are losing the very habitat that gives them their identity.

All around the Indonesian island of Sumatra, charred landscapes of blackened tree stumps and singed earth attest to the devastation wrought by humans.

“Twenty thousand hectares are cleared and a couple trees are left and the orangutan looks around and says, ‘What happened to my forest?’” said Ian Singleton, the director of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program.

Two nations, Indonesia and Malaysia, provide the world with more than 80 percent of the palm oil used in everything from biofuel and cooking oil to lipstick and chocolate. Last September, amid concerns over diminishing habitat for endangered species and dangerous carbon emissions from mass burnings to clear land, Indonesia stopped issuing new licenses for palm oil plantations.

But as Hope’s plight shows, directives issued in air-conditioned government offices can mean little in poor villages. The global appetite for palm oil is still voracious.

“They say there is a moratorium, but I can see with my own eyes that land is being lost every day,” said Krisna, a coordinator for the Human Orangutan Conflict Response Unit, a group based on Sumatra that has rescued more than 170 injured orangutans since 2012. (Like many Indonesians, Krisna goes by a single name.)

Orangutans live on just two islands in the world. Apart from humans, they are the only great ape species that resides outside of Africa.

From 1999 to 2015, the orangutan population on the island of Borneo declined by more than 100,000, researchers reported in Current Biology, a scientific journal. There are about 100,000 orangutans remaining on Borneo, according to the World Wildlife Fund. On Sumatra — where more than half of the forest cover has been lost since 1985, according to a coalition of environmental groups called Eyes on the Earth — there are now fewer than 14,000 Sumatran orangutans.

That might not sound like a figure heralding certain extinction. But because orangutan mothers let so much time pass between births — eight to nine years are dedicated to raising each child — scientists fear that the population is in a death spiral.

The unluckiest orangutans die in the fires set to clear the land. The more fortunate are marooned on small islands of trees among oil palms. Desperate for food, they stray into areas inhabited by humans, raiding crops and provoking villagers to act.

“They eat a couple fruit, and they get shot,” said Mr. Singleton. “And nothing’s done about it. There’s no law enforcement.”

When Hope showed up earlier this year on the outskirts of Bunga Tanjung village in Aceh Province on Sumatra, some of the earth was still smoldering. Neat rows of oil palm seedlings stretched toward the horizon. Confined to a narrow strip of secondary forest, Hope gobbled fruit from village orchards to survive.

The majority of Bunga Tanjung’s residents are not from Aceh, but are poor, economic migrants from other parts of Indonesia, lured by the demand for palm oil.

The palms, a species native to West Africa, provide essential income for often struggling farmers, even if the plants spread pernicious roots that make it difficult to till the land again.

“Without palm oil, we cannot survive,” said Sanita, the mayor of a Bunga Tanjung borough.

Over a period of weeks, villagers repeatedly shot at Hope, trying to scare her away. But with few places to go but the sliver of jungle, Hope stayed put.

A 100-pound orange ape is considered an oversized pest, but Hope’s baby held promise for some in the village. Although selling endangered species is illegal, orangutan babies are often captured for the pet trade, or for zoos in need of a star attraction.

Compared to humans or chimpanzees, orangutans are the introverts of the ape world, leading largely solitary lives. But in captivity, they have been taught sign language, and their eye contact is disarming. Their exuberant smooching noises sound suspiciously like flirting.

A big-eyed baby with tufts of coppery hair can earn villagers $70, according to local conservationists who have tracked the endangered species trade. By the time the apes are sold to unscrupulous zoos or private owners, they can go for 100 times that.

Adulthood, though, devalues the captive orangutans. They aren’t as cute. They are too strong. And few people have the time and energy to devote to such intelligent creatures, leaving many forgotten behind bars, their limbs and minds atrophied.

“We wouldn’t put a human in a cage so small they couldn’t turn around,” said Harista, a keeper at a rescue center, who once taught an orangutan to swing on his arms again after 17 years of confinement. “Why do we do this to orangutans?”

In March, a teenager from Bunga Tanjung headed for a cluster of trees. His aim: To pry Hope’s baby from her arms. Even though pellets had robbed the mother of her eyesight, Hope struggled to protect her child, leaving scratches on the boy’s arms.

But the teenager did ultimately succeed in taking the baby away, keeping it in a basket outside his home.

By the time local forestry officials were alerted to Hope’s presence and mounted a rescue effort, the baby was barely responsive, said Mr. Krisna, the coordinator for the orangutan rescue organization.

Mr. Sanita, the mayor, presented a different version of events. Hope was only in the village for a couple of days, he said, contradicting the evidence of weeks of orangutan nests built in nearby trees. No one in his village had shot her, he said, discounting the 74 pellets.

“We wouldn’t do anything to hurt orangutans, even though the orangutans bother us,” he said.

Mr. Sanita said he had no idea a baby was involved, although he later amended his story. If anyone had kidnapped a baby orangutan, he said, it would have been children.

“Adults know that taking an orangutan is illegal, so I’m sure no one in the village would do that,” he said. “Maybe it was just children playing around.”

With Hope sedated in the back of a vehicle, the baby restored to her embrace, Mr. Krisna rushed to Mr. Singleton’s rehabilitation center near the city of Medan, 10 hours away.

The baby died along the way.

A Swiss surgeon flew out to operate on Hope. (Surgeons tend to be more adept than veterinarians at ape surgery.)

Hope is now recovering in an enclosure. She has learned through touch to accept a papaya or bottle of milk from a keeper.

Nearby, orphaned orangutans whimper and squeak. When Hope hears the babies, she curls into a fetal position and cries out.

Orangutans share nearly 97 percent of their DNA sequence with humans. The remaining 3 percent do not preclude Hope from mourning her baby. Her body is still producing milk.

“Hope’s body was broken, she lost her vision and her baby, and now she’s a wild animal in a cage,” said Yenny Saraswati, a veterinarian at the center. “I can’t think of a more stressful situation.”

Back in Bunga Tanjung, Hope’s shadow lingers. The teenager, whose name is being withheld because he is a minor, has been questioned by the police, but because he’s underage it’s not clear whether he will be charged. No adults have come forward to claim responsibility for Hope’s many injuries.

The teenager has given up his dream of becoming a mechanic and rarely comes home now, according to his father, Aliong Sitepu. “He’s always in a bad mood,” Mr. Aliong said. “I don’t know how to talk to him.”

Sitting outside his wooden shack, the jungle heat oppressing every pore, Mr. Aliong wondered whether it was time to leave this place, where the fruit of an African palm had failed to make his fortune. An orange beast, he said, had cursed the family.

“Is this a fair world,” he said, “in which my son’s life is worth less than an orangutan’s?”

Muktita Suhartono contributed reporting.

Disaster in the making


Deforestation was essential for the construction of all local industries. But how ruthless is deforestation in Indonesia? How bad is its contribution to global climate change? The simple answer is: it is not just bad; it is dreadful.

The Pan-Asian independent news network, Coconuts TV, reported in 2015: “Deforestation is a major contributor to climate change, adding more carbon pollution to the atmosphere than all the world’s cars, trucks, ships, trains and airplanes combined each year. It’s also pushing many animal species to the brink of extinction, including the Sumatran rhinoceros, Sumatran tiger, Sumatran elephant, and the orangutan due to the destruction of their habitats.”

Indonesia has become the global leader in deforestation, and the reason is the world’s thirst for palm oil. Palm oil is the most widely used vegetable oil on the planet. It can be found in over half of all packaged products at the supermarket, including everything from cooking oil to lipstick.”

As early as in 2007, Greenpeace Philippines snapped at Indonesia’s unwillingness to deal with the disaster: “Indonesia destroys about 51 square kilometers of forests every day, equivalent to 300 football fields every hour — a figure, which should earn the country a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s fastest destroyer of forests… These figures demonstrate a lack of political will and power by the Indonesian government to stop runaway deforestation rates. A series of natural disasters in recent years, floods, forest fires, landslides, droughts, massive erosion are all linked to the unprecedented destruction of our forests. Forest fires from concessions and plantations have already made Indonesia the world’s third biggest contributor of greenhouse gases,” Mr. Hapsoro (Greenpeace Southeast Asia Forest campaigner) said.”

Since 2007, not much has changed. The country has already lost well over 70 percent of its intact ancient forests, and commercial logging, forest fires and new clearances for palm oil plantations threaten half of what is left. The greed seems to know no boundaries.

According to ScienceDirect“Between 1970 and the mid-1990s, export-oriented log production and global demand were the primary pressures underlying deforestation. Cultivation of rice and other crops was also found to be associated with a growing population and transmigration policy. Moreover, deregulation of foreign investment in the 1980s appears to have led to the expansion of an export-oriented industry, including commercial crop and log production. Between the mid-1990s and 2015, the imbalance between global demand and production of Indonesian timber and oil palm led to illegal or non-sustainable timber harvest and expansion of permanent agricultural areas…”

The result: Sumatra and Kalimantan islands are now choking on their own pollution, although the agony spreads far into neighboring Malaysia and Singapore. Year after year, millions of people get affected, classes are cancelled, airplanes grounded, and regular activities averted. Hundreds of thousands of people are suffering from acute respiratory infections. Hundreds lose their lives.

Some even call the unbridled ‘export of pollution’ a ‘crime against humanity.’ Emotions are running high, and many citizens of Malaysia and Singapore protest by boycotting Indonesian products.

On several occasions, I witnessed thick smog covering the skyscrapers of the leading Malaysian cities, and of Singapore. In 2015, during the ‘big fires’ of Sumatra, life in Kuala Lumpur almost came to a standstill.

This time, landing in Palembang, the haze had been covering almost the entire runway. “Visibility six kilometers,” the captain of Indonesian flagship carrier, Garuda, informed us, not long before the touchdown. In fact, the visibility appeared to be no more than 200 meters. But in Indonesia, many ‘uncomfortable facts’ are denied outright.

Throughout the following days, my eyes became watery and my joints were aching. I kept coughing uncontrollably. When I was asked by the Italian ‘5 Star Movement’ to record my political message (I did it in a local slum), I could hardly speak.

The trouble didn’t just come from the forest fires: everything here seemed to be polluting the environment: the burning of garbage, traffic jams, emissions from unregulated factories, even cigarette smoking in almost all public places.

Along the Musi River, the original forests are gone, replaced by rice fields, palm oil, and rubber plantations.