I started my palm oil journey over two years ago. In that time, I have learned a lot but the journey has not become any easier. In fact, it has become more frustrating and complex the further along I go.
I volunteer with Australian Orang-utan Project, raising money for various projects in Indonesia and Malaysia. I also volunteer with Palm Oil Action Group, which is campaign based.
I have just commenced the lofty endeavour of putting together a list of palm oil free products. It isn't as simple as it seems as even buying products that don't contain palm oil may be manufactured by companies using palm oil in other products. So, while you may be consuming a "palm oil free" product, you are still contributing to the problem.
For the record, I love Indonesia. I've not been to Malaysia, but have little doubt I would love it as well. The current system of palm oil production is no good long term for anyone. In reality, no matter what we do, someone is going to lose out. Small farmers seem to lose out in almost every scenario.
Sustainable palm oil is misleading under the current system. Imagine two farmers, on neighbouring plantations. Farmer One, is sustainable, workers are looked after, no illegal logging, no wildlife slaughtered. Farmer Two, is not sustainable, uses cheap labour, practices slash and burn techniques, logs illegally and slaughters wildlife, selling babies into the illegal pet trade.
Obviously, as conscientious consumers, we would only want to buy from Farmer One. Unfortunately it isn't that simple. The oil palm fruit from Farmer One and Farmer Two both travel to the same mill. So even if a company is buying from Farmer One, the end product is contaminated with palm oil from Farmer Two's plantation.
Ideally, a mill that only buys from sustainable plantations and greater assistance to smaller farmers to achieve sustainability would be in existence. This is a bit of a dream at the moment as the Indonesian and Malaysian governments don't have the resources to provide the sort of assistance needed.
Unfortunately in our quest to save rainforests and wildlife, such as orang-utans who are estimated to be extinct in the wild in around five years, small farmers are going to lose out. This is something I personally struggle with.