Appetite for Destruction: The Palm Oil Diaries


Producers: Felicity Mungovan & Michael Dorgan

Directors: Michael Dorgan

Presenter: Michael Dorgan



Script


Time Code

Speaker

Content

10:00:01 – 10:00:04

VO

We wash with it. We eat it for breakfast lunch and dinner.

10:00:04 – 10:00:05

VO

We brush our teeth with it.

10:00:05 – 10:00:09

VO

It's an ingredient in 50% of all packaged foods in our supermarkets.

10:00:10 – 10:00:14

VO

From bread and margarine to ice cream and biscuits, noodles and ready meals.

10:00:15 – 10:00:18

VO

But many of us don’t know what it looks like or where it comes from.

10:00:19 – 10:00:23

VO

And yet, we eat over 40 million metric tonnes of it a year.

10:00:23 – 10:00:26

VO

More than double what we ate 15 years ago.

10:00:26 – 10:00:31

VO

In Europe, China and the US imports of this unfamiliar ingredient have tripled.

10:00:31 – 10:00:37

VO

Palm oil is now the most widely used vegetable oil in the world. And it’s changing the face of the planet.

10:00:38 – 10:00:42

VO

Our massive appetite for this versatile oil has had a devastating impact on the environment.

10:00:43 – 10:00:48

VO

Demand for palm oil is ever increasing and more and more land is needed to produce it.

10:00:49 – 10:00:55

VO

Some species are now fighting for their survival as a result of the aggressive expansion of palm plantations into their habitats.

10:00:55 – 10:00:58

Glenn Motumba


Drills might become one of the animals to go extinct.

10:00:59 – 10:01:10

VO

I’m Michael Dorgan and I’m on a journey across the world to discover what impact this rapid expansion of the palm oil industry is having on the countries that produce it and on us, the people that consume it every single day.


10:01:11 – 10:01:14

Linda Main

It's hidden in foods. We don't necessarily know it’s there.

10:01:14 – 10:01:17

Gordon Nembu

It's a love story I can put it that way.

10:01:17 – 10:01:20

Hector Florez Gonzalez

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: My life has changed 100% with palm.

10:01:21 – 10:01:22

Mayan Villager

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: They’ve been threatening us.

10:01:22 – 10:01:24

Eric Ini

Bribing and corrupting people.

10:01:24 – 10:01:28

Mayan Villager

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: This village will disappear from the map.

10:01:36 – 10:01:39

VO

Palm Oil can only be cultivated 10 degrees either side of the equator.

10:01:40 – 10:01:42

VO

In the most biodiverse regions of the world.

10:01:42 – 10:01:44

VO

Indonesia is currently the biggest producer.

10:01:45 – 10:01:51

VO

But with land apparently running out in south east Asia, Africa is being labelled as the next frontier for palm oil production.

10:01:57 – 10:02:03

VO

Before palm oil was being written about in the environmental sections of broadsheet newspapers, I had no idea what it was.

10:02:04 – 10:02:07

VO

But in Cameroon, men, women and children know all about palm oil.

10:02:11 – 10:02:17

Michael Dorgan

Unlike in some countries where palm oil is purely an export crop, here in Cameroon it is part of daily life.

10:02:22 – 10:02:25

VO

Victorian runs a restaurant in Douala, Cameroon’s largest city.

10:02:26 – 10:02:31

VO

To find out more about palm, I’m helping her cook a traditional Cameroonian dish: eru.

10:02:39 – 10:02:41

Michael Dorgan

It's such hard work. It’s so much harder than it looks.

10:02:46 – 10:02:48

VO

Victorian serves her customers eru everyday.

10:02:49 – 10:02:54

VO

It contains meat, fish and vegetables and a special ingredient that gives it it’s distinctive flavour.

10:02:55 – 10:02:56

Michael Dorgan

Now for the palm oil.

10:02:56 – 10:02:57

Victorine

Yes, this is palm oil.

10:03:00 – 10:03:04

Victorine

Every day I use 5 litres of this. Every day.

10:03:05 – 10:03:08

VO

Like many people in Cameroon, Victorine uses palm oil in lots of dishes.

10:03:10 – 10:03:13

VO

Dishes originating in west and central Africa have long contained palm oil.

10:03:14 – 10:03:20

VO

Palm oil was first cultivated over 100 years ago in Cameroon, when the country was under German rule.

10:03:21 – 10:03:26

VO

But for the rest of the world, palm oil has only been included in our food for the last decade or so.

10:03:27 – 10:03:33

VO

Many of the foods that contain palm oil used to contain hydrogenated oils that produce trans-fatty acids.

10:03:34 – 10:03:35

Michael Dorgan

Bruce, nice to meet you.

10:03:36 – 10:03:41

VO

Before travelling to Cameroon, I asked a nutritional scientist why the transition was made to palm oil.

10:03:42 – 10:03:48

Professor Bruce Griffin

We soon learnt that these trans-fatty acids were particularly bad in raising blood cholesterol.

10:03:48 – 10:03:54

Professor Bruce Griffin

So palm oil was introduced as a natural substitute for these trans-fatty acids.

10:03:54 – 10:04:03

Professor Bruce Griffin

It also enables foods to carry the claim that they contain no hydrogenated vegetable oils, and in fact are zero trans.

10:04:05 – 10:04:10

VO

This zero trans label was very valuable to food companies, who didn’t want their products to appear unhealthy.

10:04:11 – 10:04:18

VO

It's a multi-billion dollar industry. Yet unlike coffee, tea or fruit many of us have no idea what or where the palm oil that we eat comes from.

10:04:20 –10:04:25

VO

I'm visiting one of Cameroon's oldest palm plantations, to find out how this lucrative oil is made.

10:04:25 – 10:04:31

Samson Orume

The first process in the harvesting operation is to bring down the bunch from the tree.

10:04:32 – 10:04:33

Samson Orume

It starts with the cutter.

10:04:34 – 10:04:41

VO

Samson, the estate manager, explains that a highly skilled cutter must search for ripe bunches of fruit and pull them down with a very long pole.

10:04:43 – 10:04:45

VO

He has targets of up to 100 bunches a day.

10:04:50 – 10:04:53

VO

Separate workers collect the bunches and any loose fruit.

10:04:58 – 10:05:03

Samson Orume

It is very valuable for us and we can not leave even a single loose fruit.

10:05:03 – 10:05:05

Michael Dorgan

You can see the oil coming out of it already.

10:05:06 – 10:05:12

VO

Next the ripe bunches and loose fruit are collected by truck to be taken to the mill for processing.

10:05:13 – 10:05:16

VO

Samson puts me in charge of getting the fruit bunches into the truck.

10:05:27 – 10:05:28

Michael Dorgan

I wanted it so badly to go in.

10:05:30 – 10:05:32

Palm Plantation Worker

That one is too big. That's what we’re saying.

10:05:38 – 10:05:39

Michael Dorgan

It went in. It did go in.

10:05:41 – 10:05:42

Michael Dorgan

Right, I’ll leave you to do the rest.

10:05:44 – 10:05:47

VO

30,000 tonnes of oil are processed at the company’s estates.

10:05:48 – 10:05:52

VO

This makes up more than 10% of all palm oil produced in Cameroon.

10:05:52 – 10:05:58

VO

To put things in context, this is the amount of palm oil consumed every one and a half days across Europe.

10:05:59 – 10:06:02

VO

Unfortunately, today the mill is not working.

10:06:04 – 10:06:07

VO

Gordon, our guide, is intent on showing me a working mill.

10:06:10 – 10:06:11

Gordon Nembu

We stop here, that's OK.

10:06:24 – 10:06:25

Michael Dorgan

What is going on here?

10:06:25 – 10:06:32

Gordon Nembu

This is a typical artisanal mill. A local mill for the production of palm oil.

10:06:32 – 10:06:33

Michael Dorgan

Using a car.

10:06:33 – 10:06:37

Gordon Nembu

A car that has been adapted. It's system has been adapted to grind instead of drive.

10:06:39 – 10:06:42

VO

Apparently artisanal mills like this one exist all around the area.

10:06:47 – 10:06:48

VO

Fruit is dried and cooked.

10:06:50 – 10:06:53

VO

Before being ground using the rear axel of an old car.

10:06:57 - 10:06:59

VO

The mulch that is produced is then pressed to make red gold.

10:07:00 – 10:07:01

VO

Palm oil.

10:07:06 – 10:07:10

VO

This red oil is often refined into a waxy, white solid.

10:07:11 – 10:07:15

VO

It’s this refined, white oil that is often used in soaps and the food we eat.

10:07:19 – 10:07:23

VO

Another place I visited before the start of my palm oil journey was Uppsala in Sweden.

10:07:26 – 10:07:30

VO

I'll be taking part in an experiment to see how palm oil affects our health.

10:07:32 – 10:07:37

VO

A team of scientists will see how eating three muffins a day containing palm oil impacts the fats in my body.

10:07:38

Michael Dorgan

Is that alright?

10:07:39

Fredrik Rosqvist

Yes.

10:07:46 – 10:07:50

VO

Fredrik Rosqvist, who is leading the experiment, has kindly made my first batch of muffins for me.

10:07:52

Michael Dorgan

That's not bad.

10:07:53 – 10:07:57

VO

I'll be back in a few weeks to find out what changes the experiment has made to my body.

10:08:03 – 10:08:07

VO

Much of the palm oil produced in Cameroon is used domestically, but this is changing.

10:08:11 – 10:08:19

Michael Dorgan

Cameroon is relatively stable compared to many of its neighbours and it's very pro foreign investment, particularly in recent years from the Chinese.

10:08:21 – 10:08:23

VO

But will foreign investment have an impact on the environment?

10:08:26 – 10:08:28

VO

To find out more, I’m heading west to Limbe.

10:08:34

Eric Ini

What’s up man?

10:08:35

Michael Dorgan

Nice to meet you.

10:08:36 – 10:08:42

VO

Eric Ini is a forest campaigner for Greenpeace Africa and is active in the fight against deforestation of his country.

10:08:43 – 10:08:55

Eric Ini

Why the companies moving or looking at Africa is because of anti-deforestation legislations that have been passed in most of the countries in south east Asia, which are very big producers of palm oil.

10:08:56 – 10:09:01

Eric Ini

Most of the west African and central African countries are giving very nice deals to these companies to come.

10:09:01 – 10:09:07

Eric Ini

Low taxes, the land is very cheap for them to come and buy and when they come they get a concession.

10:09:08 - 10:09:12

Eric Ini

What are they going to do? They’re going to cut the trees. When you cut the trees, then boom deforestation.

10:09:14 – 10:09:24

VO

For much of the twentieth century, palm oil was produced in relatively small areas of land in Cameroon, by small holders and companies owned by the government and former colonial rulers, France.

10:09:25 – 10:09:27

VO

But land used for palm is rapidly increasing.

10:09:27 – 10:09:36

VO

In 2010 a Chinese company set up large scale operations that now mean they account for over 40% of plantations owned by major companies in Cameroon.

10:09:37 – 10:09:47

VO

Whilst Cameroonian companies are looking to make modest expansions, plans are underway for American, Indian and Malaysian companies to create huge, new plantations.

10:09:48 - 10:09:54

VO

If plans go ahead, the land covered by plantations will increase from around 200,000 hectares to over 1 million.

10:09:55 – 10:09:58

VO

That's the equivalent of two and a half million football pitches.

10:09:59 – 10:10:01

Michael Dorgan

What makes Cameroon so attractive?

10:10:02 – 10:10:11

Eric Ini

They came here, not only for stability, they came here because they know it is easy to overlook certain things by using your money and bribing and corrupting people.

10:10:13 – 10:10:18

VO

The government is welcoming investment in palm oil, it hopes production will increase fifty per cent in the next five years.

10:10:19 – 10:10:27

VO

But I’m visiting Limbe Wildlife Centre where they're experiencing, first hand, the consequences of rainforest being turned into plantation.

10:10:29 – 10:10:34

VO

Gorillas have been the face of environmental campaigns to reduce deforestation in central and west Africa.

10:10:35 – 10:10:40

VO

But it is another vital primate that faces extinction because of palm oil expansion.

10:10:42 – 10:10:47

VO

Drills are an endangered species of monkey. Closely related to baboons and mandrills.

10:10:48 – 10:10:54

VO

They only exist across a tiny part of the world, covering parts of Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon.

10:10:55 – 10:10:58

VO

However, they are vital at maintaining the forest for other animals.

10:11:00 – 10:11:11

Glenn Motumba


The drills help to expand the forest. As they walk through the forest their feed on different fruit, vegetables and seeds. They help to spread these seeds.

10:11:11 – 10:11:15

Michael Dorgan

The drills are like anti-deforestation mobilisers in a way.

10:11:15 – 10:11:18

Glenn Motumba


Yes, that's very true. Because drills help build our forests.

10:11:19 – 10:11:26

Michael Dorgan

Looking at map you see forest, forest, forest, forest and then big areas of planned plantation. How does that make you feel?

10:11:27 – 10:11:29

Glenn Motumba


Yeah, when I look at the present situation I get worried.

10:11:30 – 10:11:40

Glenn Motumba


If these companies carry out their exploitations, then the drill monkeys are going to suffer and other animals that rely on the drills are going to suffer.

10:11:41 – 10:11:48

Glenn Motumba


It's just like taking one major player out of the game. Things will not be balanced.

10:11:51 – 10:11:54

Glenn Motumba


Drills might become one of the animals to go extinct.

10:11:58 – 10:12:06

VO

Unfortunately, for the drills and other forest animals research shows that land suitable for palm plantations in Cameroon totals 8.3 million hectares.

10:12:06 – 10:12:09

VO

Over forty times the size of land being used currently.

10:12:10 – 10:12:16

VO

To put things in context, that’s land a third of the size of the United Kingdom and 68 times the size of New York City.

10:12:18 – 10:12:23

Michael Dorgan

This river here forms a natural barrier between plantation on one side and national forest on the other.

10:12:24 - 10:12:29

Michael Dorgan

Within a kilometre of here there are elephants. You can see how close these two different uses of land are.

10:12:30 – 10:12:39

Michael Dorgan

This plantation itself has been here twenty years longer. But the new plantations that are coming, with the foreign companies, border not just one forest, but several.

10:12:44 – 10:12:51

VO

One example is in the south region of Cameroon, where the Chinese-owned Hevea Sud concessions border the Dja Faunal Reserve.

10:12:52 – 10:13:00

VO

Satellite images show that more than 3,000 hectares of rainforest have already been destroyed in the three years of monitoring the Hevea Sud Concessions.

10:13:01 – 10:13:07

VO

The Dja Reserve that the concession borders is a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to the Western Lowland Gorilla.

10:13:08 - 10:13:13

VO

An animal on the WWF’s list of less than twenty species classed as critically endangered.

10:13:16 – 10:13:20

Gordon Nembu

This is where we lived. I lived here with my parents. I actually grew up here.

10:13:21 – 10:13:25

Gordon Nembu

Right up until I went to college because at that time there wasn’t any college here.

10:13:27 - 10:13:31

VO

Gordon’s father was instrumental in the growth of palm oil production in the 1970s.

10:13:31 – 10:13:37

VO

And he has seen the changes to the area first hand, giving him a unique view point on this controversial oil.

10:13:39 – 10:13:45

Gordon Nembu

It's a love story, I can put it that way. It’s intertwined, it’s just some love story. Not only me, but my entire family.

10:13:46 - 10:13:55

Michael Dorgan

So it's very different I suppose to what I think a lot of people think of palm oil. They think about deforestation, orang-utans, but for you it's been completely different.

10:13:56 – 10:13:58

Gordon Nembu

Completely different for me. Completely different.

10:13:59 – 10:14:06

VO

Cameroonian palm oil companies, like the one Gordon's father worked for, have modest plantations in comparison to their foreign counterparts.

10:14:07 – 10:14:10

VO

And many have not made major expansions over the last fifty years.

10:14:11 – 10:14:17

Michael Dorgan

So this plantation here, itself, even when you were a child it’s boundaries are the same?

10:14:17 – 10:14:18

Gordon Nembu

Even before I was born.

10:14:20 – 10:14:22

Michael Dorgan

And what was it like growing up on a plantation?

10:14:22 - 10:14:27

Gordon Nembu

It's only when I left here that I knew that utility bills were being paid in Cameroon.

10:14:28 – 10:14:35

Gordon Nembu

All utilities were free. Water, electricity and everything were free of charge for all PAMOL employees.

10:14:36 – 10:14:45

Gordon Nembu

Medical care 100% free. As I speak to you now, my younger sister just gave birth in a PAMOL hospital to twins a few days back and she's still there.

10:14:46 – 10:14:47

Michael Dorgan

Your sister’s still at the hospital here?

10:14:47

Gordon Nembu

Yes.

10:14:48 – 10:14:50

Michael Dorgan

Ok, well let's go and see this hospital then.

10:14:50 – 10:14:51

Gordon Nembu

Yeah, that will be a great idea.

10:14:54 – 10:14:59

VO

As soon as I arrive at the company hospital a young doctor insists I visit his paediatric ward.

10:15:00 – 10:15:03

Young Doctor

Here we have a child we are treating for severe malaria.

10:15:04 – 10:15:07

Young Doctor

More than 90% of our admission cases are due to malaria.

10:15:09 - 10:15:16

VO

Approximately 10% of deaths in Cameroon are from malaria. And in children under five years old, it's double that at one in five.

10:15:17 – 10:15:21

Michael Dorgan

What difference is this hospital making in terms of the number of cases of malaria in the local area?

10:15:23 – 10:15:29

Young Doctor

The number of deaths due to malaria have quite been reduced to almost nothing, especially in this hospital.

10:15:30 - 10:15:34


For the past two months that we have been here, we have not had any deaths, which is a good sign we are doing a good job.

10:15:35 – 10:15:39

VO

Meanwhile Gordon is meeting his little sister’s new born twins for the first time.

10:15:42

Gordon Nembu

Jesus Christ.

10:15:43 – 10:15:52

VO

While for most people across the world palm oil is an environmental news story, Gordon wants to show me that it is an essential thread in the fabric of life for the people he grew up with.

10:15:53

Michael Dorgan

Where are we going?

10:15:54

Wine Tapper

We are going to tap.

10:15:55

Michael Dorgan

To tap?


10:15:56 - 10:15:57

Wine Tapper

Yes. Palm wine.

10:15:57 - 10:15:58

Michael Dorgan

Ok, palm wine.

10:16:00

VO

Alfred tells me he is the local winemaker.

10:16:04

Wine Tapper

Here is the tap.

10:16:05

Michael Dorgan

This is where you tap?

10:16:06

Wine Tapper

Yes.

10:16:08 - 10:16:10

Michael Dorgan

So this was a palm tree you’ve cut down?

10:16:10

Wine Tapper

Yes.


10:16:12 - 10:16:16

VO

Alfred taps the fallen trees for alcoholic liquid, known as palm wine.

10:16:18 - 10:16:20

Michael Dorgan

So here it's already dripping out.

10:16:21 - 10:16:23

Michael Dorgan

So we’re losing valuable wine.

10:16:25 - 10:16:28

VO

After shaving back the tree, wine drips out into a bucket.

10:16:29 - 10:16:32

VO

The longer the wine is left, the more alcoholic it becomes.

10:16:33 - 10:16:34

Michael Dorgan

The colours a little bit…

10:16:40 - 10:16:41

Michael Dorgan

It's quite nice.

10:16:42 - 10:16:44

Michael Dorgan

It does actually taste like white wine.

10:16:44

Wine Tapper

Yes.

10:16:48 - 10:16:52

VO

Unlike wine from a grape, palm wine is produced not once a year but twice a day.

10:16:52 - 10:16:55

VO

And Alfred has lots of customers waiting for his latest delivery.

10:16:58 - 10:17:07

VO

At Alfred’s wine bar, Gordon is telling me about growing up here, and it turns out that, even though the local company has not extended its borders, there has actually been rapid deforestation in the area.

10:17:09 - 10:17:12

Gordon Nembu

Basically, there has been an increase in the population.

10:17:13 - 10:17:18

Gordon Nembu

These populations need to be fed, they need more farmlands, so they attack the forests.

10:17:19 - 10:17:25

Gordon Nembu

So that’s why planting palm, today, is also on the rise. And a very steep rise.

10:17:26 – 10:17:35

Michael Dorgan

So the smallholder increase is what’s driven back that border between what was forest and land used by humans?

10:17:35 - 10:17:41

Gordon Nembu

Palm oil is a very lucrative activit. As people make more money from it they want to acquire more land.

10:17:42 - 10:17:47

Gordon Nembu

So to get wildlife now you really have to go deep, deep, deep into the forest.

10:17:50 – 10:17:58

Michael Dorgan

Spending time in this village and in the surrounding areas, palm oil has pervaded every aspect of life, from small holders to wine tapping and wine bars.

10:17:58 - 10:18:04

Michael Dorgan

Obviously, there is the impact on the environment and that is a concern as the line of forest goes further and further and deeper and deeper.

10:18:05 - 10:18:15

Michael Dorgan

But as companies are coming in from abroad that want to export palm oil, certainly given the scale of their operations, the impact on the environment is going to be devastating.

10:18:22 - 10:18:24

VO

It's midnight the night before I’m scheduled to leave Cameroon.

10:18:26 - 10:18:32

VO


And I've managed to get a last minute meeting with Set Ekwadi Songue, the government’s delegate for environment in the region I've been visiting.

10:18:32 – 10:18:38

Michael Dorgan

Is there any conflict for you between the environment and trying to protect wildlife, and development?

10:18:39 - 10:18:42

Set Ekwadi Songue

Subtitled in English due to strong accent as: Yes, there's a conflict.

10:18:43 - 10:18:48

Set Ekwadi Songue

Subtitled in English due to strong accent as: Some companies are environmentally friendly. They know and they are trying to do their best.

10:18:48 – 10:18:52

Set Ekwadi Songue

Subtitled in English due to strong accent as: The other ones they don't know and even when they know, they don't want to do their best.

10:18:52 – 10:18:59

Set Ekwadi Songue

Subtitled in English due to strong accent as: For example, if you come here and you don't do the impact assessment at the beginning, we have the fine of five million.

10:19:00 – 10:19:02

Michael Dorgan

Five million francs?

10:19:01 - 10:19:03

Set Ekwadi Songue

Five million francs.

10:19:03 - 10:19:09

Set Ekwadi Songue

And now if you do it and you do not respect it again, after one year then we can fine you again, five million.

10:19:09 - 10:19:16

Michael Dorgan

It's obviously great that you've got sanctions, but it seems to me that the amount you're able to fine companies is not very much.

10:29:17 - 10:29:22

Michael Dorgan

I mean if you think, five million francs to us is just over five thousand pounds.

10:19:22 - 10:19:24

Michael Dorgan

For an individual it's a lot of money.

10:19:25 - 10:19:31

Michael Dorgan

But for a company, that's making more than that a day, it's quite a cheap price to pay to continue bad environmental practices.

10:19:32 - 10:19:33

Set Ekwadi Songue

Subtitled in English due to strong accent as: To pollute…

10:19:34 - 10:19:35

Set Ekwadi Songue

Subtitled in English due to strong accent as: Yeah that’s true.

10:19:36 - 10:19:39

Set Ekwadi Songue

Subtitled in English due to strong accent as: In 2005 there was not a ministry in charge of the environment.

10:19:40 - 10:19:42

Set Ekwadi Songue

It's a new problem in Africa.

10:19:44 - 10:19:46

VO

Palm oil expansion is a global issue.

10:19:47 - 10:19:49

VO

And it's not just the environment that is being affected.

10:19:53 - 10:19:55

VO

My next stop is Guatemala, in central America.

10:19:56 – 10:19:59

VO

A country where palm oil production has increased eight fold in the last decade.

10:20:01 – 10:20:10

VO

Of the palm oil exported here a quarter of it is bought by European countries and nearly half of it goes to Mexico, which uses the oil in many packaged foods which are sold in the USA.

10:20:12 – 10:20:19

VO

But this booming industry has come at a cost to indigenous Mayan communities who have traditionally owned the land now wanted for palm plantations.

10:20:21 – 10:20:30

VO

Stories have emerged of intimidation and underhand tactics being used by local companies who want to acquire the land that has belonged to Mayan people for thousands of years.

10:20:31 – 10:20:32

VO

I've come to investigate.

10:20:33 – 10:20:40

VO

My first appointment is a meeting with a local Mayan community, who feel their way of life is under threat from companies coercing them to sell their land.

10:20:42 - 10:20:46

Local Mayan Lady 1

Subtitled in English from local Mayan language as: People who still have land, do us a favour and please do not sell your land.

10:20:47 – 10:20:51

Michael Dorgan

I notice that everywhere around that you look you see African palm.

10:20:52 – 10:20:54

Michael Dorgan

Obviously, it hasn't always been like this. Why has it changed?

10:20:55 – 10:21:04

Local Mayan Lady 2

Subtitled in English from local Mayan language as: People were forced to sell their land because the companies buy the land next to the road and those with land inside can't get out and are forced to sell.

10:21:04 - 10:21:07

Local Mayan Lady 2

Subtitled in English from local Mayan language as: People can’t cultivate their crops here.

10:21:07 – 10:21:10

Local Mayan Lady 2

Subtitled in English from local Mayan language as: The companies divert rivers.

10:21:10 – 10:21:11

Local Mayan Lady 3

Subtitled in English from local Mayan language as: There's no water.

10:21:12 – 10:21:13

Michael Dorgan

Are you expected to sell your land?

10:21:14 – 10:21:17

Local Mayan Man 1

Subtitled in English from local Mayan language as: I have the right to live here as a Guatemalan.

10:21:18 – 10:21:20

Local Mayan Man 1

Subtitled in English from local Mayan language as: Almost everyone is scared.

10:21:21 – 10:21:24

Local Mayan Man 1

Subtitled in English from local Mayan language as: People are saying they are going to kick us out.

10:21:24 – 10:21:27

Local Mayan Man 1

Subtitled in English from local Mayan language as: They've been threatening us.

10:21:37 – 10:21:43

Michael Dorgan

Meeting that community back there, to be honest, was pretty heartbreaking. You can see the plantations are encroaching upon their land.

10:21:43 – 10:21:49

Michael Dorgan

For some people they've sold their land, others are resisting selling which means violence against them and division between families.

10:21:51 – 10:21:55

VO

The community tell me that this is not the first time that they are fighting for their existence.

10:21:57 – 10:22:01

VO

They see palm oil expansion as the latest threat in a series of threats to their existence.

10:22:01 – 10:22:09

VO

Starting with being colonised by the Spanish in the 1500s and, before palm, a thirty six year long civil war that only ended in 1996.

10:22:11 – 10:22:18

Julio

The Guatemalan government declared, publicly, that the enemy, the internal enemy, of the Guatemalan government was the people.

10:22:20 – 10:22:21

Julio

And mainly the indigenous people.

10:22:22 – 10:22:30

VO

It turns out Julio, our driver, was an active member of the resistance who saw firsthand the atrocities carried out against the Mayan population.

10:22:31 – 10:22:41

Julio

Every time we hear in the news that there was a body left on the side of a road or in a ravine we would go out there are look for our compañeros.

10:22:42 – 10:22:51

Julio

Most of the bodies that we found, men, women all tortured, in pieces. It was not possible to recognise them.

10:22:53 – 10:23:02

VO

US President Eisenhower authorised the CIA to back a coup in 1954 that led to Guatemala’s democratically elected president being replaced by a military dictator.

10:23:03 – 10:23:12

VO

The country descended into conflict as a series of US-backed authoritarian governments brutally suppressed the Mayan population, who were seen as communist sympathisers.

10:23:14 – 10:23:18

Julio

460 villages just wiped out of the map.

10:23:20 – 10:23:31

VO

While palm oil plantations are, indeed, replacing Mayan settlements, to an outsider it would seem bold to compare the massive expansion of palm plantations in the last decade to a 36 year civil war.

10:23:32 – 10:23:42

VO

To find out why some Mayan people make this comparison, I’m meeting two survivors of the armed conflict who now work with Mayan communities affected by expansion of industry into their land.

10:23:43 – 10:23:49

Genaro Fabián Gregorio

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: In the case of Marcelino, who is from Cuarto Pueblo, there was a massacre of the community.

10:23:49 – 10:23:52

Genaro Fabián Gregorio

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: More than 400 people died.

10:23:53 – 10:23:58

Genaro Fabián Gregorio

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: We were accused of being guerrillas and communists. We were persecuted for that.

10:23:58 – 10:24:10

Genaro Fabián Gregorio

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: Today, when people resist and oppose megaprojects, they are accused of being terrorists, of opposing state development.

10:24:10 – 10:24:13

Genaro Fabián Gregorio

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: This way, their fights for rights are criminalised.

10:24:13 – 10:24:20

Genaro Fabián Gregorio

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: There are leaders currently in jail for defending their territory, just for defending their land.

10:24:26 – 10:24:28

Michael Dorgan

Listening to those guys, Julio, did it sound all too familiar?

10:24:29 – 10:24:42

Julio

Yes, the government always portrayed them as enemies of the state, accused of being communists, for being guerrillas, and they were a civil population.

10:24:48 – 10:24:55

VO

A UN Truth Commission in 1999, indeed, found that Mayan people were not enemies of the state but victims of a genocide.

10:24:57 – 10:25:00

VO

The majority of the perpetrators have never stood trial for their crimes.

10:25:09 – 10:25:14

VO

It appears there's a link between Guatemala’s violent past and how the country operates today.

10:25:15 – 10:25:21

VO

To find out more, I'm in the town of Chisec to speak with an ex-plantation worker, who used to work for one of the local palm oil companies.

10:25:22 – 10:25:28

Michael Dorgan

He doesn't want to go on camera because he fears what may happen to him if he does, but he has agreed to be interviewed anonymously.

10:25:32 – 10:25:36

Anonymous Interviewee

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: In the palm companies there is a total violation of human rights.

10:25:36 – 10:25:46

Anonymous Interviewee

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: One has to drink water from puddles, even if they have been urinated in and trodden through.

10:25:46 – 10:25:52

Anonymous Interviewee

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: One is not given protection when applying chemicals.

10:25:53 – 10:26:02

Anonymous Interviewee

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: For us, the indigenous, they simply see us as working animals that last from the age of 18 to 40.

10:26:12 – 10:26:22

Michael Dorgan

What I've learnt so far in Guatemala is this spiky, fleshy fruit, it's associated with conflict, race relations and, potentially, for many indigenous communities, a loss of a way of life.

10:26:23 – 10:26:27

VO

Mayan people make up the overwhelming majority of the rural population.

10:26:28 – 10:26:35

VO

While all the Mayan people I have met so far seem to think palm oil is negatively affecting their communities, they are fearful to resist its expansion.

10:26:36 – 10:26:40

VO

I want to find out how local palm oil companies are maintaining their authority.

10:26:42 – 10:26:44

Michael Dorgan

As a security person, were you trained to use arms?

10:26:45 – 10:26:49

José Alfredo Mucú Coc

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: There was no training. We were only given guns.

10:26:49 - 10:26:55

José Alfredo Mucú Coc

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: A 12-gauge shotgun and a 38mm revolver.

10:26:56 – 10:27:02

José Alfredo Mucú Coc

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: We were hired immediately. We could start the next day, without signing any papers.

10:27:02 – 10:27:07

José Alfredo Mucú Coc

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: And we weren't told who the owners of the company were.

10:27:08 – 10:27:14

José Alfredo Mucú Coc

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: I worked 24 hours on, 24 hours off. I was never given time off.

10:27:15 – 10:27:19

José Alfredo Mucú Coc

José Alfredo was fired when he asked why his wages of 12 dollars a day were late.

10:27:20 – 10:27:28

José Alfredo Mucú Coc

He is part of the El Prado community who have sold the majority of their land to one of the country's largest palm oil companies: Palmas del Ixcán.

10:27:29 – 10:27:34

Local Mayan Man 1

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: The company promised jobs to those who agreed to sell their land.

10:27:34 – 10:27:36

Local Mayan Man 1

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: But now they won't employ them.

10:27:37 – 10:27:47

Local Mayan Man 2

Subtitled in English from local Mayan language as: At night, the company on the other side of the river throws their waste in the river and contaminates it.

10:27:48 – 10:27:55

Local Mayan Man 2

Subtitled in English from local Mayan language as: And in that sacred river are many species of fish. Now they are dying because of the actions of the company.

10:27:56 – 10:28:01

Local Mayan Man 2

Subtitled in English from local Mayan language as: The situation we are facing with palm is creating many problems.

10:28:02 – 10:28:07

Local Mayan Man 2

Subtitled in English from local Mayan language as: It’s creating many illnesses.

10:28:08 – 10:28:10

Local Mayan Lady 4

Subtitled in English from local Mayan language as: When a baby is born, many times they get lots of illnesses.

10:28:11 – 10:28:15

Local Mayan Lady 4

Subtitled in English from local Mayan language as: The problem is increased by the monoculture crop.

10:28:16 – 10:28:21

Local Mayan Lady 4

Subtitled in English from local Mayan language as: When the children are sick, they have fevers, vomiting and everything.

10:28:22 – 10:28:29

Local Mayan Lady 4

Subtitled in English from local Mayan language as: When the children get older, sometimes they don't receive treatment.

10:28:30 – 10:28:37

Local Mayan Lady 4

Subtitled in English from local Mayan language as: There is no medicine. That's what nurses say: there is no medicine.

10:28:38 – 10:28:39

Local Mayan Man 3

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: There's lots of logging.

10:28:40 – 10:28:42

Local Mayan Man 3

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: There's no wood to build houses anymore.

10:28:43 – 10:28:53

Local Mayan Man 3

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: The trend here is that, in 10 or 15 years, this village will disappear from the map.

10:29:09 – 10:29:13

Michael Dorgan

I've just been speaking to the community over here and they say this river channel here, it never used to exist.

10:29:14 – 10:29:16

Michael Dorgan

Over this side here is their land.

10:29:17 – 10:29:21

Michael Dorgan

And all the way this side, as far as the eye can see, is African palm.

10:29:22 – 10:29:28

Michael Dorgan

They tell me that all they can produce now is corn this size because this river channel here has dried up their land.

10:29:29 – 10:29:39

VO

Statistics show that the amount of land in Guatemala used for palm plantations is rapidly increasing and, at the same time, production of staple crops, like corn, is steadily decreasing.

10:29:40 – 10:29:43

VO

This means the country is producing less food for its people.

10:29:43 – 10:29:48

VO

In fact Guatemala is importing more corn than it has at any time in the last 50 years.

10:29:50 – 10:29:58

VO

This is not a promising sign as half the population live below the poverty line and over a quarter of people here live on less than two dollars a day.

10:29:58 – 10:30:03

Corn Seller

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: Without corn, I think we would die of hunger.

10:30:03 - 10:30:09

Corn Seller

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: In Guatemala, the majority of people eat corn. And this is what we live on.

10:30:09 – 10:30:12

Corn Seller

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: More than anything, it is our soul.

10:30:18 – 10:30:26

VO

Poverty is increasing in Guatemala. For many the last resort is to leave their homeland. As a result over one million Guatemalans now live in the USA.

10:30:27 – 10:30:33

VO

But for those who stay can anything be done to limit the destruction of communities caused by palm oil expansion?

10:30:35 – 10:30:47

VO

Gumercindo Reyes is a local mayor who is trying to fight the companies on behalf of the people of Raxruhá, a town in the heart of what is now palm oil country.

10:30:44 – 10:30:49

Gumercindo Reyes

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: It's a new crop. There is still no regulation on it.

10:30:51 – 10:30:56

Gumercindo Reyes

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: So, we created a very small local tax.

10:30:56 – 10:31:07

Gumercindo Reyes

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: Two months after the law became effective, the palm oil companies, through their industry body, clocked the law in Guatemalan court.

10:31:08 - 10:31:11

Gumercindo Reyes

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: They stopped us from enforcing the law.

10:31:12 – 10:31:17

Gumercindo Reyes

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: We haven't received a single payment from any of the palm oil companies.

10:31:30 - 10:31:36

Michael Dorgan

And to think, having spoken to the mayor, that whole truck he wanted to tax ten pounds.

10:31:37 - 10:31:41

Michael Dorgan

It's not very much considering how much these companies are making out of this local area.

10:31:43 - 10:31:50

VO

I'm heading to the capital, Guatemala City, to find answers about who is running these seemingly powerful palm oil companies.

10:31:51 - 10:32:01

VO

Having been refused an interview with the organisation that represents Guatemala's palm oil industry, I’m increasingly suspicious about who is behind the suppression of the communities that I visited.

10:32:02 – 10:32:12

VO

I'm meeting Fernando Solís, a journalist from El Observador, a magazine that spreads information about the secretive and often exploitative actions of the country's most powerful industries.

10:32:13 - 10:32:20

VO

Little is written about palm oil in mainstream press in Guatemala, due to legal restrictions on press freedom and intimidation of critical journalists.

10:32:21 - 10:32:29

Fernando Solís

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: Who are the owners? In Guatemala, there are six or seven families that control all palm plantations.

10:32:29 - 10:32:37

Fernando Solís

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: These are not new families. These families used to plant coffee. Then, they planted sugar cane.

10:32:37 - 10:32:46

Fernando Solís

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: Palm oil is a recent investment, but represents a continuation of Guatemala’s history.

10:32:47 - 10:32:51

Michael Dorgan

Your publication helps the people find out more about where money is going within Guatemala.

10:32:52 - 10:32:57

Michael Dorgan

How easy is it to publish a publication like that given that power is in the hands of very few within this country?

10:32:57 - 10:33:02

Fernando Solís

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: There have been attacks against community leaders.

10:33:03 - 10:33:13

Fernando Solís

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: With all that we have published and for our work with communities, we think, yes, we are being monitored.

10:33:14 - 10:33:16

Fernando Solís

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: We are in the crosshairs, let's say.

10:33:17 - 10:33:25

VO

Palm oil plays an integral role in the denial of human rights in Guatemala, it's also a driving force behind deforestation.

10:33:26 - 10:33:27

VO

But, can it be a force for good?

10:33:28 - 10:33:34

VO

To find out, I’m travelling to a country that is currently in civil conflict and has been for the last half a century.

10:33:36 - 10:33:41

VO

Colombia's conflict is centred on a battle between left-wing guerrilla organisations and right-wing paramilitary groups.

10:33:42 - 10:33:47

VO

Guerrilla and paramilitary groups have grown massively in size and power, as have drug cartels.

10:33:49 - 10:33:52

VO

Colombia became strangled by a culture of fear, violence and corruption.

10:34:05 - 10:34:11

VO

As a result of the violence, Colombia has the most internally displaced people of any nation, apart from Syria.

10:34:14 - 10:34:17

VO

Times are changing. Colombia is still officially in conflict.

10:34:17 - 10:34:24

VO

Though, demobilisation of paramilitaries and peace talks between the government and guerrilla groups mean Colombia is safer than it's been in living memory.

10:34:45 - 10:34:52

VO

In Guatemala I witnessed how the repression and discrimination of the armed conflict has been transferred over to the palm oil industry.

10:34:53 - 10:34:58

VO

I want to see if the story is any different here, in Colombia, a country synonymous with guerrilla warfare and drug trafficking.

10:35:00 - 10:35:08

VO

In search of a positive story about palm oil, I need to head to the countryside and into a former red zone - the name given to no-go areas.

10:35:10 - 10:35:18

Michael Dorgan

This area that we're driving through was one of the most dangerous in Colombia, where, as a result of the presence of guerrillas and paramilitaries, murders and kidnappings were common place.

10:35:50 - 10:35:53

Michael Dorgan

I'm at Oleoflores, which is a large, family-owned company.

10:35:54 - 10:36:01

Michael Dorgan

In Guatemala we saw that some of these big, family-owned plantations, they were the ones responsible for some of the worst inequalities and treatment of workers.

10:36:02 - 10:36:04

Michael Dorgan

So I want to see if the story is any different, here in Colombia.

10:36:06 - 10:36:11

VO

I'm meeting the general manager, Carlos Murgas. He's also the great-grandson of Oleoflores’s founder.

10:36:12 - 10:36:16

VO

And has seen his country and his family's company change dramatically over his lifetime.

10:36:18 - 10:36:22

Michael Dorgan

Now the country's moving in a better direction, but what was it like before? What was it like to live here?

10:36:23 - 10:36:30

Carlos Murgas

When I was three years up to when I was twenty-one, twenty-two, we had to go in a private aeroplane to our fields.

10:36:31 - 10:36:39

Carlos Murgas

We could only be five to six hours because the guerrilla were advancing towards where we were and now we see a very different thing.

10:36:39 - 10:36:43

Carlos Murgas

I come out of my house everyday, I drive for an hour and a half alone.

10:36:45 - 10:36:50

VO

Rather than forget the violent past, Carlos is keen to tackle the problems that the conflict has left.

10:36:50 - 10:36:58

Carlos Murgas

With the American Embassy we did a program replacing 350 hectares of coca for 1,000 hectares of palm.

10:36:59 - 10:37:08

Carlos Murgas

The most important part of that is that there are some former paramilitary and guerrilla which are farmers or are working inside the fields of the small holders.

10:37:08 - 10:37:13

Carlos Murgas

They’re getting paid every month at international prices, they are shareholders.

10:37:14 - 10:37:18

Michael Dorgan

How easy is it, though, for someone who is at the bottom to go to the top?

10:37:18 - 10:37:28

Carlos Murgas

When you ask that question, I would refer a smallholder that we have. Hector is a guy who must be employing around thirty to forty people a month.

10:37:29 - 10:37:30

Carlos Murgas

He makes more than I do.

10:37:34 - 10:37:37

VO

I'm always wary of a manager’s glowing endorsement of someone he employs, I want to meet Hector for myself.

10:37:38 - 10:37:40

Michael Dorgan

Hector, tell me what life was like growing up in this area?

10:37:41 - 10:37:44

Hector Florez Gonzalez

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: In terms of poverty, here in Maria La Baja, it was very poor.

10:37:45 - 10:37:52

Hector Florez Gonzalez

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: First came the guerrillas. Then the paramilitaries. They were fighting each other. And both of them were against us.

10:37:52 - 10:37:58

Hector Florez Gonzalez

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: I used to have a house down there. That house was destroyed by guerrillas.

10:37:58 - 10:38:05

Michael Dorgan

Personally, that must have been incredibly difficult and also economically to try and have a farm here. Is this your land here?

10:38:05 - 10:38:06

Hector Florez Gonzalez

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: Yes, this is my land. Let's go inside.

10:38:13 - 10:38:21

Hector Florez Gonzalez

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: I used to plant rice in this plot. Every four months I had to repair the land, buy more seeds and plant them.

10:38:21 - 10:38:29

Hector Florez Gonzalez

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: With palm it's not like that. I planted once seventeen years ago and I'm harvesting from that same plantation.

10:38:29 - 10:38:37

Hector Florez Gonzalez

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: 20, 30 years of planting rice and we were the same old poor people. Now, it's different. You have money every month.

10:38:39 - 10:38:49

VO

Reliable harvests and a long term contract with Oleoflores means Hector has been able to expand the land he owns, grow other crops and set up a delivery service, transporting the crops of neighbouring farmers.

10:38:51 - 10:38:55

VO

Hector is proud of his land, but he wants to show me the benefits of his recent change in fortune.

10:39:02

Michael Dorgan

So this is your place?

10:39:02 - 10:39:04

Hector Florez Gonzalez

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: Yes, this is my house. Please come in.

10:39:06 - 10:39:07

Michael Dorgan

Lots of kids here.

10:39:08 - 10:39:11

Hector Florez Gonzalez

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: Thats my son, son, son, the friend of my son.

10:39:11 - 10:39:15

Hector Florez Gonzalez

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: I have fifteen children. Three here and twelve that are grown up.

10:39:19 - 10:39:27

Hector Florez Gonzalez

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: This is the house. The living room, the dining room, the kitchen and the room where my wife washes up.

10:39:28

Michael Dorgan

The washing up.

10:39:31 - 10:39:33

Michael Dorgan

What difference has growing palm made to your life?

10:39:34 - 10:39:36

Hector Florez Gonzalez

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: My life has changed 100% with palm.

10:39:37 - 10:39:43

Michael Dorgan

And before there was palm in this area what would you have had to do to get a place like this and support your family?

10:39:43 - 10:39:49

Hector Florez Gonzalez

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: Before palm, we would have had to emigrate. To Venezuela and other countries.

10:39:50 - 10:39:56

Michael Dorgan

Do you think without jobs and economic prosperity in this area people would get involved in illegal activities?

10:39:56 - 10:40:05

Hector Florez Gonzalez

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: Ten of my fifteen children are men. They would each have a rifle in the mountains, trying to become a guerrilla or paramilitary.

10:40:05 - 10:40:11

Hector Florez Gonzalez

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: But since they have enough to eat, they don't have to become delinquents, but can study.

10:40:14 - 10:40:21

VO

The children of palm growers are not the only ones to benefit. Palm companies across the region pull their profits together to fund this local school.

10:40:22 - 10:40:26

VO

I've been invited to take part in a craft workshop organised for local young women.

10:40:34

Michael Dorgan

There we go.

10:40:34 - 10:40:36

Crafts Teacher

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: That's very good. Excellent

10:40:37

Michael Dorgan

Gracias.

10:40:39

Michael Dorgan

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: Everything?

10:40:40

Crafts Teacher

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: Yes, two metres.

10:40:42 - 10:40:43

Michael Dorgan

So are you selling these?

10:40:44 - 10:40:53

Crafts Teacher

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: Yes, this is a scheme to empower young women by selling products and improving their quality of life.

10:40:57 - 10:40:58

Michael Dorgan

Are you sure that's for a man?

10:40:58

Crafts Teacher

Yes.

10:41:03 - 10:41:11

VO

As well as giving young women extra incomes, Heidi, the foundations director tells me that they provide a variety of academic and technical classes.

10:41:12 - 10:41:21

Heidi

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: We currently have a scholarship program. At the moment, we have thirty young people studying at universities across the country in a range of different subjects.

10:41:21 - 10:41:22

Michael Dorgan

And it's completely free?

10:41:22 - 10:41:24

Heidi

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: Yes, completely free.

10:41:26 - 10:41:33

VO

I get the sense that real change is happening, but I want to understand how palm oil fits into the bigger picture of a changing Colombia.

10:41:38 - 10:41:43

VO

These coastguards are on the frontline of the battle to reduce drugs and arms trafficking through the port of Cartagena.

10:41:43 - 10:41:46

VO

Before we talk, they want to show me how they do their work.

10:41:48 - 10:41:52

Coastguard

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: Good afternoon, captain. It's the national army. This is a routine inspection.

10:41:56 - 10:41:57

Michael Dorgan

What would you expect to find in these things?

10:41:58 - 10:42:06

Caostguard

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: Maybe hidden guns, illegal substances, compartments specially made for hiding things.

10:42:09 - 10:42:14

Coastguard

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: He’s got his licenses and permits up to date. He can carry on working without a problem.

10:42:18 - 10:42:22

Michael Dorgan

In your experience how have things changed from say fifteen years ago to now?

10:42:22 - 10:42:33

Coastguard

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: There used to be a higher quantity of trafficking and it used to be more blatant because the laws weren't clear enough and we didn't have enough resources to fight the crime properly.

10:42:34 - 10:42:45

Coastguard

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: Now you can see that we have more sophisticated means and, indeed, we have seen a substantial reduction in the quantity of drugs being smuggled out of here.

10:42:52 - 10:43:03

Michael Dorgan

I'm really excited by what I've seen here. It seems to be a country that's on the rise. Yeah, it still has its problems. But, I think palm oil is contributing to a country moving in the right direction.

10:43:06 - 10:43:08

VO

But I've got one last stop before I leave Colombia.

10:43:11 - 10:43:17

VO

Colombia's palm oil industry, like others across the world, has faced criticism for its environmental practices.

10:43:17 - 10:43:25

VO

I'm visiting Manuelita, one of the oldest food producers in Colombia, and a company that was struggling to meet new, stricter environmental regulations.

10:43:26 - 10:43:35

Leonardo Millán

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: Since some years ago, we started seeing more environmental legislation, more pressure from local communities and other interested parties.

10:43:36 - 10:43:39

VO

Manuelita have spent lots of money meeting environmental regulations.

10:43:40 - 10:43:47

VO

Leo claims they're exceeding them by reducing water waste and converting gases that were previously omitted, converting them into thermal energy.

10:43:48 - 10:43:52

VO

Now they're trying to go organic by using old fruit bunches as fertiliser.

10:43:53 - 10:44:01

Leonardo Millán

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: Michael, this is the result of the composting process, which now contains the nutrients needed in a fertiliser.

10:44:01 - 10:44:06

Michael Dorgan

How realistic do you think, personally, that a plantation can be completely organic?

10:44:06 - 10:44:17

Leonardo Millán

Subtitled in English from Spanish as: Our goal here at Manuelita is precisely to close the circle in terms of sourcing nutrients, which means being more efficient and keeping good relations with the authorities and local communities.

10:44:39 - 10:44:45

Michael Dorgan

I've been to three very different palm oil producing nations. To be honest what I've seen is really different to what I was expecting.

10:44:45 - 10:44:51

Michael Dorgan

The history and the culture of each town, each region, each country seems to influence how palm oil is produced.

10:44:52 - 10:44:57

Michael Dorgan

In some cases, the environment, the people, I’m really worried about how they're being affected.

10:44:57 - 10:45:01

Michael Dorgan

In other cases, people's lives are actually being transformed by palm oil.

10:45:02 - 10:45:07

Michael Dorgan

Now it’s these people, the consumers. I want to see how palm oil affects people's health.

10:45:29 - 10:45:40

Michael Dorgan

This little university town was actually the start of my palm oil journey several weeks ago when I came here to take part in a ground breaking palm oil experiment, in which I've had to eat three muffins a day containing palm oil.

10:45:41 - 10:45:46

Michael Dorgan

I've eaten over one hundred muffins in the last few weeks. So, here today, I'm going to find out what effect that's had on my body.

10:45:52 - 10:45:54

Fredrik Rosqvist

We will start by taking the waist circumference again.

10:45:55 - 10:46:06

Fredrik Rosqvist

Fredrik Rosqvist and his colleague, David Iggman, have been doing an experiment to see the difference between eating sunflower oil and palm oil, with a prediction that all the palm oil we eat may not be very good for us.

10:46:09 - 10:46:11


Nurse

176

10:46:11

Fredrik Rosqvist

Ok, thank you.

10:46:13 - 10:46:14

Michael Dorgan

What was it last time?

10:46:14 - 10:46:16

Fredrik Rosqvist

Last time it was 163.

10:46:16 - 10:46:19

Michael Dorgan

That's like over a centimetre of fat.

10:46:19 - 10:46:23

Fredrik Rosqvist

Yes, which indicates you have stored your fat inside your abdomen, which indicates you have increased your abdominal fat.

10:46:29 - 10:46:30

Michael Dorgan

That's quite dramatic.

10:46:32 - 10:46:35

David Iggman

Ok, so you can just go straight into the pod.

10:46:36 - 10:46:40

VO

This rather space age looking machine will measure my body fat percentage

10:46:42 - 10:46:45

VO

I was a healthy 4.6% body fat a few weeks ago.

10:47:05

Michael Dorgan

What's the damage?

10:47:06 - 10:47:12

Fredrik Rosqvist

You have increased quite a lot in your fat percentage. You have increased from 4.6 to 7.5%.

10:47:12 - 10:47:17

Michael Dorgan

Wow, that is nearly double. Double the amount of fat in my body.

10:47:17 - 10:47:20

Fredrik Rosqvist

Yes, it’s two kilos of fat that you have.

10:47:20

Michael Dorgan

Two kilograms of fat?

10:47:20 - 10:47:25

Fredrik Rosqvist

Yes, and you have also lost almost a kilo of fat free tissue so you have lost some muscle.

10:47:25 - 10:47:27

Michael Dorgan

So, muscle has gone down, fat’s gone up.

10:47:28 - 10:47:32

Fredrik Rosqvist

Yes. So in the long run it is a very unfavourable change in body composition.

10:47:37 - 10:47:43

Michael Dorgan

Obviously, this experiment I've only done it for a few weeks, and I wouldn't eat three muffins a day over my entire life.

10:47:44 - 10:47:48

Michael Dorgan

But, in the long term, what kind of impact would have eating lots of palm oil every day?

10:47:49 - 10:48:00

David Iggman

According to these results, you could be at risk of developing metabolic disease, perhaps also liver disease, and perhaps also cardiovascular disease.

10:48:00 - 10:48:02

Michael Dorgan

So does it matter then which oil it is that you're using?

10:48:03 - 10:48:08

Michael Dorgan

Obviously, in your experiment it was sunflower oil versus palm oil. Did you notice a difference between those two oils?

10:48:09 - 10:48:16

Fredrik Rosqvist

We found a big difference. We saw that the palm oil increased the fat that was stored in the liver and also the fat that was stored inside the abdomen and total body fat.

10:48:17 - 10:48:24

Fredrik Rosqvist

Whereas the group eating sunflower oil instead could prevent this increase in liver fat and total body fat.

10:48:25 - 10:48:32

Michael Dorgan

Before continuing my journey, I'm heading home to the UK to find out if I've done any damage to my body by doing the experiment.

10:48:36 - 10:48:37

Linda Main

Hello Michael, how are you?

10:48:38


Michael Dorgan

I'm ok.

10:48:40 - 10:48:41

VO

Linda Main is a cholesterol specialist.

10:48:45 - 10:48:50

Michael Dorgan

So while I was in Sweden they tested how much my fat has changed from eating all of these muffins.

10:48:52 - 10:48:56

Michael Dorgan

I'm a bit worried here that my cholesterol is going to have sky-rocketed.

10:48:56 - 10:49:09

Linda Main

Right, I doubt that because we started with such healthy levels, Michael, that it is unlikely to have gone up to those levels where we would get concerned.

10:49:04 - 10:49:09

Linda Main

I personally don't think there will be much to worry about. But let’s see.

10:49:29 - 10:49:32

Linda Main

Your total cholesterol has actually gone up, hasn't it?

10:49:32 - 10:49:42

Linda Main

Your HDL has gone up, which you would expect if you were having a higher fat intake. Your triglycerides have gone up.

10:49:43 - 10:49:51

Linda Main

You did start at really healthy figures. So, you know, your cholesterol levels were probably one of the healthiest I've ever witnessed.

10:49:52 - 10:49:58

Linda Main

But it has been affected, by a small amount, by the experiment that you've been doing, and the extra body weight that you've gained, particularly the extra body fat.

10:49:59 - 10:50:08

Linda Main

If you were older, heavier and more genetically predisposed to have high cholesterol, it would probably have had a much bigger effect.

10:50:09 - 10:50:20

Linda Main

Eating your sort of westernised standard diet, we're likely to have high cholesterol and that's why six out of ten of the population, in general, have a high cholesterol level.

10:50:21 - 10:50:30

Linda Main

And why cholesterol and raised blood fats is one of the key risk factors for coronary heart disease, which is the biggest killer worldwide today.

10:50:31 - 10:50:33

Michael Dorgan

Do you think palm oil plays a role in that story?

10:50:34 - 10:50:39

Linda Main

I think it does. It's one of the key saturated fats that we know raises blood cholesterol.

10:50:40 - 10:50:46

Linda Main

And, of course, it's hidden in foods. We don't necessarily know it's there, unless we're very skilled at looking at food labels.

10:50:53 - 10:51:01

VO

If palm oil is not necessarily the healthiest ingredient in our food, yet it is in nearly half of everything that we buy, I wonder if there are any alternatives.

10:51:01 - 10:51:05

VO

I'm in San Francisco to find out: is palm oil the only option?

10:51:10 - 10:51:17

Jill Kauffman Johnson

We can make oil that either mimics the oil that palm makes or even better.

10:51:18 - 10:51:23

VO

Jill Kauffman Johnson is in charge of sustainability at technology company, Solazyme.

10:51:24 - 10:51:31

Jill Kauffman Johnson

So how we do it is we start with micro algae. So, micro algae is one of the most ancient resources on our planet.

10:51:32 - 10:51:40

Jill Kauffman Johnson

And basically what we do is we have the micro algae in a fermentation tank, converts plant sugars to oil.

10:51:41 - 10:51:46

Jill Kauffman Johnson

The planet is terrific at making carbohydrates, plants, but oil is what our planet runs on.

10:51:48 - 10:51:55

VO

Solazyme are using their micro algae oils to produce food ingredients that they claim are healthier than many of the traditional alternatives, like palm oil.

10:51:57 - 10:52:04

VO

I'm keen to test them out with Mark Brooks, the man responsible for taking micro algae out of the lab and into our shops.

10:52:07 - 10:52:12

VO

Mark insists that micro algae powder tastes great as a substitute for more unhealthy ingredients.

10:52:14 - 10:52:21

Mark Brooks

You’ll find these kind of products used in things like margarine and that's where palm is used a lot.

10:52:22 - 10:52:28

Mark Brooks

So what you're looking for with a structuring fat is that it stays solid to a certain temperature, and then it melts.

10:52:29 - 10:52:37

Michael Dorgan

So this is actually very similar to why palm oil has become such a popular thing because it’s in so many products where you need that structure to hold it together.

10:52:38 - 10:52:43

Michael Dorgan

That's why it's in fifty per cent of everything in the supermarket and this product is doing that same function.

10:52:44 - 10:52:49

Mark Brooks

Yeah, so this is special in many ways. One, it has lower saturated fats than a palm oil alternative.

10:52:50 - 10:52:57

Mark Brooks

Two, with increasing population and increase demand for end consumer products, you can produce this one anywhere.

10:52:58 - 10:53:04

Mark Brooks

It can be produced outside of the delicate tropical zone. We can produce it in the winter in Iowa, as long as we're near a feed stock of sugar.

10:53:05 - 10:53:10

Mark Brooks

So therefore we don’t need to have a greater impact on the environment to meet growing demand.

10:53:11 - 10:53:15

VO


There is indeed a growing demand for palm oil and ingredients that mimic it.

10:53:16 - 10:53:24

VO


The top three importers of palm oil are some of fastest growing countries in the world, namely India, China and Pakistan.

10:53:24 - 10:53:32

VO

Over a quarter of a billion more people live in these three countries compared to just ten years ago. During the same period they have doubled their consumption of palm oil.

10:53:33 - 10:53:42

VO

While micro algae oils offer a healthy and environmentally friendly alternative, palm oil seems destined to continue being one of the biggest drivers of deforestation on planet earth.

10:53:44 - 10:53:49

VO

Despite consumption ever increasing, there are movements to ban palm oil in some western countries.

10:53:50 - 10:53:53

VO

In Norway some companies have boycotted palm oil altogether.

10:53:54 - 10:53:55

VO


But is a world without palm oil the best alternative?

10:53:56 - 10:54:02

VO

To find out, I'm meeting Rhett Butler, an environmentalist who has been investigating palm oil over the last fifteen years.

10:54:02 - 10:54:11

Rhett Butler

If Western consumers just ban palm oil then they lose their point of leverage, so it means that Western companies won't be driving the market.

10:54:12 - 10:54:21

Rhett Butler

So if you can get Western companies who are using palm oil to start adopting safeguards that govern how that palm oil is sourced then that can eventually transform an entire sector.

10:54:22 - 10:54:29

Rhett Butler

So that could lead to Chinese consumers also consuming less damaging palm oil because that will be the only palm oil available on the market.

10:54:30 - 10:54:37

Rhett Butler

But what is clear is that if we continue to consume the way that we’re currently consuming, and hope to consume, we do need to produce a lot more food.

10:54:38 - 10:54:41

VO

And that's the problem to which there is no easy solution.

10:54:42 - 10:54:46

VO


More palm oil is produced per hectare than soybean and rapeseed - the two most suitable crops that could replace it in our food.

10:54:49 - 10:54:59

VO

In search of answers, I'm travelling 2,000 miles east to Minnesota, in the American Midwest, to meet a researcher who believes it is not which crop we use but the way we are growing them.

10:54:59 - 10:55:10

VO

Rob Wallace heads a group of researchers who think that growing crops in monocultures, that is rows and rows of the same crop, is not just going to have devastating consequences on our rainforest but could cause a pandemic.

10:55:11 - 10:55:13

VO

In fact, he thinks palm oil may have already caused one.

10:55:14 - 10:55:22

Rob Wallace

Ebola's a virus, palm oil's a plant. Palm oil or any other crops there didn't give people ebola, so what's the connection?

10:55:22 - 10:55:29

VO

The ebola outbreak is suspected to have started with a two year old boy in the village of Meliandou, in southern Guinea, in December 2013.

10:55:30 - 10:55:37

VO

Before spreading across six west African countries and causing over 11,000 deaths, though some say the death toll is much higher.

10:55:38 - 10:55:49

Rob Wallace

Palm oil is basically at peak level for Indonesia, for Malaysia and so they need to look for new areas in which to be able to produce palm oil, and so they've gone to west Africa to do so.

10:55:49 - 10:55:58

VO

It is widely believed that fruit bats passed the ebola virus to humans. Existing research shows that palm plantations are ideal habitats for fruit bats.

10:55:59 - 10:56:06

Rob Wallace

Although a lot of animals are going to go extinct as deforestation happens, some animals are going to respond quite nicely.

10:56:07 - 10:56:13

Rob Wallace

And so our hypothesis is that as the interface between fruit bats and humans expanded the ebola virus spilled over into humans.

10:56:14 - 10:56:20

VO

Rob's research shows that many plantations have been set up near Meliandou, in what was originally forest.

10:56:21 - 10:56:25

VO

This means fruit bats flocked to plantations and came into direct contact with humans.

10:56:27 - 10:56:30

Michael Dorgan

Is it inevitable that something like ebola is going to come back?

10:56:29 - 10:56:35

Rob Wallace

Well, inevitable is a strong word and we try to avoid using that, but in all likelihood that is going to be the case.

10:56:36 - 10:56:50

Rob Wallace

If you change the environment in such a way that allows monocrops to be produced in the deep Africa forest then almost inevitably, almost inevitably, ebola or other viruses will make their way into the larger, regional population.

10:56:51 - 10:57:57

Rob Wallace

And so what we need to do is, in essence, link our economies to our ecologies.

10:57:58 - 10:57:06

Rob Wallace

It's not merely a matter of cutting into the forest and putting a monocrop palm oil there and thinking there aren't going to be any consequences of that.

10:57:08 - 10:57:14

VO

The snow has cleared and I'm reflecting on Rob's hypothesis of the ebola virus.

10:57:15 - 10:57:18

VO

It reminds me how interconnected our world is, particularly when it comes to the food we eat.

10:57:20 - 10:57:26

Michael Dorgan

We're all consumers and it's our appetite that feeds the deforestation in the places across the world we often don't think about.

10:57:32 - 10:57:34

VO

The palm oil industry is trying to change.

10:57:36 - 10:57:44


For more than ten years it has tried to regulate itself through a body called the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil, which aims to make 100% of palm oil sustainable.

10:57:45 - 10:57:51

VO

Yet, deforestation has continued and currently less than 10% of palm oil produced globally is certified as sustainable.

10:57:52 - 10:57:59

VO

Protests, petitions and viral video campaigns like this one have put pressure on companies and governments to commit to using sustainable palm oil.

10:58:00 - 10:58:09

VO

Sales of sustainable palm oil are now increasing year on year, but will the move towards a fully sustainable palm oil industry happen quickly enough?

10:58:10 - 10:58:19

VO

While Colombia has many certified sustainable companies, deforestation continues unabated in south east Asia and looks set to do the same in Cameroon and across west Africa.

10:58:20 - 10:58:22

VO

Human rights abuses continue in Guatemala.

10:58:23 - 10:58:28

VO

Since leaving Guatemala a leader of a community, an hour’s drive from where I visited, has been murdered in broad daylight.

10:58:29 - 10:58:35

VO

Allegedly, for accusing a local palm oil company of contaminating a river, his community uses for water and fishing.

10:58:37 - 10:58:44

VO

We should be able to choose whether we eat palm oil or not. In Europe, by law, palm oil must be labelled on all foods that it is in.

10:58:46 - 10:58:58

VO

But across the world in developing and developed countries, palm oil still doesn't have to be labelled as an ingredient on food products and remains a hidden ingredient that continues to have a huge impact on the world we live in.



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