Deforestation, commodities and the lives of South East Asians

The titles above seem to portray the concerns of Europe and the West over deforestation in Asia or specifically South East Asia. The focus is palm oil, the major crop and commodity of Malaysia and Indonesia that contributes a significant portion to their respective GDP.

I wonder if the parties against deforestation always had better solutions for eradicating poverty and improving living standard and lifestyle of the people in these palm oil producing countries. A primary responsibility of a government is creating jobs and providing means for earning a living for its citizens by utilizing available resources. If the resources are natural, then there is no escape, damage is certain.

We’re not just part of nature, we are nature. You may see forests as beautiful green cover on earth. You’re maybe mesmerized by the starry sky or amazed by the deep blue ocean. So, try go living in them and see how well you’d survive. Nature is nasty. A big fish must get hungry and catch, kill and eat a smaller fish. Humans are much more capable than the big fish. They’ve learned to put in collective effort for greater good. In this case it took the form of palm oil plantations.

Palm oil and also rubber were the only means for Malaysian and Indonesian governments to provide for a very large population living in poverty and without proper education. I have witnessed in person how turning land and forests into commodity plantations changed the lives of a few generations of families. The second or third generation of a plantation worker usually gets good education and moves on and away from the plantation with better job and future. Seeing from within, it’s not just a plantation or commodity but a life changer for a large population that got lifted from abject poverty.

Maybe a hundred years from now a palm oil plantation would turn into forests again since it was abandoned due to scarcity of workers and dwindling profits. But for now deforestation and the damage it causes must be tolerated unless you’ve a better idea that can do what palm oil and rubber did for the people of Malaysia and Indonesia. There must be forest reserves and endangered animals must be protected. Greedy plantation owners who break the laws must be heavily punished. However, we just can’t live without causing some damage to nature. We exist and so we consume. We emit carbon dioxide. Some people advocate that we should stop having babies to save the planet. There could be some truth in that too. But still there is no escape unless we finish off all the humans on the planet. So, we need to get the bigger picture that span a hundred or two hundred years.

In Europe and Americas there are vast lands planted with wheat, corn, soya, grapes and other crops. So, what happened to the forests, animals, birds and bees on those lands? Why not advocate for reforestation of those lands? It seems once palm oil is planted and grown, it yields for about 25 years. How about soya?

Our concern here in the South East Asia is the lives of people of a few generations. They look at commodity, price and profit. You may pick your side and craft your arguments but this matter really needs a broad and expanded perspective to deliberate and reach a justified conclusion.

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