Sami villagers boycott palm oil in reindeer feed

5:15 min

A Sami village in northern Sweden has taken a stand against the harvesting of palm oil which has been linked to indigenous rights abuses as well as the deforestation of rain forests and the destruction of animal habitat.

The Jijnjevaerie village is demanding that palm oil is removed from all of its reindeer fodder, even though it is cheaper to use than other vegetable oils. The move has won support from a well-known wildlife photographer and filmmaker.

Palm oil supplies over 30% of the world's vegetable oil production. It's also one of the world's most versatile raw ingredients.It can be found in around half of packaged products sold in the supermarket, from biscuits to shampoo, in biodisel and palm kernel meal, a lucrative by-product, which can be found in pet food and animal feed.

Sweden imports 44 000 tonnes of palm oil every year,.

Most of the world's palm oil is grown on huge plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia.

The palm oil fruit, where the oil derives, grows in the same area as tropical rainforests, and its' production, when not using sustainable methods, requires the clearance of land and forests, having a devastating impact on endangered species and in the rural regions of Borneo and Sumatra, on the indigenous people who live there.

Thousands of miles of from the heat of southeast Asia, one sami village in Jämtland, northern Sweden, is taking a stand in support of fellow indigenous peoples.

The Jijnjevaerie have several hundred wind turbines on their land and their reindeer have been displaced from their age old grazing pastures. It means that they have to buy in several hundred tonnes of animal feed every year to keep their reindeer in food for the autumn and winter months. Feed which contains the palm kernel by product of the palm oil fruit.

The whole village now wants its animal feed to be supplied free from palm oil by-products.

"We are an indigenous people and need to think of other indigenous peoples. We indigenous people have the same problem no matter where in the world we are, the big money making companies want our land. We have been displaced from our pastures so we need to feed the animals, someone should take responsibility.." says the chairperson of the village, Marianne Persson, to Sami radio.

She says their eyes were opened when they watched a documentary on the production of palm oil in Borneo.

"I saw a terrible programme on indigenous peoples in Southeast Asia harmed by palm oil plantations and started thinking, does it not say that there is palm oil product in the feed. I felt that I was forced to feed our reindeer beacuse of the situation we've been placed in and we're displacing another indigenous people in another part of the world. It didn't feel good." she tells Sami radio...

A huge silo on her farm takes in 24 tons of animal feed, which is delivered by truck, twice a week. She says that she's asked the feed supplier to take away the palm oil from its animal feed.

"We want Lantmännen to remove palm oil from the feed. We hope it can be replaced with flax seed cake. At least that doesn't destroy the indigenous people," she says, adding that Lantmännen is open to the idea, and wants other Sami communities to follow suit.

The photographer and filmmaker Mattias Klum has seen the impact of palm oil production with his eyes.

"Blowdart hunters, one of the last nomadic rainforest peoples of the world have lost everything, it was like there was nothing left, they were not listened too and they were not believed and were not taken into account in any way whatsoever," he tells Sami radio.

Mattias Klum has for many years both documented and followed the development of palm oil production in Southeast Asia. He first worked in Borneo in 1988 and has seen the devastating changes.

He describes how he flew over Borneo, how from 10,000 metres, the world's third largest island looked to be dressed in rainforest, but in fact 75 percent had been harvested and the green which was visible was palm oil plantations. How the ecosystems will change in a few years time and what the consequences will be for the people who live and have lived inside the forests for generations.

"There is often a lack of ecological considerations and not the least consideration for ethnic minorities," says Mattias Klum.

While palm oil provides employment to be counted in the millions and Mattias Klum met many who believe that palm oil is good - providing schools and hospitals - he says that people are now beginning to see the consequences of the deharvestation of the rain forests, without consideration for the environment. Where one removed the forests and created the palm oil industry, so the rivers, streams and the entire water is clogged.

"One place a used to go fishing just a few years ago with my kids, now there is no fish anymore, it's just a viscous sludge, you cannot get clean fresh water here anymore. So people see how in the beginning these changes in the short term have been fantastic for the economy, now in the long-term , indeed already, it starts to give some kind of sour aftertaste, almost like a hangover, both for the economy, health and ethnic minorities and ecology, says Mattias Klum.