When people talk about deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia, palm oil often gets the blame. Demand for the versatile vegetable oil is high worldwide, and the two Asian countries together produce 87% of global supply. Industrial-scale oil palm plantations have been expanding in the two countries in recent decades, as have plantations of pulpwood, mainly fast-growing acacia species. But are old-growth forests actually razed to make way for oil palm and pulpwood plantations, or are the plantations installed on land that was cleared in the past for other purposes? To answer that question, scientists at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) used a series of satellite images to map the expansion of large industrial oil palm and pulpwood plantations. A collection that spanned two decades, the imagery exposed the loss of old-growth forest in Indonesian and Malaysian Borneo, where nearly half of the world’s industrial-scale oil palm plantations are found.
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