Bite me! When the bugs are missing…

During the dry season we were working on the weed problem. As the wet season starts raining on our cacao parade, we have ‘a bug to bear’. Bugs are literally everywhere, loving the wet and stagnant waters that sometimes pool around the base of our Theobroma cacao trees.

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@Alboin Prints

I grew up in Australia, where living alongside the creepy crawly types became second nature to me. We love them in the cacao plantation setting, too. They facilitate all the microorganisms that help us to manage diseases and keep stuff clean and tidy around the place. Growing the beautiful Arriba Nacionale cacao pods, we are looking for a natural balance within our growing system. As much as weeds, bugs are our friends and allies in this endeavour.

Recently, I read a study on the consequences of tropical land use for biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. It reminded me of my friend Manuela Rehn from www.gk-strategie.de in Berlin. The discussions about her work in the fight against palm oil, forest destruction and the plight of orang-utans came to mind again.

Although conscious media has picked up on these issues during the past years, they have not really hit the mainstream channels. Given that palm oil has been a raging topic in Indonesia for about 25 years, it is startling that it is not a more prominent point when governments are planning for food safety. On the contrary, the archipelago is planning to double its production of palm oil by 2020.

My family comes from a tradition of about 100 years of agro- ecology and social enterprise. My grandparents had rubber plantations on our estate in Papua New Guinea for about 60 years, and I was surprised how much I could learn from our rubber past for my cacao present. The similarities and differences between rubber and palm oil are astonishing, especially in relation to bugs. Palm oil plantations have about half the number of insect species than natural forests, and the decline is especially at the cost of predatory insects – the ones who contribute hugely to the natural balance of a forest understory. 

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I have learned from farmers I work with, as well as from my dad, how incredibly valuable insects are for managing the balance in a growing environment – so these developments make me worry. When building up the immunity of the understory around the cacao trees, insects are our best defence – so I cannot fathom a forest which has half of what a natural system has! How do palm oil farms inoculate the rest of the system?

Oh, #facepalm – of course the answer is chemicals! Here comes the roundabout: Less insects, more chemicals, less nature, more chemicals, less everything – more chemicals.

We don’t need palm oil. It is cheap and a nasty substitute for companies who don’t prioritise, taste, experience, who don’t care much about health or responsibility. If you like insects and bugs, or would spend hours looking at them when you were a kid, you have the chance to help save a few of them now. It’s actually very easy: Just check on the back of your groceries! Is your chocolate or other foods made with palm oil? If so, leave it out! The WWF compiled a great list of products that contain palm oil – so check your biggest trolley fillers and see if you can find them on the list.

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