Southeast Asia and Oceania: Rainforest under pressure

The rainforests of Southeast Asia and Oceania are among the richest and most complex ecosystems there are. Yet they are disappearing at a higher rate than anywhere else on the planet. We are working to halt this destruction.

The rainforests of Southeast Asia and Oceania are disappearing more rapidly than any others on earth. Nonetheless, Southeast Asia is home to the greatest number of people who depend on the rainforest to live.

The rainforests in this region are under tremendous pressure, with large, contiguous forests remaining only on the islands of Borneo and New Guinea. Previously, the entire region was covered by lush rainforest.

Many countries in Southeast Asia and Oceania have some rainforest, but those with the largest remaining forests are Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea.

This region’s rainforests are among the most complex and species-rich ecosystems in the world. Southeast Asian rainforests are renowned for the elephants and orangutans that live in them, and more than 3,000 species of plant have been registered.

How we go about saving the rainforests of Southeast Asia and Oceania

Since Rainforest Foundation Norway (RFN) began working in Southeast Asia in 1997, we have initiated a range of projects together with local partners in Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Myanmar.

Our main focus in this region has been to work for sustainable forest management and securing land rights for forest peoples. Rights are key to our approach to protecting the rainforest. That is because, in our experience, the forest is best preserved where the rights, including land rights, of its traditional populations are recognised and upheld.

We support the struggle of forest peoples to secure their land rights and to make their voices heard.

Our partners are dedicated organisations that maintain close contact with local communities at risk of losing their traditional territories as a result of the aggressive deforestation, plantation and logging policies typical of this region. Supporting forest peoples' legal action against abuse by plantation and logging companies has for years been an important element in our work in the region.

We also work to help forest peoples obtain exclusive rights to use their traditional lands. Through capacity building, culturally adapted education and legal training, we seek to strengthen the role of forest communities in protecting their forest from destruction.

UP IN SMOKE: Oil palm plantations are the main reason Indonesia’s rainforests are disappearing.

Palm oil – the main culprit

  • The world’s most prevalent vegetable oil is the main cause of deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia. In 2009, the Indonesian government announced plans to double the production of palm oil by 2020.
  • The Malaysian and Indonesian palm oil industries have also been involved in a variety of disputes with local communities. Reports of abuses are frequent, and so far more than 200 community conflicts have been registered.
  • Over the past 60 years, nearly 90 per cent of the orangutans on the island of Borneo have disappeared, in large part because plantations have replaced the rainforest.

Deforestation and destruction

Every year, mankind burns away vast forest areas of Southeast Asia to make way for oil palm and other plantations. The greenhouse gas emissions from such fires are enormous. This activity is the greatest threat that Indonesia, as a rainforest giant, faces today.

Great stretches of forest are being logged as well, with 70-80 percent of Indonesian logging taking place illegally.

In Malaysia, too, logging and oil palm plantations are the greatest threats to the rainforest, and logging companies searching for valuable tropical wood in Papua New Guinea have proliferated. Mining, dam construction and other infrastructure development are also destroying rainforests across the region.

Indigenous groups whose livelihood depends on the rainforest are those who suffer most when the forest is wiped out.

Over the last four decades, the three largest rainforest countries in the region – Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea – have permitted a massive expansion of plantation, logging and mining activities.


Anna Bjørndal

Director of International Programs
(+47) 992 56 946