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Nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) campaigning for the environment should acquire small tracts of palm oil plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia say Lian Pin Koh and David S. Wilcove in this Nature article.

They argue that the profits gained could be used to establish a network of privately-owned forest nature reserves for biodiversity conservation.

Campaigners claim that palm oil expansion in the two countries is destroying tropical forests and threatening many species, such as orang-utans, in biodiversity hotspots.

Palm oil producers deny the charge, arguing that palm oil is cultivated in disturbed forests or existing cropland.

The authors say that NGOs do not fully grasp the socioeconomic reality in Indonesia and Malaysia — Malaysia's Palm Oil Board estimates plantations provide 500,000 jobs in the country — while growers don't fully appreciate the threat to South-East Asia's unique biodiversity or the potential to rehabilitate disturbed habitats.

For the buy-up proposal to work, NGOs would have to collaborate with large conservation donor groups to fund the initial investments. And, say the authors, an alliance with the local palm oil industry would provide a win-win situation for both sides, providing the NGOs with operational expertise for the plantations and enhancing the corporate image of the industry.

Link to full article in Nature