• PhotoGenie

Displaced by Palm Oil: Indonesia's last Orangutans

This week’s Photogenie theme is titled Disruptive Dependence. Through visual stories, our curators research the question “How is agricultural production affecting communities and the environment?”





In “Displaced by Palm Oil: Indonesia's last Orangutans” photographer Sandra Hoyn wishes to shed light on the effects the palm oil industry has on the Indonesian rainforest and its wildlife.

Indonesia is the world’s biggest producer and consumer of palm oil, providing about half of the world’s supply. Worldwide production of palm oil has exploded rapidly, climbing steadily for five decades. Between 1995 and 2015 annual production quadrupled from 15.2m tonnes to 62.6m tonnes. The increase in palm oil plantations has had devastating effects, replacing Indonesia’s rainforests and subsequently harming and displacing its wildlife, such as the almost extinct Orangutans. It is estimated that 80% of the rainforest in Indonesia has been deforested to make way for palm oil plantations which has had horrendous effects for the habitat of the Orangutan.

The German photographer Sandra Hoyn wished to bring attention to this topic through her photography project titled “Displaced by Palm Oil: Indonesia's last Orangutans”. In April 2014, Sandra traveled to the rainforest on the Indonesian island of Sumatra to document the disappearing rainforest and its wildlife. Orangutans are just one of the many species affected by this massive deforestation and are only found in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra. Both the Sumatran and Borean orangutan are now endangered with only 6,600 and 54,000 left in the wild respectively.



Free-roaming orangutan in Bukit Lawang, an orangutan sanctuary within the Gunung Leuser National Park in Sumatra


During her trip to Indonesia, Sandra spent time in a quarantine centre of the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Program where rescued or hurt Orangutans are brought to regain their strength before being released into the wild. In the centre she met Angelo, a 14-year-old Orangutan who had been found with metal pellets in his body after he was shot by workers of a palm oil plantation when he was looking for food. Through her photography project Sandra depicts the extent of environmental destruction caused by humans in the form of industrialised agriculture and the impact this is having on all the wildlife.


Unfortunately, the expansion of palm oil production and disappearing rainforests is not slowing down as today 3 billion people in 150 countries use products containing palm oil. The reason it is more popular than other oils and products like butter is that it has two big advantages over these products: price and versatility. It is the most widely consumed vegetable oil on the planet and it did not take long for other industries to discover the beneficial qualities of palm oil. Subsequently, it started to replace animal products in cleaning products and personal care items such as soap, shampoo, and makeup. Today 70% of personal care items contain one or more items derived from palm oil and can be found in 50% of supermarket products.



Penghijau, an Orang Rimba, lives a nomadic life between tradition and modernity in a palm oil plantation near the Bukit Tiga Puluh National Park in Jambi, Sumatra.


Over time palm oil has become very difficult to avoid in your daily life especially since it is often disguised behind many different ingredient names you probably did not know contain palm oil. However, the first step into reducing the use of palm oil is to spread awareness.





This website gives an overview of names for palm oil derived ingredients, in addition, the application Buycott allows you to scan products and suggests whether you should buy or avoid the product based on how well it aligns with your values allowing the customer to “vote with their wallet”. Reducing palm oil production requires reduced palm oil consumption which starts with informing the consumer and subsequently change their behaviour!


About the artist

Sandra Hoyn was born in 1976 and studied photography at the University of Applied Sciences in Hamburg. She still lives there where she works as a freelance photojournalist. She received the Henri Nannen Award in 2013. Following this, her work was featured in prominent newspapers and magazines (Die Zeit, Zeit Campus, Chrismon, Der Spiegel, Missio Magazin, NEON, GEO, GEOlino, New York Times Lens Blog) and in exhibitions in 12 countries in such far away places as Afghanistan and Myanmar.


Prizes and scholarships:

2014 Chosen by LensCulture as one of the Top 50 emerging talents

2013 Henri Nannen Award

2012 Runner-up at the IPA - International Photography Awards in the category professional editorial sports

2012 Three silver medals at the Px3 - Prix de la Photographie Paris

2011 and 2007 scholarships from the VG Bild-Kunst

2009 Kindernothilfe Media Award

2004 Kodak Young Talent Award


Check out more of Sandra Hoyn’s work at: www.sandrahoyn.de


Written by Max Zarzoso Hueck

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