From food to cosmetics, toiletries to household cleaners, products containing palm oil are practically unavoidable, and in the Western Hemisphere we each consume around 10 kilograms of palm oil annually. The mass production of palm oil has increased significantly in the last twenty years because its yield is cheaper and more efficient compared to other vegetable oil varieties such as soy and corn. Whilst the world’s top palm oil-producing nations are Malaysia and Indonesia, several Latin American countries also feature heavily, with Colombia, Ecuador, Honduras and Guatemala in the top ten, and Costa Rica, Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela, Peru and the Dominican Republic in the global top 25. However, the immense demand for palm oil around the world has meant thousands of hectares of palm oil forests have been planted in recent years, and this has resulted in some catastrophic environmental and ecological repercussions such as severe deforestation, the endangering of animals and forced relocation of indigenous peoples. With global requirements for palm oil expected to rise steadily over the next decade, have the farmers of Latin America unlocked the answer to producing palm oil without leaving such a negative imprint on the surrounding habitat?
Situated between Colombia and Peru on the Pacific side of South America, lies Ecuador with its capital, Quito, located in the Andean mountains. Thanks to a new airport and super cheap taxi fares, Quito is now easier than ever to reach and explore. With a blend of well-preserved historical sites and a blossoming contemporary arts and fashion scene, Quito was recently voted the ‘Hottest Travel Destination’ in Latin America by the Condé Nast Traveller magazine, and here are a few reasons why.
Quito’s sixteenth-century Old Town and Spanish colonial buildings survived the devastating 1917 earthquake virtually unscathed, and the Old Town is one of the most well-preserved in the world. This central part of the city was founded in 1534 and was later one of the first locations to be declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1978. The busy main square is home to Carondelet Palace, the President’s residence, and Rafael Correa himself steps onto the balcony every Monday at 11am, an event which is loved by both locals and tourists alike.
The mountainous forests of Ecuador are a hotspot for wildlife species such as monkeys, bats and sloths, but none are more endangered than the Andean spectacled bear. So-called because their facial markings resemble glasses, these rare bears are at serious risk due to the ever-present threat of poaching and deforestation on the Ecuador-Peru border. Fortunately, the Ecuadorian Environment Secretary Lorena Tapia has recently joined forces with scientists and conservationists from Cornell University in New York. The aim is to provide incentives for local people to safeguard existing forests and prioritise sustainability, which will reduce deforestation levels and subsequently save the bears’ habitat.
The team have also enlisted the help of Andean bear expert Santiago Molina, from the charitable organisation Andean Bear Foundation, to set up cameras and radio tracking devices to collect data on the bears’ environmental requirements and use of habitat. The charity hopes that the information gathered from this project will enable the implementation of a better strategy to secure the bears’ conservation, protection and survival, as well as to educate the local communities about these gentle creatures. Plans are also under way to reintroduce captive and orphaned bears into the wild, in order to boost numbers of wild Andean bears in the future.
Ecuadorian volcano Tungurahua – or ‘Throat of Fire’ in Quechuan – was dormant until 1999 when, once again, it started causing issues within Latin America. In 2006 a toxic cloud rose from the site, spewing lava onto its surroundings, killing four people and leaving two missing. In the years since this eruption, it had been a beautiful and quiet place – until February this year, when activity reoccurred.
A series of explosions during the beginning of September rocked the volcano, causing it to throw columns of ash onto the surrounding area, reaching as wide as Quito. Records indicate that the eruption occurred at roughly 6.10pm local time and was followed by a second explosion lasting several minutes and including several smaller tremors. No injuries were recorded, however the ash leaving the site caused a regional airport to be temporarily shut.
Ecuador is part of the Pacific ‘Ring of Fire’, meaning it is prone to seismic and volcanic events. With Tungurahua being one of the eight active volcanoes in Ecuador, it is not just a beautiful site but also a very dangerous one. The ‘Ring of Fire’ contains over 75% of the Earth’s active and dormant volcanoes, meaning that the residents of Ecuador are constantly living in a bittersweet equilibrium between beautiful views and the constant threat of danger. This considered, the multiple villages located in the area around the Tungurahua volcano need to heed caution as a result of the recent activity.
Recorded activity started on Tuesday 29th July when said ash emission occurred, continuing over the recent months as monitoring continues. While these flows were only small in comparison to those which can cause catastrophic damage, they have led experts to believe that this is the beginning of a huge explosion for the volcano. Essentially, the volcano could be in a state of open conduit meaning magma is rising readily to the crater and therefore building up large pressure beneath the surface. Could this lead to a state of mass eruption?
On top of the inevitable danger, an erupting volcano could possibly be one of the most exciting and brilliant sights the world has to offer: nature at its finest and the makings of a great photo opportunity. At the moment, however, the inhabitants of Ecuador are in waiting to see whether or not they need to pack up their bags and move quickly, since it’ll be raining ash and lava if this volcanic activity continues.