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  • Diana Littlejohns

Palm Oil for Nursery Children

Palm oil and the detrimental effects palm oil plantations are having on forests around the world is quite a big subject and one that's very complicated.


These plantations most affect the animals that live in the forests of Indonesia, Malaysia, South America and Africa, but they're also having a vast impact on climate change (https://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/endangered-species-threatened-by-unsustainable-palm-oil-production).


Palm oil is cheaper than all other vegetable oils. It's also so versatile that it's used in everything from shampoos and soaps to crisps and biscuits. It's used as a natural preservative in processed foods; two-thirds of palm oil production goes into food, and biofuels (https://www.theguardian.com/news/2019/feb/19/palm-oil-ingredient-biscuits-shampoo-environmental).


Natural forests in tropical areas are burned down so that oil palm trees can be planted to grow oil palm fruit (https://www.theguardian.com/news/2019/feb/19/palm-oil-ingredient-biscuits-shampoo-environmental). Forests destroyed for oil palm are among the most carbon-rich in the world. When they're burned, the CO2 they've absorbed – the leading cause of global warming – is released into the atmosphere contributing to climate change by massively heating those parts of the world (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/20/magazine/palm-oil-borneo-climate-catastrophe.html).


More than fifty percent of global demand for palm oil comes from Asia; Europe and America account for less than fourteen percent, but it's still prevalent in most processed foods here and in the US (https://www.theguardian.com/news/2019/feb/19/palm-oil-ingredient-biscuits-shampoo-environmental).


Palm oil is Indonesia's top export and accounts for thirteen percent of Malaysia's gross national income. The industry in SE Asia, Latin America and Africa has lifted more people out of poverty than anything else, but at a devastating cost to the environment. As such, I wanted the children to start thinking about this in a fun and gentle way, of course (https://www.theguardian.com/news/2019/feb/19/palm-oil-ingredient-biscuits-shampoo-environmental).


Orangutans have declined fifty percent in the last sixty years and are now critically endangered (https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/bornean-orangutan). As one of our closest relatives, we share nearly ninety-seven percent DNA with 'orang hutan' which means 'human of the forest' in Malay. They are awesome primates with a great howl that can be heard for miles, and beautiful orange fur along with human-like features (https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/news/world-orangutan-day-10-facts/).


Sketching orangutans on the board with the children was such fun, and they enjoyed making their own marks. Still, some of the boys went a little crazy that afternoon creating some busy and beautiful pictures, but I wasn't entirely sure how much they were listening.


At the end of the workshop, after I'd left the classroom, I bumped into a mother who'd just collected her son, and we stopped to chat. I asked her son what we'd been learning about, and he pondered for a moment and said, 'orangutans.' 'Yes, we were. Why?' I questioned. 'They're endangered,' he responded. 'Can you tell mummy why that is?' I asked. He thought for a minute and exclaimed, 'palm oil!' I smiled and replied, 'Aha, so you were paying attention!'


As the little boy walked away, holding his mother's hand, she turned around, gave me the most wonderful smile and thanked me. This workshop really did reaffirm that children do learn through art play. The kids had just covered a very current issue successfully, so I am thankful to Mad Hatter's for being part of that.




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