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Reforesting the Indonesian rainforest: Campaign update from SOS

The SOS Sumatra shampoo bar raised over SGD $288,698 for SOS - a charity dedicated to reforesting the Leuser ecosystem and saving the orangutan.

Earlier this year, we brought you exciting news about our #SOSsumatra palm oil free shampoo bars – not only our first shampoo bars made with Sodium Coco Sulphate - a palm oil free lathering agent - but also our first shampoo bars to directly help Sumatran orangutans.

Wondering how shampoo bars can help orangutans? All funds raised through the #SOSsumatra campaign have been donated to Sumatran Orangutan Society (SOS), which has enabled them to support their Indonesian partners, Orangutan Information Centre (OIC) to purchase 50 hectares of degraded land, formerly a palm oil plantation. This land is adjacent to the 50 hectares already purchased with funds from the European campaign, which saw 14,600 orangutan soaps flying off the shelves in late 2017.

While the land purchased through the European campaign is being restored to forest, the 50 hectares funded by the sale of the SOS shampoo bars is dedicated to permaculture - to provide training for farming communities on how to grow essential oils and other crops in a non-destructive manner; to provide income opportunities for the local community; to prevent encroachment into the national park and the protected forest, and encourage the restoration of natural habitats for the return of native wildlife.

"The project is in its early stages, but it’s already really exciting. It’s a regenerative project, so that means we’re taking land that has been used to grow palm oil and stripped of its biodiversity, and carefully nurturing it so it returns to a forested state, and so that it can be used to provide sustainable income opportunities for local people", says Helen Buckland of SOS.

So, how does this look on the ground? The latest report from OIC gives an exciting insight. Working through an eight-stage plan, from site mapping right through to harvesting the crops grown through the permaculture project, the OIC team are already well on their way to bringing the land back to life. In April 2018, the 50 hectares funded by the SOS shampoo bars was cleared of oil palm trees, watched closely by local journalists who wanted to share this story of regeneration and hope. Then, after the last oil palm roots were extracted and the bulldozers had finished their work, the team set about renovating two existing buildings; one will become an office for project staff, and one will become a school for local children.

It’s clear that this site is a very special place. A biodiversity survey carried out in March 2018 across the 100 hectares purchased through #SOSsumatra funding revealed that a whole host of unique animal and plant species already call it home. Many of these are endangered, and their future will be much more certain now that this part of their habitat is being restored and sustainably used. The survey team and their camera traps found everything from hairy-nosed otter and Himalayan porcupine to crested serpent eagle and barred eagle owl, all rubbing shoulders with reptiles, amphibians and a dazzling array of plant life. Not only will the ongoing forest restoration and sustainable management protect these species, but the profit from the sales of crops grown through the permaculture project will feed back into conservation projects, further boosting the long-term security of the area’s wildlife.

The plan for the coming months includes construction of a plant nursery and a well. Once this is done, the team will begin planting lemongrass, vanilla, pepper, oranges and a variety of vegetables. These little plants will grow up alongside the forest being restored in the adjacent plot, and the new school buildings which will soon be added to the existing renovated structures. And of course, because this is a permaculture project, the team can use their ecological knowledge to ensure their crops are grown in a way that keeps the ecosystem productive and allows nature to regenerate and support itself.

Panut Hadisiswoyo of OIC says, "The combination of habitat protection, community empowerment and promoting sustainable agriculture makes this the most exciting project we’ve done in 15 years of OIC, and we are very proud to be partners with Lush for this. It’s a good opportunity for people in Indonesia to see how companies like Lush can make a difference by saving orangutans, saving forests and helping people to have a better, more sustainable future".

To learn more about the work of the Sumatran Orangutan Society (SOS) and its partners, visit https://www.orangutans-sos.org.

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