Palm oil is a vegetable oil obtained from palm trees’ fruit. Oil palm trees are originally from Africa and are native to the continent; they were brought from Africa to South East Asia around 100 years ago as an ornamental tree crop.
There are around 42 countries in the world that produce palm oil. However, Malaysia and Indonesia make up more than 80 percent of the global supply of palm oil. In the 21st century, palm oil has become one of the most widely used. Its cultivation continues to increase by about 8 percent per year.
Palm oil is the most efficiently produced type of oil. A large amount of this oil is produced per hectare. Palm oil is also very useful; it is a part of all types of products like cosmetics, food, biofuel, and more. Palm oil is an ingredient in around half of all products on the market.
The world produced approximately 72 million tonnes of palm oil in 2018- Malaysia accounted for 27 percent of it, and Indonesia accounted for 57 percent.
This article will focus on Palm oil: Problems and Solutions
The Problem with Palm Oil
Due to the several uses and huge demand for palm oil, large areas of tropical forests and other habitats and ecosystems are cleared for large-scale monoculture palm oil plantations. Clearing forests has destroyed several vulnerable species’ habitats- including tigers, elephants, and rhinos.
Several palm plantations have led to human-wildlife conflicts as endangered species get pushed into smaller habitats with fewer food and water sources. The forests cleared for these plantations usually contain threatened and rare species of plants and animals or act as important wildlife corridors.
Palm oil plantations have even reached national parks. For example, around 43 percent of the Tesso Nilo National Park in Sumatra, which provides habitats for the threatened Sumatran Tiger, is now occupied by illegal palm oil plantations.
Due to the clearing and destruction of forests for palm oil plantations, air pollution has become worse. The burning of these forests releases smoke and CO2 into the atmosphere. This can also have severe health impacts.
Palm oil also leads to soil and water pollution. A palm oil mill can produce 2.5 metric tons of effluent for a metric ton of palm oil it produces. The release of these effluents can cause water pollution, affecting people and biodiversity. As palm oil plantations use pesticides and fertilizers, it pollutes surface and groundwater sources.
Palm oil plantations also cause soil erosion by clearing forests and planting trees in an inappropriate arrangement. And lastly, it contributes to climate change as the tropical forests cleared for it act as important carbon sinks.
What Can Be Done?
Due to the severe ecological impacts of palm oil, several activists and people believe that boycotting palm oil and all its products can help reduce ecological destruction. Even though this is a logical option, it doesn’t really help to prevent or decrease the amount of deforestation of tropical forests and human rights violations.
The major problem here is the increasing demand for vegetable oils and the lack of agricultural land. A lot of lands is required to produce this. If most people boycott palm oil, producers will also replace palm oil in their products with other ingredients. This is not the solution, as to make the replacement, the land is required and therefore deforestation. For example, if the palm oil boycott forces producers to replace it with other oils like sunflower oil- it would need five times more land to make the same amount of oil.
No crop other than palm oil can yield a third as much oil per acre; it even uses less land and fewer chemical pesticides and fertilizers than other vegetable oil plantations. The only solution is sustainable palm oil production.
The RSPO (Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil), formed due to the increasing impacts of palm oil, represents the largest third-party standard for more sustainable palm oil production. Certified palm oil protects forests and local communities that depend on it so that it keeps playing a key role in food security.
The RSPO was strengthened in 2018; now, it represents an important tool to help companies achieve their goals of palm oil free of exploitation and deforestation.
The real solution to destructive palm oil plantations and ecological damage is purchasing less, consuming less, and buying only what you need and is necessary. Consuming less means using less land, meaning less or no deforestation. Greed and luxury will only mean more environmental destruction.
It is also important to encourage palm oil companies to work in a sustainable and eco-friendly manner.
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