Sustainable Palm Oil?

The theme of Jakub Jurci’s Hot Topic presentation was Palm Oil plantations, which included an explanation of what palm oil is, how it is used and the negative aspects of farming palm oil. He started off by introducing palm oil as oil that is made from the fruit of palm trees, palm oil is used in half of all food products and a majority of home products as well (Figure 1). Palm oil plantations have a 3 times higher output to input energy ratio and 6-10 times higher yields than other oil plantations. While palm oil has a higher energy output ratio and a higher yield, it also requires less fertilizers and pesticides to grow. Palm oil is also the cheapest type of oil in which to grow. But then why is everyone so worried about the effects of palm oil?

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 Jakub also highlighted the negative effects of growing palm oil, one of which is that the palm oil plantations are built on land that was previously occupied by forests, whereas current palm oil plantations create a uniform habitat that do not encourage biodiversity. Flora, fauna and species become threatened due to habitat loss especially when plantations are grown in places within the habitat of endangered species such as elephants, tigers and orangutans. 85% of palm oil is grown in Malaysia and Indonesia, along with the remaining 15% grown in Africa and the Amazon (Figure 2). All of which are home to a variety of species, many of which are endangered (Leach et al. 2013).

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Figure 1. Global Palm Oil Production.

With the palm oil industry growing rapidly, export is expected to grow to 30 million tons per year by 2020; we need to compromise a solution for palm oil production harming biodiversity in areas that it is produced. What can be done? RSPO is the main body for certification and sustainable palm oil, which works to create a sustainable process of farming within palm oil plantations.  Currently 20% of palm oil is now certified suspendable. There should be stricter regulations on the manufacturing of palm oil and regulations at the expense of primary forests.

The strongest pressure on the production of palm oil comes from the demand from customers ie. Humans. It is a cheaper and easier solution for food manufacturers, which makes it easy to push the concern of biodiversity of the ecosystem aside.  But with expanding world population and demand for vegetable oils, palm oil needs to be created sustainable in order to cater to the needs of Humans. The oil palm is the highest yielding provider of vegetable oil (Seegraf et al. 2011). The production of palm oil at this point in time is inevitable; therefore we must compromise and diminish its effects on the ecosystem by using sustainable farming techniques.

By Natalie Cristo



[1] Leach, Jeff,. “Palm Oil: maybe not such a good idea after all,” Human Food Project. 1st February 2013, Web. 6th November 2015.

[2] Seegraf, Melanie, May, Daniel, Breuer, Thomas. “Palm Oil Sustainability is Possible,” Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, 1st January 2011, Web. 6th November 2015.




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