My parents-in-law have an oil palm plantation. Palm oil is the most widely used vegetable oil on the planet and an important supply for millions of people. But it’s a sensitive issue, as tropical forests are cut and burned down in parts of Indonesia, to make way for new palm oil plantations, and in turn, destroys habitat for wildlife like orangutans.
But boycotting palm oil won’t change a thing, because there will always be a market, and it’s better the market is in places with more insistence for sustainability, like Europe, Australia, and America. While these places still command enough of the market, companies and consumers can make a huge difference in promoting sustainable palm oil. Since 2013, around 60 percent of the global palm oil trade is covered by new forest-friendly palm oil policies.
“We’re seeing the beginning of a bunch of dominos that are going to fall, and it’s going to put a lot of pressure on companies that don’t have zero deforestation commitments,” says Rhett Butler, founder of Mongabay.com, who follows these issues closely. Organisations such as WWF and Greenpeace don’t believe that a boycott of palm oil is the solution.
“I don’t believe in boycotts. Instead, we should make more demands on production to be better and more sustainable,” says Lena Tham of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) to Swedish Radio P3. Even Greenpeace says boycotting palm oil is not a solution because palm oil is everywhere. It’s also an important economic asset to the producing countries.
“No biscuit-munching, soap-using, clean-clothed urbanite could really avoid using palm oil and its derivatives. It’s also a critical part of the Indonesian economy, providing crucial income to rural communities and pumping money into this burgeoning country.”
A freshly harvested fruit from my in-laws’ plantation. Palm oil is extracted from the fruit of oil palm trees that can only be grown in the tropics. According to WWF, approximately 4.5 million people are dependent on palm oil for their survival in Southeast Asia.
My in-laws’ oil palm plantation in the province of Krabi, southern Thailand. Palm oil is extremely productive; up to five times more efficient than similar crops. From a global food supply perspective, it is, therefore, important to continue to use palm oil.
A long harvesting pole with a sharp curved blade used to cut the fruit from high in the trees.
Greenpeace believes that palm oil can be produced responsibly.
“Palm oil production has been part of the livelihoods of local communities in Asia and Africa for decades, and can contribute both to economic development, while protecting forests and other ecosystems. An example of this is the Dosan village on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Palm oil producers, like the members of the Palm Oil Innovation Group, have shown that there is a business case for palm oil production that does not lead to forest destruction or violates the rights of local communities.”
As a consumer, you should ask for a certified and responsibly produced palm oil.
Spread the word that good palm oil exists!