History of Palm Oil
Palm oil is one of the oldest edible oils in the world, with evidence of its use dating back over 5,000 years. It is native to West Africa, where it was used for cooking, lighting, and medicine. Palm oil was introduced to Southeast Asia in the 19th century, and production has grown rapidly in recent decades. Palm oil is now the most widely used vegetable oil in the world.
Top 5 Companies and Countries
The top five palm oil producing companies include:
- Wilmar International
- Kuala Lumpur Kepong
- Sime Darby Plantation
- Golden Agri-Resources (GAR)
Oil Palm Plantations
Oil palm plantations are large areas of land where oil palm trees are grown. They are typically located in tropical regions, where the climate is suitable for palm oil production. Oil palm plantations can be very productive, and they can produce oil for many years.
An important piece of research was recently released by Global Forest Watch in June 2023, which said an area of tropical forest the size of Switzerland was lost last year as tree losses surged, driven by Brazilian soy and cattle farming. However, the report noted a sharp reduction in forest loss in Malaysia and Indonesia shows that reversing this trend is achievable.
In both countries, oil palm corporations appear to be taking action with some 83% of palm oil refining capacity now operating under a ‘No Deforestation, Peat and Exploitation (NDPE)’ commitment.
Why Did Palm Oil Get a Bad Name?
Palm oil has gotten a bad name because of its association with environmental and social problems. Palm oil production has been linked to deforestation, habitat loss, and water pollution. Palm oil plantations have also been accused of using child labour and forced labour.
Palm Oil vs Other Vegetable Oils
Globally, palm oil supplies between 35% and 40% of the world’s vegetable oil demand on just under 6% of the land used to produce all vegetable oils. To get the same amount from alternative oils like soybean, coconut, or sunflower oil you would need anything between 4-and-10 times more land, which would just shift the problem to other parts of the world and threaten other habitats, species and communities.
Because of its high yield, palm oil requires around one-ninth the land of substitutes like rapeseed, olive and soybean. To keep pace with growing food demand would require 36 million hectares of additional Oil Palm land, whereas soybean, the second most popular oil crop, would need 204 million more hectares. On top of this, producing palm oil takes significantly less amount of fertilizer, pesticides and energy inputs.
Palm oil is a versatile vegetable oil that can be used in a wide variety of products. It is relatively inexpensive to produce, and it has a long shelf life. However, palm oil is high in saturated fat, which can raise cholesterol levels.
Top Countries Using Palm Oil
The top five countries using palm oil are:
Top Industries Using Palm Oil
Top industries using palm oil include:
- Food processing
- Soaps and detergents
- Animal feed
The Introduction of Sustainable Palm Oil
Sustainable palm oil is palm oil that is produced using methods that minimize environmental and social impacts. Sustainable palm oil plantations are certified by organizations such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Indonesia has a national sustainability standard for palm oil, the Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) certification scheme. Malaysia has a similar scheme, the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification scheme.
In Malaysia and Indonesia, oil palm corporations appear to be taking action with some 83% of palm oil refining capacity now operating under a ‘No Deforestation, Peat and Exploitation (NDPE)’ commitment.
Due to this, world deforestation from palm oil has fallen to a four-year low: Deforestation in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea attributed to the development of oil palm plantations has fallen to its lowest level since 2017, according to satellite analysis published from risk analysis group Chain Reaction Research (CRR).
According to Forest 500 analysis by non-profit research group Global Canopy, palm oil supply chains were singled out as doing a better job than others in providing deforestation commitments. Among all the commodities that are linked to deforestation, commitments are more common in palm oil supply chains (72% of companies have made a deforestation commitment) than other commodities including pulp and paper (49%), soy (40%), beef (30%) and leather (28%).
The Future of Sustainable Palm Oil
The demand for sustainable palm oil is growing. Consumers and businesses are increasingly aware of the environmental and social problems associated with palm oil production, and they are looking for sustainable alternatives.
The RSPO is working to increase the production of sustainable palm oil. The organization has set a goal of having 100% of palm oil production certified by 2020.
Benefits of Palm Oil
Palm oil is a versatile and efficient crop that provides a livelihood for millions of people around the world. Because of its high yield, palm oil requires around one-ninth the land of substitutes like rapeseed, olive and soybean. To keep pace with growing food demand would require 36 million hectares of additional Oil Palm land, whereas soybean, the second most popular oil crop, would need 204 million more hectares. On top of this, producing palm oil takes significantly less amount of fertilizer, pesticides and energy inputs.
Besides its importance in the manufacturing of food, household goods, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals, The RSPO estimates that oil palm farming provides an income for over 7 million smallholder famers globally.
It is also a relatively nutritious oil. It is a good source of vitamin E and carotenoids, which are antioxidants that can help to protect the body against cell damage. Palm oil is also a good source of lauric acid, a type of saturated fat that has been shown to boost the immune system.
Sustainable palm oil is the best option for consumers who are concerned about the environmental and social impacts of palm oil production. Sustainable palm oil is produced using methods that minimize these impacts, and it is certified by organizations such as the RSPO.