WHAT IS PALM OIL?
Palm oil is a type of vegetable oil, grown mostly in Nigeria and Indonesia from a crop called Oil Palm that is native to Africa. It has many uses and is found in up to half of the items in a shopping basket. It’s a very productive crop but is unpopular with the general public, because rainforest has to be cut down to grow it. Many people are trying to reduce their use of palm oil. This article will explain why this might not be the best solution.
THE DISADVANTAGES OF PALM OIL
Rainforests are being replaced with Oil Palm in many countries. It can’t be intercropped, meaning that other plants cannot grow alongside Oil Palm. This means that in Oil Palm plantations, the complexity of the natural forest is completely lost. Animals that normally live in the forest, such as orangutans, insects and birds, have nowhere to go. This is worrying since the places where Oil Palm grows best, such as in South-East Asia, are where we want to prioritise the most for conservation. This is because they contain many rare plants and animals.
THE ADVANTAGES OF PALM OIL
It’s difficult to stop using vegetable oil—it has uses in makeup, cooking, and construction. If you use less palm oil, you’ll have to replace it with another type of vegetable oil, such as soy. Oil Palm plantations are 4 times more efficient than soy plantations. If you stop using palm oil you will save forests in Africa and Asia. However, you will have to cut down more forest in other places, such as the Amazon rainforest. Oil Palm is environmentally friendly in other ways, as it doesn’t need much pesticide (chemicals that kill insects that try to feed on the crops) or fertiliser (chemicals to help the crop grow).
As well as being useful and efficient, palm oil has brought money to some of the world’s poorest countries. It is good for large businesses and national economies. At the same time, families with small Oil Palm plantations can make money to support themselves. Palm oil has provided money for education and other facilities in deprived areas.
PALM OIL CAN BE ECOLOGICALLY FRIENDLY
If farmers leave areas of natural forest between Oil Palm plantations, plant and animal communities can be preserved. It is also important not to plant Oil Palm in areas with a particularly high number of endangered species.
Instead of stopping the use of palm oil altogether, we could support companies like the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, which helps palm oil farmers to work in a more sustainable way. We can do this by buying products that have been certified by the RSPO.
Tropical deforestation is one of the disadvantages of palm oil and some people are trying not to use it. In reality, palm oil causes much less loss of trees than other vegetable oils. If we farm Oil Palm in an ecologically friendly way, vulnerable species can be protected.
Picture Credit: Bpdp