Palm Oil has been demonised and for good reason. There has been a tremendous environmental massacre perpetrated on its behalf. Rainforests have been teared down and many natural habitats have been destroyed, including the habitat of endangered native wildlife species, such as the orangutan. We are aware of all this and very sorry. This should not happen and we should move towards sustainability around Palm Oil industry and agricultural dynamics.
The thing is, there’s no viable replacement for palm oil, as it is present in 50% of the world’s consumer products. Its unique chemistry, plantation specs and cost make it ideal for everyday consumption. Studies show it’s not necessarily un-healthier or more carcinogenic than other oils such as coconut. Like an article on the BBC states: “It’s nearly impossible to avoid, and just as difficult to replace.” And then, as some suggest, switching to other oils is not environmentally friendlier or cost effective.
“…A palm oil boycott tends to simply switch demand to less efficient vegetable oils which use up more land, potentially driving greater rates of deforestation. It also signals to producer countries that adopting sustainable production methods is pointless because Europe doesn’t want to buy their palm oil anyway.” says Fazlun Khalid, an advisor to the UN.
The word is angry with palm oil as it has caused too much deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia (countries that have more than 85% of the world’s palm oil production), and all the palm oil plantations of the word fit in the same ignominious bucket, with good reason. But there are other initiatives, in other countries that might level up in the production of sustainable palm oil.
Colombia, for example, is the 4th palm oil producing country in the world and has only 2% of the world’s total production. The country has grown oil palm trees on grassland formerly used to raise cattle (thus reducing carbon footprint and even increasing carbon sequestration in the tropics). The plantation of palm oil in Colombia has a binary approach to that in Southeast Asia. I’m not saying it is spotless clean and impeccable, but I really believe that there is a better story around palm oil in Colombia and that it can be synonymous of social inclusion, post-conflict recovery, generation of employment, carbon footprint reduction and strengthening of the social fabric.
So, this is an open invitation to re-think palm oil production and palm oil consumption. We are able to change the story around a demonised, but inevitable, commodity. As consumers and FMCG businesses we can demand sustainable Palm Oil by checking the sources and labels like RSPO or the newly added Fedepalma label, or becoming an active member of associations like European Palm Oil Alliance, becoming responsible, conscious and informed about the matter, and working actively towards a sustainable solution.