The Problem with Palm Oil

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In West Africa, the African oil palm has been cultivated for centuries. The plant was considered to be very useful, since it’s red oil-rich fruits can be used in a variety of products including soap, candle wax and engine lubricant. In the late 1840s, it played a key role in the British Industrial Revolution, and when it was discovered that the (west) African oil palm grew rather well in the hot, damp climates of the Far East, plantations began to spring up in Malaysia and Thailand. Palm oil is an extremely versatile vegetable oil; it is highly fractionable, meaning that it can be separated into many different products. On top of this, the oil palm is an extremely productive plant, producing 3.6 tonnes of palm oil per hectare; up to ten times more than other oil-producing crops such as rapeseed, sunflower or soyabean. Palm oil seemed to be an excellent choice of oil. Demand grew, and plantations spread into Malaysia and Indonesia in the 1930s. The oil palm is now grown on almost every continent on Earth, although the vast majority is still found in Southeast Asia.

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2 comments on “The Problem with Palm Oil

  1. I am not sure what to say about this article.

    This is well documented, no problem there. But it all tends to incriminate palm oil and quite frankly there are very positive things to say.
    If I were to name just one, it would be that millions of people accross Asia and Africa are directly or indirectly fighting poverty thanks to oil palm trees. For producing countries, those plantations enable economic development.

    You should give a look to what Cirad researchers published about it.

    [Comment migrated from Google+ comments:

    • I agree completely, however there is no prerequisite that those palm oil plantations that are enabling economic development and helping people fight poverty should not also be developed in a sustainable way which respects the environment. In fact, better to integrate the infrastructure and mentality of sustainable production earlier rather than later. This article was an attempt to raise awareness of the palm oil issue for biodiversity whilst also pointing out that there is more than one type of palm oil – sustainable plantations are possible and do exist and that we have a choice. 

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