Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil derived from the palm fruit that is used in just about everything from cosmetics to foods, bio-fuels and even detergents. Production over the last decade has doubled, as the markets demand for the valuable asset has increased. The issue with this increased demand is that the plant is not often produced in a sustainable manner, meaning that it comes with a host of environmental and social impacts.
With tropical rainforests being one of the most diverse areas on Earth, with huge importance for local communities, medicine and wildlife, the production of the oil is not only pushing species to extinction due to destruction and loss of habitat, such as the orangutan an Sumatran tigers, but also pushing communities out of their territory, causing human displacement too.
Deforestation also has a great impact on the environment, as trees act as carbon sinks, meaning that when they are cut down, a large amount of CO2 is released into the atmosphere. Not good news for climate change, ocean acidification and other issues caused by carbon emissions.
Other environmental impacts include soil erosion, which occurs due to the lack of roots keeping the soil anchored, meaning that rains wash away nutrient rich topsoil, creating land that may be hard to farm on, which often has devastating effects for farmers.
In the future, it is important that a more sustainable approach to the growth of the crop is taken, in order to ensure that even more irreversible damage is not done to the environment and people. Since, 2004, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil has been striving to engage stakeholders and local communities in order to monitor the effects introducing a more sustainable palm oil into the local market. This would not only allow for the production of the economically valuable and important oil, but also balance the needs of the environment and people in the process.