The Problem is Not Palm Oil, But How It’s Produced

By Alice Soewito

The ubiquity of palm oil is insidious, a key ingredient in almost all of our daily use products. In light of this, many critics have suggested protesting against increased production of palm oil.

Credit: Documentary, Before the Flood

However, the IUCN Palm Oil Task Force argues that banning palm oil may cause more harm than good. As the most authoritative organization governing research on palm oil, the IUCN Task Force has conducted thorough situational analyses on oil palm, its production line, policies that govern the crop and relevant technological advancements in the context of sustainable development. Hence, their most recent report, Palm Oil and Biodiversity is a comprehensive study on the multifaceted and complex issue surrounding palm oil.

The study has found that oil palms have the highest yield amongst other oil crops. Hence, palm oil is the most environmentally efficient crop to produce, and switching to alternative oil crops, such as soy, may require up to nine times of the land for the same amount of yield.

Rather than transition to other plants, the report recommends and pushes for better palm oil management and impact minimization. Up to 50% of habitat loss and deforestation in the tropics can be attributed to oil palm development, this loss resulting in catastrophic biodiversity loss, and significant degradation on water and soil quality.

These impacts can be prevented through better planning of new plantations and management of current forests. This is done through two methods, called the High Conservation Value Approach and High Carbon Stock approach. Essentially, governments attempt to measure the value of a forest in terms of its biodiversity and carbon value, and conserve places of highest value based on these measurements.


Credit: IUCN’s Report, How High Carbon Stock Approach can be used to identify the most valuable areas to conserve

The IUCN also recommends continual improvement on sustainable palm oil certification, and calls for more action in ensuring that sustainable palm oil practices are implemented in the most affected areas. No one solution can solve the poor production process of palm oil. But the issue is not in the plant itself, but how we are approaching this agricultural issue.

If you’re interested how you as an individual can help the cause, consider purchasing products that use sustainably certified palm oil.


Credit: IUCN’s press release article on Palm Oil and Biodiversity

About the Author

Alice Soewito is an intern at PM.Haze, and a university student studying Environmental and Sustainability Sciences. She hopes that she can work on environmental social justice issues in the future, and is especially interested in responsible finance.

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