Malaysian palm oil is getting a lot of attention lately. It’s favored by food industry professionals who are looking for a clean label oil because its non-GMO, nutritious and doesn’t require hydrogenation. Those in the know also appreciate Malaysian palm oil’s certified sustainability. Malaysian oil palm plantations are known for their impressive yields and minimal environmental impact compared to other farm products.
But don’t take our word for it. Here’s what the experts are saying about this impressive crop.
When it comes to deforestation, Malaysian palm oil isn’t the problem
Climate Focus is an international thinktank that provides non-profits, governmental agencies and philanthropic organizations with advice to shape climate policies. Its report, Eliminating Deforestation from the Production of Agricultural Commodities, states that livestock, especially beef, is by far the largest driver of deforestation. The top vegetable crop blamed for deforestation is soy.
The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) concurs that livestock is the largest driver of deforestation in the world.
These facts inspired a scientific advisor to the Union of Concerned Scientists Climate and Energy program to say many non-governmental organizations/nonprofits have their priorities wrong. “The data is pretty clear: by far the biggest driver of deforestation is beef. Soy is second, but far behind in terms of importance,” wrote Doug Boucher. “And palm oil and wood products are even smaller drivers, causing only about a tenth as much deforestation as beef.”
The Climate Focus report also compared active deforestation campaigns related to these drivers. “You’d expect that corporate priorities, as shown by their pledges to eliminate deforestation, should reflect the relative importance of these four drivers, at least approximately,” wrote Boucher. “But Climate Focus found that in fact, it’s the opposite.” Only 12 percent of companies have pledges concerning beef, just 21 percent against soybeans, but 59 percent have palm oil pledges.”
There are four major oil crops in the world: soybean, canola (rapeseed), sunflower and oil palm. Oil palm takes up the least agricultural land, yet produces the most oil. In fact, Malaysian oil palm plantations use ten times less land to produce the same amount of oil as soybean fields and seven times less land than a canola (rapeseed) field.
According to Denis Murphy, Professor of Biotechnology, Head of Genomics & Computational Biology Research at The University of South Wales, “If oilseed crops were to replace palm oil, it would require at least 50 million additional hectares (123 million acres) of prime farmland just to produce the same amount of edible oil.”
In addition, oil palm trees grow and produce fruit for more than 25 years. There are no disruptive plowing and replanting cycles. The FAO praises perennial food crops such as oil palm because they require less fertilizer. This supports a healthy water system. Perennial crops also provide an environment where native animals can thrive, without fear of habitat destruction due to annual replanting.
Malaysia cares deeply about its environment and its people
It’s a disturbing fact that not every palm oil producer cares as much about the planet or its workforce as they should. These unscrupulous producers are why it’s important to look for certified sustainable palm oil.
Malaysia has been a leader in sustainable palm oil production for decades. It was the first to produce certified sustainable palm oil and has strengthened its commitment with its Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification program. MSPO certification covers all aspects of palm oil production, from the field to the final product.
Malaysia has received many accolades for its conservation practices. In 1992, at the Rio Earth Summit, Malaysia pledged to keep at least 50 percent of its land under forest cover. It has kept that promise.
According to Oilseed and Grain News, Malaysia contributes 10 percent of the global oils and fats using only four million hectares of land. “Forests, including some of the world’s oldest virgin rain forests, account for more than 59 percent of the total land mass in Malaysia,” it reports. “If one takes into account overall “green cover” provided by untouched forests and planted agriculture areas, a stunning 76 percent of the total land mass can be counted upon. This is far greater than the “green cover” of most developed economies around the world.”
Oil palm cultivation has also been praised for lifting many Malaysians out of poverty. More than 40 percent of Malaysia’s palm-planted lands are tended by family farmers, called smallholders. After a visit to Malaysia, Richard Ashworth, a European Parliament member from the United Kingdom, said, “Without a doubt, the Malaysian government has done extraordinary work, lifting tens of thousands of smallholders out of ‘absolute poverty’, giving them a decent standard of living. That’s impressive, intelligent and it has worked very well.”
The international World Bank – an international organization which provides financial and technical assistance to help reduce poverty and support development – has lauded Malaysia’s success in a case study, Malaysia: 30 Years of Poverty Reduction, Growth and Racial Harmony. This comprehensive report acknowledges that oil palm production played a role in drastically reducing poverty in the country while spurring economic growth and maintaining harmony.