Sustainable palm oil production should continue because it supports family farmers, reduces poverty and requires less land to produce than alternative vegetable oils, agricultural scientists found in a new study conducted by the University of Göttingen and the IPB University Bogor and reported in Science Daily. The study was originally published in the Annual Review of Resource Economics.
Oil palm produces significantly more oil per hectare than other popular edible oils, so banning its production would mean “much more land would be needed for cultivation with additional loss of forests and other natural habitats,” reported the researchers.
In the past, palm oil production has been associated with tropical deforestation. But “banning palm oil production and trade would not be a sustainable solution,” concurs Professor Matin Qaim, agricultural economist at the University of Göttingen and first author of the study. There would be “negative economic and social consequences in the producing countries” in addition to the environmental consequences of switching to alternative oils, such as soybean or sunflower, that take more land to produce.
“The rapid expansion of oil palm has also contributed considerably to economic growth and poverty reduction in local communities, particularly in Asia,” the scientists found. Their study was vast, evaluating results from more than 30 years of research.
Smallholders, or family farmers, produce around half of the world’s palm oil, which means more employment and higher incomes for rural laborers who may otherwise live in poverty. Support for these farmers — in the form of training and technology — is important to the sustainable palm oil production.
The study’s authors encourage innovative research and policymaking to make palm oil production more sustainable. “High yields on the already-cultivated land are important, in order to reduce additional deforestation. Mosaic landscapes, where oil palm is combined with patches of forest and other crops in agroforestry systems, could also help to protect biodiversity and ecosystem functions,” says Professor Ingo Grass, agricultural ecologist at the University of Hohenheim and co-author of the study.
In Malaysia, sustainable palm oil production is mandated by national law. The Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil certification program (MSPO) sets standards that address the environmental, social and economic aspects of palm oil production. Oil palm trees are grown in compliance with environmentally friendly Good Agricultural Practices.
Malaysia was the first country to produce certified sustainable palm oil. The country continues to lead global efforts on sustainability and responsible palm farming and manufacturing.
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