According to some estimates, palm oil is in about 50 percent of products sold in our supermarkets. About 80 percent of that palm oil comes from Malaysia. But how much do you really know about palm oil’s sustainability and how this nutritious oil impacts the environment? For instance, did you know that Malaysian oil palm cultivation uses integrated pest management methods such as using barn owls to control rats? Or that oil palm trees absorb more carbon dioxide than they emit?
Some of these lesser-known facts are like deep tracks on an album: They don’t get as much attention. But it’s time they did. Malaysian palm oil producers take their priceless lessons from nature. They believe that no single aspect or element of palm oil processing should be underestimated or left unutilized.
Here are five more facts you may not know about Malaysian sustainable palm oil:
- Deforestation has been outlawed in Malaysia since the ‘90s. Malaysia is dedicated to conserving more than 50 percent of its total land area as forest. While this helps preserve local wildlife, biochemist Shawn Talbott, who spent time in Malaysia, says it also helps local families. They have personal stakes in Malaysia’s conservation initiatives. “Forty percent of all of the palm fruit agriculture and funding goes through family farms,” Talbott explains. “What that says to me is that those farmers want to take care of their trees, want to take good care of their land so they can take good care of their families.”
- There is research taking place to further maximize existing land usage and increase yield. An international team of scientists found a single gene that could boost the efficiency of oil palm yields by 30 percent. To put that into perspective, right now, one hectare of oil palms, which is almost two and a half acres, produces 10 times more palm oil than other major oil crops.
- All parts of the oil palm tree are used or recycled. Even after the palm oil is harvested, there are efficient uses for the oil palm fronds, fruit shells and trunks. The trunks and pruned fronds can be used as a substitute for tropical grass by ruminant producers. The trunks are even used as lumber.
- Its by-product helps feed livestock. During palm kernel oil production, a by-product called palm kernel meal is made. This dark brown meal is rich in oil and fiber. It also contains protein, cellulose and organic acids. These nutrients make great animal feed for dairy cows, sheep and poultry.
- Malaysia aims to maximize benefits of sustainable energy production. In the Malaysian palm oil industry, there is no such thing as waste. Any waste created in the palm oil production chain is put through energy recovery processes such as direct combustion, liquefaction or fermentation.
As a leading producer of the world’s palm oil, the Malaysian palm oil industry continues to use methods that minimize its environmental impact, help to feed a growing world population and support its local communities of family farmers.
Robin Miller is a health and nutrition editor with more than 30 years of industry experience. She researches and writes about the nutritional benefits of palm fruit oil, with the goal of giving readers factual, science-based information that will be useful in their daily lives.