This post was originally published on May 12, 2015 and updated on May 11, 2021.

When it comes to land use, the oil palm tree stands tall. This “golden crop” is the most efficient oil crop in the world. Sustainably grown in Malaysia, this stately tree feeds billions, brings prosperity to farmers and nurtures its environment. And it accomplishes this on just a tiny sliver of the world’s farmland. Now, that’s smart growth!

The world has four major oil seed crops: oil palm, soybean, sunflower and canola (rapeseed). Together, they use 3.55 percent of the world’s total agricultural land. Oil palm occupies the least land: just 0.23 percent of the world’s farmland. Sunflower uses 0.51 percent, rapeseed 0.67 percent and soybean, the most at 2.14 percent.

Despite using the least amount of land, oil palm provides the highest yield of oil. The bountiful fruit that grows on the oil palm tree produces 11 times more oil than soybean plants, ten times more than sunflower and seven times more than canola, per hectare per year. In other words, it takes more than ten times more land to produce the same amount of soybean oil as palm oil.

And unlike the other oil seed crops, palm oil is a perennial crop with a 25-year life cycle. Instead of having to plant and replant year after year, the tall, leafy oil palm trees produce generous supplies of fresh fruit bunches all year long. This conserves energy and reduces soil erosion. The trees also act as an effective carbon sink. When it comes to sustainable agriculture, Malaysian palm oil is simply the superior crop for its effective land utilization.

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Why is land use important?

The world’s population is growing rapidly: from four billion in 1974 to seven billion people today, and an estimated nine billion people by 2050. Ensuring that each and every person has access to safe and nutritious food, known as food security, is a growing concern. The Malaysian palm oil industry stands ready to help meet the world’s demand for healthy, non-GMO oils and fats. Oil palm, the world’s most efficient oil crop, can help feed the world while conserving our natural resources.

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