The truth about Palm oil

Palm oil is undeniably a massive industry. Raking in billions of dollars annually through practices that involve deforestation. The displacement of indigenous communities. Significant carbon dioxide emissions, and the endangerment of numerous species, including the orangutan. It’s a pervasive ingredient, present in more than 50% of the products on our shelves. From ice cream to toothpaste to lipstick.

However, before we rush to entirely banish palm oil from our lives. It’s worth considering a more nuanced perspective and discovering the real truth about palm oil.

Palm oil 

Palm oil, derived from the fruits and seeds of the oil palm tree, originates from West Africa but has been cultivated extensively in tropical regions around the world. Indonesia and Malaysia stand out as the primary global exporters, collectively accounting for about 85% of palm oil production. Presently, palm oil reigns supreme among vegetable oils in terms of both production and international trade.

The debate surrounding palm oil has created two opposing camps, each with its own set of arguments. Detractors of palm oil highlight its significant role in tropical deforestation, which leads to biodiversity loss, contributes to climate change, and sparks social conflicts. However, proponents argue that palm oil is a highly sustainable industry, characterized by remarkable crop efficiency. In fact, palm oil boasts the highest yield per hectare compared to any other vegetable oil. Additionally, it requires considerably fewer pesticides and fertilizers.

To put this into perspective, while soy and rapeseed crops demand approximately 315kg and 99kg of fertilizer, respectively, to produce one tonne of oil, palm oil requires only 49kg. Moreover, a single hectare of palm oil cultivation yields an impressive 3.62 tonnes of palm oil, while the same area produces a mere 0.3 and 0.79 tonnes of soybean and rapeseed oil, respectively.


Palm oil’s significant role in deforestation cannot be understated. Much of the land allocated for palm oil cultivation was once lush rainforest, razed to accommodate these plantations. The consequences of this deforestation are far-reaching, profoundly impacting the environment.

One of the most glaring effects is the loss of biodiversity, as forests are critical habitats for countless species. In regions like Indonesia and Malaysia, the orangutan stands as a prominent example of a species severely affected by habitat loss. The impact isn’t confined to the local level; it reverberates globally due to the massive release of carbon dioxide resulting from forest fires.

Furthermore, the vanishing rainforests disrupt hydrological patterns in the area. This alteration stems from changes in precipitation rates and retention capacity. Beyond environmental issues, the palm oil industry raises social concerns, particularly with regard to the exploitation of local communities working on these plantations.

How to improve the palm oil industry

It’s indeed heartening to witness the efforts being made to transform the palm oil industry into a more sustainable and responsible one, addressing both environmental and social concerns.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), founded in 2003, has played a pivotal role in bringing stakeholders within the palm oil industry together for this cause. RSPO members adhere to stringent guidelines governing palm oil production, establishing rigorous standards for all facets of the manufacturing process. This certification process empowers companies to showcase that palm oil cultivation can coexist with environmental conservation and respect for human rights.

A crucial aspect of sustainable palm oil production lies in the choice of plantation locations. Rather than clearing more rainforests, it’s increasingly important to establish new plantations on already degraded land. Such areas, having experienced a significant loss of biodiversity, undergo fewer detrimental effects when transformed into palm oil plantations compared to replacing healthy rainforests. This shift in strategy minimizes the environmental impact of palm oil cultivation.

Your favourite brand

Are you curious to discover if your favourite brand or company is actively engaged in making palm oil production more sustainable? Look no further – you can find out by visiting this link! It’s a valuable resource for those who wish to support businesses committed to responsible palm oil sourcing.

Want to support my work?

I spend a lot of time keeping this website filled with educational content and keeping updates about what I do to achieve my dream of working and living in Africa. Do you want to support me? You can buy me a coffee or purchase one of my digital prints. All proceeds will go towards my elephant research and the time spent on this website.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top