Masarang’s critique on sustainable palm oil

Excerpt from Willie Smits’ article:

The boom in the worldwide use of palm oil has been the main driver of deforestation in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia. Annually, primary rainforest in excess of the size of The Netherlands is cut down, for a large part to house more Palm oil plantations. The vegetable oil that they deliver comes at a high cost to the environment but is sold cheap to be used in cookies, shampoos, processed foods and, ironically, bio fuels. It is nearly impossible for the consumer to avoid palm oil as globally supermarkets are filled with products containing the substance but the labels mostly just mention vegetable oil disguising the ingredient.

A number of years ago the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) was founded to try to tackle these unsustainable practices. In itself it sounds like a solution and now many organizations that call themselves environmental are following the food industry and are making a huge shift towards accepting palm oil as somehow being okay as long as it has been certified by the RSPO.

However, we at Masarang tend to differ. With a vast knowledge of crops and experience on the ground we can show that the Oil Palms, even the “sustainable” ones, are in no way the great solution that they are presented to be by skillful lobbyists.

Willie Smits recently wrote an article where he shows that in countries where corruption is still so prevalent certification does not ensure a sustainable nature of palm oil. Furthermore Palm oil plantations are monocultures that, because of their heavy fertilization and use of pesticides, are actuality destroying the natural biodiversity, polluting ground water and are bringing excess nutrients to the sea ( a main source of coral reef destruction). Next, the plantations hardly create jobs in areas where the local populations see their forest and main source of income disappear which creates huge social problems often leading to unsustainable practices such as logging.

And there are viable solutions to the problems with palm oil. There are trees, like the local Southeast Asian Illipe nut tree that can also produce high quality fats and oils while growing in natural forests or traditional mixed village forests in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo). Those oils used to be the main source for the local people that now have to buy increasingly expensive palm oil based cooking oil. Another solution are sugar palms that can produce lipids (via enzyme conversion). They only grows in mixed bio diverse forests and have a much higher production per hectare than the oil palm. Moreover this crop creates many local jobs, making rural communities develop in a sustainable way.

Less and less prime rainforest remains and also vulnerable species like the orangutan are threatened with extinction. There is really no time left for nature and we have to stop the current palm oil practices now. Environmental groups and the food industry should start using new technologies and alternatives immediately if they want to avoid a total tragedy for nature and life on this planet.

View Willie Smits’ full article