Boycotting means to voluntarily abstain from using, buying, or dealing with something as a form of protest.

ZSL believes that boycotting palm oil entirely is not a practical solution. This is because such a boycott would remove support for the millions of people who work in the palm oil industry – many of them small-scale farmers – by depriving them of opportunities to adopt a sustainable business model and transform the situation on the ground for the better.

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If we reduce demand for sustainable palm oil, businesses will continue to operate as usual and sell unsustainable palm oil to customers who care less about its negative impact on the environment. Companies will have little incentive to raise their standards and get certified.

Sustainable plantations must have strict policies to maintain conservation areas, protect endangered species, and allow animals to migrate through wildlife corridors. They should also use renewable energy and limit carbon emissions by committing zero deforestation and no development on peatlands.

 

Watch WWF’s video for more information on sustainable palm oil production.

Given that the production of palm oil is a significant source of employment and economic development in developing countries in the tropics and it is currently the most productive vegetable oil crop per hectare, future increases in production seem inevitable. Therefore, if we are concerned about potential increases in deforestation and pollution, we must create demand for producers to reduce these negative impacts.

ZSL is an active member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certification scheme, and we work directly with palm oil companies, particularly in Indonesia, to help them monitor the landscapes in which they operate, to improve their policies, and make themselves more transparent via our company assessments.

 

What are the alternatives?

Although there are alternatives to palm oil, such as soybean or rapeseed oil, these vegetable oils also come with their own set of problems.

Oil palm trees produce much more oil per hectare than other oil crops. Oil palm produces on average four tonnes per hectare of palm oil, in comparison to other competitor seeds (soybean, sunflower and rapeseed oils) that yield less than 0.8 tonnes per hectare (Oil World 2010). IFC and the World Bank estimated that to meet the worlds vegetable oil demands in 2020, an additional 42 million hectares of land would need to be cultivated for soybean oil, compared to only 6.3 million ha of land  for oil palm. Soy-dependent livestock farming accounts for the loss of 4 million hectares of forest in South America every year, 2.6 million of this in Brazil alone.

Oil palm also requires the lowest input for energy, fertilizer, and pesticides per tonne of production. Soybean oil, for example, requires six times more energy, seven times more nitrogen, and 14 times more pesticides per tonne produced than palm oil (FAO 1996).

Input-output analysis of intensive oilseeds and oil palm cultivation (per tonne)

Items (unit)Palm oilRapeseed oilSoyabean oilSunflower oil
Oilseeds/fruits per hectare (kg/yr)4540250050002500
Pesticides/herbicides per hectare0.1266
Sulphur dioxide (SO2)0.20.420.1
Energy input (GJ)0.50.72.90.2
Nitrogen oxides (NOx)0.50.840.3
Phosphates (P2O5/kg)2132322
Pesticides/herbicides (kg)2112928
Phosphates (P2O5/kg)8427772
Carbon dioxide (CO2/kg)325020516
Nitrogen (N/kg)479931596
Other fertilizers (kg)88124117150

 

Palm oil is cheaper than competitor vegetable oils, such as soy and sunflower oil. The palm oil sector employs an estimated 6 million people worldwide and generates more jobs per hectare than other large scale farming operations. Smallholder farmers are involved in nearly 40% of Southeast Asia‘s area under oil palm cultivation and over 80% of Africa‘s area under oil palm cultivation.

Palm oil is also odorless, tasteless, and does not require hydrogenation to achieve a solid state (unlike soybean or rapeseed oil). Because of this property, it does not contain trans fats. Trans fats have been linked to numerous health problems including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and various autoimmune diseases. Trans fats are now banned in several Western countries including the United States, and the shift away from trans fat propelled palm oil to replace soybean oil as the dominant vegetable oil globally.