"I'm boiling about the rainforests being chopped down to make disposable chopsticks. I'm boiling about the fact that we have palm oil put into every single one of our substances."
Joanna Lumley, Actress
Palm oil is a vegetable oil that is produced out of the fruits of oil palms.
The production of palm oil is quite attractive from a financial standpoint for many farmers, especially in poor developing countries with a lack of other job opportunities.
Even though the cultivation of oil palms can have some advantages, it also implies serious problems. In this article, the pros and cons of palm oil are examined.
One important advantage of the cultivation of oil palms and the production of palm oil is that farmers can get quite high yields out of it. For instance, the yields related to palm oil are usually multiple times higher compared to other crops like coconuts.
Therefore, cultivating oil palms can be a quite profitable business for local farmers who had previously been financially struggling. This is also one main reason why so many farmers engage in the cultivation of oil palms.
They can have a pretty decent life now compared to the past where they had been barely able to survive from farming coconut palms or other plants.
Since through the cultivation of oil palms, pretty high yields can be accomplished, cultivating oil palms can also be considered to be quite efficient in terms of land use. This means that yields for a certain area of land are generally much higher compared to the cultivation of other crops.
Since space for farming is usually pretty confined, it is quite important to use farming space efficiently in order to produce as much crops as possible to feed the local population. This is especially true for poor areas of our planet where many locals rely on the yields of palm oil farmers in order to be able to survive.
In general, through the cultivation of palm oil, the local economy of certain regions was strengthened significantly.
Farmers are now able to make a pretty decent income, which also benefits the local economy and infrastructure since better roads and other infrastructure projects are constructed.
In turn, with a significant source of income for locals, people may now be able to provide better education for their kids and the chances to get out of poverty may increase due to that.
Depending on how the additional money from the palm oil plantations is used, the overall living conditions of the local population could also be greatly improved.
With the money from those plantations, locals may be able to afford much more things for their daily life.
Moreover, people who had previously been homeless may now be able to afford a small hut.
Through the income related to palm oil production, many people may also be able to get out of poverty. Especially in poor developing countries, poverty and the related starvation problem is quite prevalent.
Thus, for those poor regions, the possibility to produce palm oil may be a real blessing since more people might be able to secure their livelihood due to that.
The palm oil industry may not only be beneficial to the local economy, it may also contribute to a higher tax revenue. Especially in poor rural areas where people struggle to survive, the tax revenue is usually quite low.
However, through the cultivation of palm oil, the yields as well as the profits may increase and due to that, the government may be able to collect higher tax revenues.
In turn, this money could be spent on infrastructure projects like roads, schools and hospitals in order to improve the overall living conditions of the local population.
Another upside of the production of palm oil is that it can contribute to the creation of numerous jobs. For instance, plenty of workers are needed in the cultivation process of oil palms in order to ensure a proper growth. Moreover, many workers are also needed when it is time to harvest the crops.
After the harvest had been finished, the crops have to be processed, which takes plenty of additional work.
Therefore, many locals can be employed in the palm oil industry, which may improve the overall living conditions of many people and give them a better perspective for their future.
Palm oil can also be used for a variety of different food products. Since it is rather tasteless and does not have a strong taste on its own, it can be used for many foods without changing the flavor of those food products.
Therefore, palm oil can be used in a quite versatile manner, which gives industries a great level of freedom and they can replace other sorts of oil with palm oil if they think that it makes sense to do so.
Palm oil is also rich in nutrients and can supply us with plenty of beneficial components. However, there are also discussions regarding whether the consumption of palm oil is healthy or not on a regular basis among scientists.
This is a quite controversial topic and different scientists have different opinions regarding the health impact of palm oil. Thus, even though palm oil might be beneficial for our health, this has not been fully proven yet.
Palm oil can not only be used in food production, it can also be used for the production of other material goods of our daily life. Among others, this includes the use for cosmetics, detergents and also for candles.
Thus, palm oil can be used for a variety of different products and industry branches, which makes it quite versatile and industries can diversify their reliance on certain commodities by using palm oil in their raw materials mix.
Apart from the use in food production and in the production of other material things, palm oil can also be used for energy production. Part of the palm oil plant can be used for the generation of biofuels, which can used for the operation of certain vehicles.
Therefore, also for the transition process from fossil to renewable energy sources, palm oil might play a certain role in the future.
Another advantage of palm oil is that it has quite convenient cooking properties. For instance, palm oil can be heated to quite high temperatures without losing the beneficial components.
Therefore, especially if you want to fry your food, palm oil might be a great alternative to other conventional oils due to this heat-resistant property.
Since palm oil is produced out of the crops of oil palms, it is also suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
Especially for those groups of people, palm oil might be a great alternative to conventional products like butter which imply the use of products from animals.
Therefore, by using palm oil, you can be sure to also make your vegetarian and vegan guests happy.
From the previous analysis, we have seen that palm oil has some important advantages. However, the production of palm oil also implies serious problems.
One disadvantage of palm oil is that there are often discussions regarding the sustainability of the oil palm cultivation business.
The production of palm oil needs plenty of space and if the global demand for palm oil increases further, chances are that there will be not enough space left to meet this demand.
Therefore, solely relying on palm oil seems not to be the right way to go and industries should search for alternatives in order to assure their supply with sufficient raw materials in the long run.
Another significant problem of the cultivation of oil palms is that it contributes to deforestation on a large scale.
In order to be able to meet the growing global demand for palm oil, the areas that are currently used for farming are not sufficient anymore and additional space is needed.
In order to get this additional farming space, many trees have to bet cut and burned down.
However, this is quite harmful for our environment since our forests, especially our tropical rainforests, provide the living space for myriads of different animal and plant species.
Through the deforestation that is implied by the increasing cultivation of oil palms, the habitat of many animals and plant species is destroyed. Many animals may have to relocate and to find a new home. Since plants are not able to move at all, they are likely to significantly decrease in population.
In general, the destruction of natural habitats that is due to the production of palm oil will likely cause a significant loss in biodiversity in the long run.
Since animals and plants will lose their natural living conditions, chances are that their reproduction rate will decline substantially.
This is quite logical since if animals do not find enough food anymore, they will have less energy and are more vulnerable to diseases.
Moreover, some animals might also die solely due to the fact that all their prey vanished and they will not be able to consume enough calories to survive.
If too much of this natural living space of animals and plants is destroyed, chances are that some species will become endangered or even extinct in the long run. This is especially true for species that had already been quite low in population even before farmers engaged in palm oil production. For those species, the destruction of habitats may result in local or even in global extinction.
Our ecosystems are quite complex and there are numerous interdependencies between animal and plant species. If some species become extinct, the long-term effects on our ecosystems will be unclear and the extinction of only a small number of species could have the potential to destroy the whole ecological balance, which may result in serious consequences in the long run.
Through the deforestation that is implied by palm oil production, also our climate may suffer to a certain extent. Since trees are natural storage spaces for carbon dioxide, cutting or burning them down will lead to a release of large amounts of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere.
In turn, this will contribute to global warming and to the resulting adverse effects related to it. Thus, the production and the use of palm oil can also have a negative effect in terms of climate change.
In our tropical rainforests, there are still local tribes present who live in harmony with nature and have not adapted to our modern life at all. They are often quite happy to live in the middle of nature without all those technological inventions.
However, due to the need for more farming space related to palm oil production, those indigenous people are often dispersed and they might have to relocate and to give up their home due to that.
Another issue with the production of palm oil is that the labor conditions for workers are usually quite bad. They only get paid rather low wages for the exhausting work on palm oil plantations.
In many cases, also children are employed on those plantations, who have to work rather than to go to school, which may trap them in poverty in the long run since they might suffer from a lack of education once they turn into grownups.
In the cultivation process related to palm oil, large amounts of herbicides and pesticides are used on a regular basis. This is pretty bad for insects since they often die due to the use of those harmful chemical substances.
Moreover, pesticides can also be quite harmful for the health of workers since most of them are not equipped with protection of any sort and inhaling those pesticides may lead to serious health conditions for them in the long run.
Even though the use of palm oil is considered to be healthy by some nutrition experts, others state the opinion that the consumption of palm oil might be harmful for our health due to the presence of saturated fatty acids.
Those acids are known to be rather bad for our health since they can cause heart conditions. Thus, if too much palm oil is consumed, it could have harmful health effects and palm oil should therefore only be used moderately.
There are also some solutions for the problems that are related to palm oil production. For instance, you could use other oils instead of palm oil for cooking. There is a variety of oils out there which have similar properties and might also even be better for your health since some oils contain more unsaturated fatty acids compared to palm oil.
Governments around the world should also stop deforestation that is related to palm oil production. Deforestation is one main issue for many environmental problems, including climate change, and we as humanity should take great efforts in order to reduce the deforestation issue.
Thus, the production of palm oil should not be justification enough to destroy the habitats of myriads of animals and plants and official authorities should introduce appropriate regulations that protect our forests from deforestation.
Oil palms can either be grown in an excessive manner or in a reasonable sustainable manner. In order to ensure the sustainability of palm oil production, governments should set strict limits regarding the total production amount as well as regarding the size of areas that can be used for the cultivation of oil palms.
By introducing those measures, it would be possible to confine the negative environmental effects related to the production of palm oil while still ensuring better living conditions for the local population.
There should also be suitable palm oil labels in place so that customers would be able to recognize whether the palm oil had been produced in a sustainable and fair manner.
By introducing those labels, customers could refrain from buying products that do not meet sustainable production conditions.
Thus, official authorities should introduce such labels on a global scale in order to improve the overall conditions in the palm oil industry.
Big food chains often also have substantial power over small local producers. Thus, big distributors can often greatly influence how the working conditions and the salary for local workers will look like.
Therefore, it is in the distributors’ responsibility to ensure fair labor conditions and to increase the pressure on farmers who do not comply with those fair conditions.
Palm Oil Pros
Significant profits for farmers
Improvements of living conditions
Higher tax revenue
Can be used for many different purposes
Generation of biofuels
Suitable for vegans and vegetarians
Efficient land use
Palm Oil Cons
Sustainability is questionable
Contributes to deforestation
Destruction of habitats
Extinction of species
Poor working conditions
Adverse health effects
Excessive use of pesticides
Contributes to global warming
The cultivation of oil palms and the production of palm oil has become increasingly popular over the past decade. As we have seen before, the production of palm oil has many advantages, but also implies serious problems.
Whether the production of palm oil can be regarded to be beneficial for our environment heavily depends on the regulations that are set by local governments.
If there is a valid regulatory framework regarding the cultivation of oil palms, palm oil can be a suitable alternative to conventional oils in the long run.
About the author
My name is Andreas and my mission is to educate people of all ages about our environmental problems and how everyone can make a contribution to mitigate these issues.
As I went to university and got my Master's degree in Economics, I did plenty of research in the field of Development Economics.
After finishing university, I traveled around the world. From this time on, I wanted to make a contribution to ensure a livable future for the next generations in every part of our beautiful planet.
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