Palm oil is obtained from the pulp of the oil palm (Elaeis guineensis), which originally comes from Africa and is now also cultivated in South America and Southeast Asia. It is one of the most economically significant plants.
The oil palm grows up to 30 meters high and bears up to 6000 fruits, which can weigh up to 50 kilograms in total. After harvesting, the fruits are processed with steam as soon as possible, so that the fats contained are not split. The pulp is then crushed and its stone cores removed. The palm fat is ultimately obtained from the pulp and is reddish in color due to its high carotene content. However, this coloring is removed during further processing. In contrast, the seeds contain palm kernel oil.
The oil palm belongs to the family of the palm family (Arecaceae).
Cost effective, versatile and low cost: palm oil is a product that modern industry can hardly do without. However, nature pays the costs. To produce it, entire areas of rainforest are plowed.
The palm oil boom has a very specific reason: the oil palm is a plant with a very high yield. It is multi-year and its fruits can be harvested at any time of the year. On the same surface it is possible to obtain much greater quantities of palm oil than other vegetable oils. To produce the same quantity of rapeseed oil, an area 2-3 times larger is needed on average.
These characteristics make oil palm plantations very profitable. New crops are growing not only in Indonesia and Malaysia, but also in other tropical countries such as Papua New Guinea, Colombia, Nigeria and Ivory Coast. All of these states want to profit from the palm oil boom. But the consequences for man and nature are devastating.
Precious tropical forests are often sacrificed to make way for new oil palm plantations, and numerous species lose their livelihood. Huge quantities of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane are released due to the fires set up to loosen the soil and the reclamation of peat forests. Furthermore, the emergence of new crops often triggers conflicts regarding land use.
As already mentioned, oil palms are mainly planted in Africa, South America and Southeast Asia. The ideal conditions for rapid growth are given above all in rainforests. The logical consequence: rainforests are being cut down – monocultures of oil palms are grown so that palm oil can be produced as effectively as possible.
The large-scale clearing of the rainforests has numerous disadvantages. The habitat of numerous animal and plant species is thus destroyed. It should be mentioned that the diversity of animals and plants is highest in the tropical rainforests. Species extinction is inevitable – orangutans and tigers are most frequently mentioned in this context. Instead of a smorgasbord of thousands of different animal and plant species, only oil palms bloom here, which are anything but diverse.
But it’s not just animals and plants that are being displaced: there are numerous people in the world’s rainforests who specialize in forest life. These people also lose their living space, their livelihood (most of these people are farmers), their culture and everything they have known and loved so far.
- Palm oil is the most grown vegetable oil in the world (30% market share)
- Up to 15% annual growth rate in the production of palm oil
- 60 million tons of palm fat will be produced in 2015
- In 2001 it was only 25.6 million tons
- Indonesia and Malaysia produce 85% of all palm oil worldwide
- Around 70% of the palm oil produced ends up in food production
- The rest is divided between industry (e.g. as a cleaning agent) and energy generation
In principle, the idea of using a profitable, renewable raw material as an energy source (biodiesel) and for other products is not wrong. But oil production has many negative consequences and is therefore a curse for the rainforest. Progressive deforestation, loss of rainforests as a species-rich habitat and a boost in climate change are the first to be mentioned. Various certification systems exist, such as the minimum standard of the so-called Round Table for Sustainable Palmoil (RSPO) for sustainably grown palm oil; however, these are far from mature. Because the RSPO-certified oil is also grown under conditions that affect soil quality and biodiversity and do not completely exclude deforestation. It could be a blessing if the cultivation were ideally organic. But organic palm oil is currently only grown on 0.02% of the world’s production area.