What effects does palm oil production have on the environment and society?
In total, 50 billion kilograms of palm oil is produced annually, supplying over 30% of the world’s vegetable oil production. This single vegetable oil is found in approximately 40-50% of household products.
Global production of palm oil has doubled over the last decade. By 2000, palm oil was the most produced and traded vegetable oil, accounting for 40% of all vegetable oils traded internationally. By 2006, the percentage had risen to 65%. The worldwide demand for palm oil is expected to double again by 2050 to 240 billion kilograms. New plantations are being developed and existing ones are being expanded in Indonesia, Malaysia and other Asian countries, as well as in Africa and Latin America. However this expansion comes at the expense of tropical forest.
The industry is linked to major issues such as deforestation, as the land and forests must be cleared for the development of the palm oil plantations. The tree roots anchor the soil, deforestation removes this important structure, allowing heavy rains to wash away nutrient soil. Crop fields begin to decline and farmers then have to use expensive fertilisers, which eat into their profits and applies further damage to the environment. According to the World Wildlife Fund, an area the equivalent size of 300 football fields of rainforest is cleared each hour to make way for palm oil production. This large scale of deforestation is pushing many species to extinction.
Another major issue linked to palm oil production is global warming. The palm oil plantations release pollution into the atmosphere speeding up global warming. Without the forests and trees there is a lack of oxygen therefore carbon dioxide will build up in the atmosphere and speed up global warming as well.