Sustainable Palm Oil
Farming palm oil is a major source of income for those living in equatorial regions across the globe and the industry can provide the short-term alleviation of poverty in poor regions by providing jobs. However, farming palm oil has a history of being unsustainable. Deforestation and biodiversity loss are both symptoms of palm oil production across the globe. While citizens in nations such as Indonesia are receiving necessary income, the environment around them is becoming increasingly polluted. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is an initiative working to improve the farming techniques’ environmental impact and is building a solution to a previously unsustainable industry.

About RSPO

RSPO targets and requires the legal commitment of companies to use palm oil through certifications of sustainability. It presents a solution to the traditional environmental destruction caused by farming palm oil. This means the group directly addresses issues such as the deforestation of rainforests due to unsustainable palm oil agriculture.

The group describes that it is possible to grow it without the razing of whole forests. It focuses on commitments to ensure this does not occur while maximizing the amount grown. It presents that there are sustainable options in the way farmers can grow the product. As a result, farming palm oil can address economic development in poverty-stricken nations without sacrificing the environment.

Palm Oil Production and Usage

Palm oil is a major ingredient in a plethora of foods and products ranging from Oreos to lipstick. Through its versatility, the crop is lucrative. Without the consideration of sustainability, this encourages the destruction of natural areas. Under a strictly short-term economic perspective, the complete deforestation of an area to grow one specific crop maximizes profits and minimizes the costs of products that use palm oil.

However, the growing of the crop does not require the destruction of the environment. Instead, current systems of harvesting palm crops ignore the possible benefits of sustainable agriculture. Considering the environment and its relationship to growing palm oil is a commitment that RSPO seeks to encourage.

Palm oil is often a major source of income for equatorial regions growing it. This means the crop contributes to the reduction of poverty in countries such as Indonesia where the majority of the palm crop grows. However, where economies are solely based around one crop, the incentivization of poor business practices is increased. This source of income comes at the expense of the environment. Often, the consequences outweigh the immediate reduction of poverty.

The Challenges for Low-Income Families

The clearing of tropical rainforest to grow palm oil directly pollutes and destroys environments that low-income families live in. For RSPO to certify sustainable palm oil, Producers of palm oil must not clear land through burning in order to receive certification for sustainable palm oil from RSPO, among a list of other requirements. The burning of forests is a common way to clear the land. The practice immediately pollutes the air through smoke and eliminates biodiversity. If wildlife survives, it comes in massively reduced populations.

The farming of palm oil without considering its environmental impact ruins whole ecosystems. In addition, asking poor communities who solely rely on its economic benefits to consider the impact of the environment ignores the demand from companies for cheaper sources of the crop. In theory, the commitment of larger companies that have more resources to address issues will shift the palm oil market in the future.

RSPO is among the certifications to address the environmental pollution created by unsustainable agriculture. In turn, the creation of clean palm oil “certificates” by industry leaders in RSPO is a major solution to industry malpractice and sustainability in the poverty-stricken nations that palm is grown.

– Harrison Vogt
Photo: Flickr