In Latin America, where farmers have traditionally favoured Coffee, cocoa, cashew, potatoes, oil palm is a relatively new crop.

However, according to the United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) this region is also home to half of the world’s remaining tropical forests, which show a high degree of endemism and biological diversity. Such an important resource, if used sustainably, could support the social and economic development of millions.

Unfortunately, Latin America has some of the highest rates of deforestation in the world. There are exceptions thankfully. Countries such as Brazil and Mexico have brought down deforestation rates considerably over recent years, despite the increase in land used for oil palm cultivation. Nevertheless, the accumulated deforestation across the region remains substantial. With such apparent contradictions, it is difficult to establish a clear, direct relation between deforestation and the cultivation of palm.

To fully appreciate Latin America’s biological diversity and understand the root causes that drive deforestation, research is a crucial piece of this puzzle. While we know that one of the primary causes of deforestation is the expansion of the agricultural frontier, we need to develop a clearer picture of the role palm oil plays in this trend.

In this context, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) can help boost palm oil production in Latin America by encouraging growers to adopt its Principles & Criteria (P&C) – the cornerstone of its certified sustainable palm oil standard. Among these, one key principle clearly establishes the prohibition of setting up new planting of palms in primary forests or areas of high conservation value (HCV). The growing interest in sustainable palm oil in the region and rising global demand for Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) promises great potential for growth.

Although the palm oil produced in Latin America is mainly consumed in the regional local market, there is a great potential of growth of in this region in the short term. In particular, countries like Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, Costa Rica and Honduras, among others, will have important surpluses of palm oil that could be delivered to global markets, mainly to the European Union. As of 2016, Ecuador exports more than 30% of its palm oil production to the EU market.

To address some of the above issues, RSPO together with the Guatemalan Palm Growers' Guild (Grepalma) will be organising the 6th RSPO Latin American Conference in Guatemala on August 24-25, 2016. The conference will serve as a meeting point for palm growers and suppliers seeking to accomplish sustainable palm culture in the Latin American region, by sharing knowledge and experience in the application of responsible agricultural, social and environmental practices.

To find out more on the conference, please visit

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