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It can be hard to imagine the journey your food takes from farm to plate, especially when some ingredients and products travel thousands of miles across the globe before you pick them up at your local grocery store. So how can you make sure your choices support oil palm farmers to adopt more sustainable and resilient growing practices?
Palm oil comes from the fruit of the oil palm tree. Originally native to West Africa, it’s now also grown in tropical regions of Indonesia, Malaysia and Latin America. Palm oil plays an important role in the reduction of poverty in these areas. For example, the palm oil industry is one of the most significant employers in Malaysia and Indonesia, where 85% of the world’s palm oil is grown today. And, in Indonesia alone, there are 16 million workers in the palm oil supply chain, of which, 3.78 million are plantation workers.
Considered a “super crop”, the oil palm is incredibly efficient because it produces more fruit than any alternative oilseed crop, like sunflower plants or coconut palms, therefore requiring less land to produce more oil, making it the most popular oil in the world. Palm oil’s unique properties allow it to be used as a preserving agent (extending the shelf life of packaged foods), a cosmetic property (it cleans oil and grease) and a functional property (creating the smooth texture in lipsticks and chapsticks). Palm oil represents 35% of all global vegetable oils used and can be found in over 50% of products on supermarket shelves.
Many consumers either don’t know the entire story about palm oil or associate it with harmful environmental impact, and don’t want to purchase products that have palm oil as a listed ingredient. Yet, reports published by International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF), say the best alternative to palm oil is sustainable palm oil. To put things into perspective, if we need to get the same amount from alternative oils, we would need anything between 4 to 10 times more land, which would just shift the problem to other parts of the world and threaten other habitats and species. What may not be clearly understood by consumers, is that we can choose to support sustainably-produced and sourced palm oil and use our buying power to support positive, environmental change.
This is where the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) comes in. RSPO is an international non-profit organisation, set up to develop standards and drive demand for sustainable palm oil. When grown according to RSPO standards, a space is created where oil palm agriculture, the environment, and local communities can co-exist in harmony. RSPO’s standards work to protect primary and secondary forests, ensure the habitats of wildlife are not harmed, and also safeguard workers, communities, and indigenous people in oil palm producing regions.
When palm oil is produced following the RSPO standard, deforestation is prohibited, High Conservation Value and High Carbon Stock ecosystems are protected, fire is not used to clear land, wildlife hunting and capturing is prevented, and measures are taken to prevent human-wildlife conflict. Therefore, when palm oil that was produced following the RSPO standard is in the product you purchase, you know that the palm oil farmers are working to protect tropical ecosystems and local communities.
What can we do together to make sustainable palm oil the norm?
It’s estimated that by 2050 we will add 2.2 BILLION people to the planet. Sustainable solutions are our only hope to combat a global population crisis and avoid food shortages. This is where the conversation around palm oil needs to change.
A study released this week, found that voluntary standards like RSPO, not only support and overlap with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), but can contribute to a stronger governance ecosystem to help achieve the SDGs. Collectively, we can build more sustainable and resilient food systems.
As we continue navigating many difficult challenges through the COVID-19 global pandemic, figuring out how we can repair and protect the links between nature and our daily lives to prevent further pandemics may seem daunting. Fortunately, members of the RSPO are working hard to make it easier for consumers to be a part of the solution.
We as consumers, can support RSPO member companies in their journey to meet their environmental targets, by purchasing products that are RSPO Certified. Look out for the RSPO Trademark on product packaging, search for RSPO members on the RSPO website or reach out to your favourite brands to see where they stand on the sustainable sourcing of palm oil. Together we can call on more businesses and governments to adopt RSPO’s voluntary standards so that sustainability becomes the norm.