Palm Oil references

Like many intensified primary production activities, palm oil has down sides, including environmental costs. Herewith a collection of documents with assorted axes to grind, perspectives, and biases:

Intel Environment Award, 2002


During 1975-1985, production of crude palm oil in Malaysia rose from 1.3 million to 4.1 million tons. That expansion strengthened the industry, making it the world's largest producer and exporter in the 1980s and the country's second largest earner of foreign exchange by 1984. In 1989, oil palms (Elaeis guineansis) covered about one-third of the cultivated area in Malaysia, amounting to 1.95 million hectares and surpassing the area covered by rubber for the first time. Export earnings from palm oil and related products continue to increase, despite less favourable prices, as a result of higher export volume. Currently, the palm oil industry is the third largest export earner for Malaysia after petroleum and timber.

The contribution of palm oil to GDP increased from 4.3 per cent in 1980 to 8.4 per cent in 1989. The industry also provides a source of livelihood to about 200,000 rural families in government land schemes and individual small holdings, and employment to some 120,000 workers on estates. Additionally, a substantial number of people are employed in ancillary supporting industries (trading, milling, processing and manufacturing).

In global terms, palm oil has become the second most important vegetable oil after soybean oil in the world's oils and fats complex since 1982. Palm oil accounted for about 13.6 per cent of the world production of oils and fats in 1989. With the continuing expansion of oil palm principally in Malaysia and Indonesia, palm oil would have to strive for further increases in market share from the level of 30.7 per cent currently attained. Palm oil has the ability to do so given its versatility in a variety of food and non-food applications, its good nutritional quality and its competitive cost of production vis-à-vis other vegetable oils. Unfortunately, market distortions are still rampant in the world oils and fats trade, thus Malaysia has to contend with discriminatory tariff structures in certain markets as well as with extraordinarily large production and export subsidies of oils and oilseeds accorded by industrial countries, that is, the United States of America and the European Union. Based on its performance, the palm oil industry is expected to continue contributing significantly to the Malaysian economy in the 1990s.

UNILEVER's sunny view and summary

From World Rainforest Movement Bulletin:

Malaysia: Exporting Social And Environmental Impacts of Oil Palm Monocultures

June, 2001
From the World Rainforest Movement ( Bulletin

Malaysia is the world's number one producer and exporter of palm oil. However, the development of this sector has not only not benefitted the local people but, on the contrary, has resulted in serious adverse effects, particularly in the state of Sarawak. This crop, which generates huge profits for a few large companies linked to the government and local elites, leads to serious negative social and environmental impacts that affect the majority of the population, giving rise to social conflicts that nearly always resulting in human rights violations.

Logging companies have been destroying forests through large-scale unsustainable logging, causing irreparable damages. However, their activity has only been the prologue for something even worse. When wood resources began to decrease and world demand for palm oil increased, many logging companies opted to redirect their activities to oil palm plantation. For local peoples, this means the final appropriation of their traditional territories by the companies. As a local person said: "Logging companies destroy our forest and leave. Plantation companies destroy our forest and stay!"

Most of these plantations are being implemented in indigenous traditional territories, thus depriving local peoples of their livelihood and vital resources. In Sarawak, the government has granted licenses to oil palm companies in lands used by the local peoples to cultivate their basic food, such as rice, fruit trees, vegetables, pepper, etc. Moreover, the destruction of forests determines the disappearance of a wide range of products, traditionally used by local communities. Deprived of their resources, local peoples are gradually forced to hand over all their rights to their lands, and to turn into salaried workers of the companies, in seasonal, low-paid jobs and under bad working conditions.

The increasing occupation of lands by oil palm plantation companies has unleashed an unequal fight, in which local communities resist against forest destruction, the deprivation of their lands and the disregard for their traditional rights. They then become victims of repression and harassment from the government, which protects the interests of the companies.

Oil palm companies and the government are thus responsible for promoting deforestation and for violating the human rights of the local peoples that fight for forest conservation. It is important to highlight this situation, given that many of those companies are expanding their activities to other tropical countries, where they will surely repeat the same behaviour pattern. Malaysian government and corporate representatives have visited a number of countries such as Indonesia, Philippines, India, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, Nigeria, Guyana, Honduras and others, promoting this palm monoculture system. Of course they never mention the serious adverse social and environmental impacts this system is generating in their own country. And that is precisely what people must know, and they should ask themselves: ¿What can we expect of companies that, in their own country, act against local communities and the environment? ¿Will they behave better in foreign countries? Very unlikely. The same as at home, they will probably act in the name of "development", but their profitability will be obtained at the expense of the destruction of the environment and the use of cheap labour. That is the hypothesis which local people of the countries where these companies intend to expand their activity should adopt, until those same companies modify their behaviour in their own country.

Article based on information from: ;; ;

See also The Bitter Fruit of Palm Oil

Environmental Management Guideline for the Palm Oil Industry from

Malaysia: Experience in Effluent Control in the Palm Oil Industry (World Bank)

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Guidelines for Oil Palm (Sabah)

Malaysian Palm Oil Reference Desk

Nutritional research in Malaysia W.Z. Wan Ngah B.A.K. Khalid
Asia Pacific J Clin Nutr(1993) 2, 61-62

Nutritional aspects of palm oil (Food and Nutrition Bulletin, June 1994)

A critical review of the cholesterolaemic effects of palm oil (Tony Ng Kock Wai )

Cholesterolaemic effects of the saturated fatty acids of palm oil (Pramod Khosla and K. C. Hayes)