Palm oil has been linked with the destruction of the world's precious rainforests. Development of new oil palm plantations, coupled with smallholders expanding their farms to meet the rising demand for palm oil, has resulted in significant deforestation.
Threat to species survival
The removal of acres of rainforest threatens the rich biodiversity in these finely balanced ecosystems, along with the habitat of species such as the orangutan. In 1990 there were around 315,000 orangutans. Today it's estimated that fewer than 50,000 exist in the wild, split into small groups with little chance of long-term survival. The orangutan is only one of a number of species facing extinction as a result of deforestation. While palm oil is not the only cause of deforestation, it does play its part.
WWF - How our consumer choice affects wildlife
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"Securing safe forest habitat is the single most important thing we can do to save the orangutan from extinction."
Executive Director, Orangutan Land Trust
The removal of forest releases carbon into the atmosphere, speeding up global warming. In the tropics, tree roots anchor the soil. Deforestation removes this important structure, allowing heavy rains to wash away nutrient-rich soil. Crop yields begin to decline and farmers then have to use expensive fertilizers, which eat into their profits and further damage the environment
While the global palm oil market creates an opportunity to bring many communities out of poverty, the race for land rights has left many locals on the losing team. Reports of displaced communities and illegal land grabs are not uncommon. The resulting conflicts, loss of income and dependence on large plantations have had a significant impact of the social welfare of many.
The demand for palm oil is huge and rising. Sustainable agriculture is the only way to maintain economic performance while halting the damage to the environment and farming communities. Supporting the production of sustainable palm oil is the way forward.
WWF: Sustainable palm oil – the way forward
WWF: How can palm oil be more sustainable? Graphical explanation