Frequently Asked Questions on Palm Oil
Q. Isn’t palm oil bad for the rainforest?
The challenges facing palm oil are shared with many other types of farming in tropical regions – as well as containing some of the best soils and climate for farming, these regions also contain some of the most valuable ecological systems such as rainforests. Clearing forests to make space for farming is one of the main drivers of deforestation.
This is why it is important that palm oil is planted in the right places and managed in the right way to produce sustainable palm oil. Consumers have an important role in encouraging manufacturers to choose sustainable palm oil. You can find out more about Golden Agri-Resources (GAR) approach to sustainable palm oil here.
Q. Would it be better to stop using palm oil?
No, palm oil is the most efficient of the vegetable oils, meaning that you can usually produce more food from a hectare of oil palm than with any crop, and need a lot less fertiliser or pesticide to do so.
Palm oil has played an important role in feeding people for many thousands of years, if we were to stop growing it, we’d need to grow something else, and that would almost certainly mean turning much more land into farmland.
Q. Why is there more of a concern about farmland expansion than in the past?
This is largely due to the effects of population growth and the need for more farmland, we need to feed more people today than at any point in history.
There are more than four times as many people to feed today than there were less than a hundred years ago. And by 2100, we could need to feed 11.2 billion, using the same land that fed 1.6 billion in 1900. This is putting pressure on farmland across the world, as we now, and will continue to need to grow more food using less land.
Q. How can I best support sustainable palm oil?
Sustainable palm oil is readily available. It does cost slightly more, but it costs more to produce. Some manufacturers support sustainable palm oil, and pay farmers the premium it deserves, but many do not. Consumers have an important role in encouraging the businesses that produce their favourite products to use sustainable palm oil.
Q. What is GAR doing to support sustainable palm oil?
Sustainability is integral to our business, as we recognise that the ongoing success of our business requires a consistent and long term approach. We want to ensure that our palm oil operations are deforestation-free, traceable and bring benefits to the communities where we operate.
We were one of the first major agri-businesses in the world to publish a Forest Conservation Policy in 2011, now embedded in our GAR Social and Environmental Policy (GSEP). We committed to protect forests that included High Carbon Stock (HCS) and High Conservation Value (HCV) areas in 2011. Since then we have assessed our plantations and mapped 72, 000 hectares which is now set aside for conservation.
We are also particularly focused on working with the local communities in and around our concessions. We are involving the community in conservation efforts through inclusive approaches including Participatory Mapping (PM) and Participatory Conservation Planning (PCP). Through PM, GAR and local communities map the land use in its concessions. The mapping allows all stakeholders to identify and designate critical areas for the community such as areas important for food security as well as conservation areas. This spatial plan is recognised formally and lodged with local authorities. The exercise also allows us to involve the community in conservation planning.
We are major buyers of independent smallholder-grown palm oil, in addition to that grown by smallholders on our estates through our ‘plasma’ scheme. We see traceability as an important tool to engage farmers, understand their needs and bring them with us towards better practices, including certification. We have an ambitious goal of achieving a fully traceable supply chain by 2020.
You can read more about our approach here.
Q. What impact has palm oil had on the people of Indonesia?
Palm oil is a major driver of Indonesia’s economy and has brought considerable prosperity to rural Indonesia, lifting millions out of poverty. The establishment of plantations has brought stable rural employment and infrastructure, whilst the make-up of the Indonesian industry – with 40% of plantations managed by smallholders provides an important source of livelihoods.
There have been downsides to the development of palm oil however such as concern over land conflict or poor treatment of the plantation workforce. It is issues such as these that led to the development of GAR’s Social and Environmental Policy which governs how our supply chain operates. It has also led to specialist work, such as our partnership with Wilmar and BSI to develop labour practices across the sector.
Q. Is palm oil healthy?
Press a palm fruit and you will be left with a red oil that is naturally high in carotene, Vitamins E, A and anti-oxidants. Palm oil is one of the few fatty fruits, and it is this natural fat content, and the fact that it is free from potentially harmful trans-fats that have helped palm oil to play such an important role in our food.
Of course, it very much depends on the food. Red palm oil might be a healthy match for your salad, but palm oil will not make that chocolate spread any more or less healthy, it’s about good things in moderation.
Q, Does palm oil cause cancer?
Palm oil is not carcinogenic and does not cause cancer.
However, all vegetable oils, margarines and processed foods may contain glycidyl fatty acid esters (GE), 3-monochloropropanediol (3-MCPD), and 2-monochloropropanediol (2-MCPD) as a by-product of food processing, particularly processing that involves high temperature refining at above 200°C. These by-products can be minimised or eliminated entirely through changes to how food is produced.
You can read about our work here.
Q. Does growing palm oil result in the abuse of human rights?
No, but like all farming around the world it is important that workers’ rights are respected and when farmland is developed – that the local community has provided its full consent. Through our subsidiary, PT SMART, GAR is a signatory of the UN Global Compact and is committed to upholding its ten principles which include human rights and labour standards. GAR is an equal opportunities employer, and we ban discrimination of any form.
GAR uses the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent when deciding when and how to develop a potential new farm. This means that in partnership with local NGOs and other organisations we take steps to ensure that local communities fully understand our plans in advance, that they understand the implications and that they are free from external pressures when we negotiate with them. It also means that we support local communities in clearly identifying, mapping and claiming their lands so that land tenure is secure and protected.
Q. Where can I find out more about palm oil?
To find out more about GAR, visit: www.goldenagri.com.sg
For more on the wider palm oil industry, visit the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO): www.rspo.org
Or for the perspective of three campaigning organisations:
Click here to discover stories behind the extraordinary, everyday lives of the people transforming palm oil.