Urgent need for sustainable palm oil as global demand grows

From 2030 the use of palm oil in the production of biofuels will be banned across the European Union (EU). While demand for palm oil as biofuel will decrease and even stop, global demand for palm oil within the vegetable oil sector is continually growing. Producer countries responding to this demand will have to manage the sustainability of their crops carefully in future. Solidaridad’s view is that sustainability criteria should be reinforced and expanded. “There are many opportunities disguised as conflicts,” says Omar Palacios, country director for Solidaridad Honduras.

Solidaridad is one of a number of organizations working with the European Palm Oil Alliance (EPOA) to help actors at every stage of the supply chain to make palm oil production more sustainable. 

The human tendency is to flee from conflict, but Solidaridad identifies opportunities where others see only problems.

An important element of this will be empowering smallholders to be more productive on land they have already cultivated.

Bioeconomy: educating workers and protecting the planet

One of the focal points of the 19th International Oil Palm Conference in September was the activities undertaken by stakeholders throughout the supply chain to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. The event, hosted by the Colombian National Federation of Oil Palm Growers (FEDEPALMA) and its research centre CENIPALMA, enabled representatives of the national and international oil palm sector to share experiences and lessons learned, establish new contacts, and form or strengthen research and development alliances. Lloyd Day, deputy director general at the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), said: “Bioeconomy means using the biological resources we have more intensively and efficiently, to produce in a sustainable manner the goods and services that society demands." 

Bioeconomy has the potential to be one of the greatest factors in developing regions.

19th International Oil Palm Conference held in Colombia, September 2018

There is no doubt that palm oil has helped to reduce poverty and been a driver of social and economic progress in producer countries. The sector also recognizes the importance of addressing environmental concerns by ensuring that palm oil is produced sustainably. Several fundamental issues were addressed during the session on responsibility and sustainability, including:

  • oil palm and biodiversity
  • Integrated Landscape Management
  • new frontiers in sustainability and rural development
  • development of environmentally friendly oil palm zones, including green economic zones.

Latin America is home to 1/4 of the world's farmable land and 1/3 of freshwater resources

Improving the image of palm oil in Europe

Some attendees at the event felt the European Parliament’s vote to ban palm oil in the production of biofuels from 2030 sent out a negative message. If the entire value chain is being punished, why invest in improvements and sustainability measures? Solidaridad has a different view on this. Sustainability certification has had a widespread positive impact by making companies prioritize social and environmental responsibility. "The EPOA is committed to support multiple stakeholders in producing sustainable palm oil", Frans Claassen, chairman of EPOA, said:.“There are very constructive NGOs like Solidaridad, WWF and Conservation International. Those are the ones we work with.”

 "It has been a challenge to work with such a controversial commodity as palm oil as the first reaction of many is to avoid the issue," says Omar Palacios. "But I see the advantages, and those can only be achieved if you work from within. And it is also important that people understand that in developing countries like Honduras, where the agricultural model is based on smallholder cooperatives, the economic spillover has a great impact on the livelihoods of many people. The key is to improve the way they produce them."

Find out more about Solidaridad's work with palm oil