Palm Oil

Palm oil and palm-derived products are everywhere. Why? Because it’s the world’s least expensive vegetable oil. In addition to that, it is incredibly versatile in its applications. However, the reach of palm oil extends far beyond products and uses, which have consequences for the humans and lands that produce this oil. This is why sustainable production is capable of transforming industries and lives all over the globe.

Why? Super oil?

Palm oil is the most widely used vegetable oil on the planet, which is reflected in the density and diversity of its applications - from food, to fuel, to beauty products.

  • Food

    In its most apparent application, palm oil and its derivatives are found in food. Around 50% of products in supermarkets contain these ingredients. The most common food uses are cooking and frying oil, shortenings, margarine, and as a fat for sweets and desserts.

    Palm-derived products also appear in processed foods like salad dressings, chocolate, ice cream, and packaged bread, making it a nearly unavoidable staple in kitchens all over the world.

    The use of palm oil in food products accounts for about 70% of palm oil consumption, which translates to more than 40 million tonnes annually. It’s used so much that it is estimated that about half of the world’s population (3 billion people) consumes the oil on a regular basis.

  • Personal Care

    Personal care products including cosmetics account for about a quarter of all palm oil use. Cosmetics and beauty products are multi-billion dollar industries, churning out products ranging from shampoo and laundry deteregents, to shaving cream and fragrances.

    Palm-derived products are even used in lipstick because it remains solid at high temperatures and offers the balm a more appealing taste. Its derivatives are present in soap and shampoo because they help to remove dirt and oil.

  • Fuel

    Palm oil is not only found in the numerous food items we consume to fuel our bodies, but it can also be used as alternative fuel option when heating homes, generating electricity, and as a biodiesel for fuelling automobiles.

    In terms of worldwide consumption, energy applications currently account for only 5% of palm oil use. But this volume may increase as the world seeks alternatives to fossil fuels and the biodiesel market grows.

Challenges Damage to people & environment

Palm oil is an extremely efficient oil to produce: it’s cheap, produces high yields on little land, consumes relatively little energy, and can generate almost 10 times the amount of energy consumed in its production. However, these facts mask the high environmental and human costs of production. When the benefits are weighed against all of the costs, current palm oil production has a long way to go towards achieving sustainability.

  • People

    Increasing smallholder participation

    Palm oil production and trade is dominated by large enterprises, yet a substantial portion of worldwide production (40%) is carried out by small farmers. As large companies are increasingly moving towards sustainability certification to meet consumer demand, smallholders run the risk of being excluded from the certification process.

    Smallholders often suffer from lower yields due to a lack of knowledge on good farming practices and this translates to lower incomes. In addition, it can be difficult for small scale producer to meet the certification requirements.

    The growing demand for certification from consumers for sustainably produced palm oil places smallholders in a tough position. If they want to continue selling their product, then they will have to become certified. Additionally, most smallholders are unaware of sustainability initiatives, which when combined with low incomes, limited access to financial resources and inputs, low bargaining power and market access means smallholder famers will remain in a marginalised position.

    Even when smallholders can fund certification efforts that would provide them with more sustainable incomes through greater market access, they often lack the necessary technical support and inputs to comply with the standards. This is unfortunate because palm oil presents a great opportunity for income and economic development. It can produce more oil using less land than any other oil crop.

  • Environment

    Reducing environmental damage

    Palm oil is the world’s most used and fastest growing vegetable oil, but unfortunately the crop’s high growth rate also means that unsustainable environmental practices can occur while establishing new plantations and farms.

    In order to meet rising demand, large corporate plantations rely on land conversion. This means that valuable forests are cut down and the underlying growth, like peat and timber, are burned to create clearings for plantations. This endangers the ecosystems local inhabitants rely on for their livelihoods. Deforestation and subsequent biodiversity loss means that animals lose their natural habitats and may become endangered.

    Large plantations can also pollute the surrounding ecosystems with run-off, sending the chemicals used in the cultivation process streaming into lakes and rivers. In Honduras, plantation pollution poses a major threat to the coral reefs in the Caribbean. The drive for profits has endangered the ecosystems upon which these profits are made.

    But it doesn’t have to be this way. If palm oil production was sustainably organised where the same amount of land produced more palm oil, it would have less of an impact on forests, coral reefs, lakes, rivers, and people.

Track record Encouraging responsible supply chains

The road to sustainable palm oil.

  • In Colombia, palm oil producers and industry leaders have committed to eliminating deforestation from their palm oil supply chains. Colombia is the first country to present a national agreement on deforestation. In West Kalimantan Indonesia, 1,885 farmers were trained in good agricultural practices and 1,891 farmers were trained in financial literacy. In the village of Sepulut, a total of 14,16 hectares of communal forest was mapped and a regent decree was secured to ensure the forest’s protection.

  • 2016

    Smallholders’ investment in implementing best management practices in Ghana led to more than tripling of yields, proving that with the right investment West Africa could become self-sufficient in palm oil production. In Asia, national and regional sustainability initiatives for large producing and consuming countries gained momentum in China, India and Malaysia. In Central America, national palm oil sectors are starting to take significant steps towards RSPO certification.

  • 2015

    After three years of co-investment with farmers, Solidaridad’s SWAPP palm oil programme has reported a tripling of smallholder yields in Ghana. In China, the sustainable palm oil working group was launched to stimulate sustainable sourcing in one of the world’s biggest markets.

  • 2014

    Solidaridad launched the Asian Sustainable Palm Oil (ASPO), a multi-stakeholder platform to support and promote sustainable palm oil production and consumption in the main Asian markets of India, China and Indonesia.


  • 2012

    Sustainable West African Palm oil Programme (SWAPP) launched with the help of a 12 million EUR grant from the Dutch Embassy in Ghana. Solidaridad and RSPO supported the scaling up of sustainable palm oil production in Colombia and Honduras in collaboration with 13 local plantation companies, industry associations and leading processors of palm oil.

  • 2011

    Solaridad developed its first palm oil supply chain programmes, linking major brands and companies, such as Johnson & Johnson and CONO, with palm-oil smallholders working on RSPO compliance.

    Thanks to a 30 million EUR grant from the Dutch government, Solidaridad launched its cross-commodity Farmer Support Programme together with five different roundtables, including the RSPO, which will support 400,000 smallholders by the end of 2015.

  • 2010

    The Dutch Task Force for Sustainable Palm Oil set a target of using only RSPO certified palm oil in Dutch food, cosmetics, and animal feed industries by 2015.

  • 2009

    Solidaridad began its Palm Oil Producer Support Initiative (POPSI) to stimulate better management practices among small palm oil farmers and assist them with RSPO certification. 

  • 2008

    The first palm oil plantation was RSPO certified 

  • 2004

    Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil was (RSPO) founded.

Solution We bring people together

Production challenges such as poor farming practices and land mismanagement in the palm oil sector need focused solutions. We seek to provide country and context-specific solutions for smallholders, mills, and companies by bringing stakeholders together and supporting the implementation of sustainable practices.

  • Farmers & Millers

    We seek to unite growing demand for palm oil with a sustainable supply base by working with farmers on innovative approaches to sustainability.

    With the farmers we work with in Latin America, Asia, and Africa, we help provide training on good agricultural practices in order to increase farmers’ yields and reduce the funds spent on fertilisers and chemicals.

    Since financial management is often a problem for farmers, we partnered with the second largest credit union in Indonesia to train its smallholder members in financial literacy and agricultural best practices. This approach helps smallholders improve incomes and reduce the environmental impact of their farming.

    Bringing smallholders the knowledge they need to grow sustainable palm oil is indispensable to our educational approach. In Iambi, Indonesia, for example, we support a local NGO that assists independent farmers in sustainable palm oil production. Famers here are not only instructed in good agricultural practices, but in how to collaborate with civil society and government towards RSPO compliance. 

    "Through the training, I now know about the management standards for palm oil plantations especially in relation to crop maintenance and fertiliser application and I can reduce fertiliser costs. Now, I am saving more money from my plantation!"

    Palm Oil Smallholder World Education Australia Farmer Field School

  • Pressing Change

    Working with palm oil traders, corporations, and retailers is critical in fostering sustainability within the palm oil industry because they can set the tone for practices throughout the supply chain. Companies are key to ensuring sustainability in the palm oil supply chain since they are in an excellent position to foster changes in the sector. This is why we work directly with companies, assisting them in sustainable sourcing and project investment.

    RSPO certification is a useful tool for bringing about more sustainable production practices, and we use it as a starting point for continued commitment to sustainability. We unite groups of producers to commit to sustainability goals for the benefits of their business and the communities that are in any way affected by their businesses.

    In Honduras, Solidaridad supports a group of eight cooperative and corporate palm oil producers called PASH, which account for 80% of palm oil production in Honduras and has also committed to RSPO certification. This industry-wide cooperation platform is critical for ensuring that sustainable palm oil stays relevant at the country level and that local companies invest in the places where they operate.

    In Asia we run several projects with partners like Cargill, Nestle, Asian Agri, and Keresa. In West Africa, we have begun the Sustainable West Africa Palm oil Programme (SWAPP), which supports sustainability through creating networks for information exchange, best management practices, providing access to finance, RSPO certification, and looking after environmental and social practices.

    This is the type of change we support: Cooperation between palm oil supply chain members, governments, civil society organizations in combination with certification is on its way to changing sustainability.  

    "RSPO has really brought our social performance to a higher level. Implementing RSPO inspired us to go out and talk to surrounding communities. We see this gives a very good result: Our relations improve a lot! Implementing ISO 9000 and 14000 gave us a lot of improvements, but only when implementing RSPO we created better relations with the local communities."

    Sustainability Honduras Agrotor, Honduras

Impact Wide network

We support thousands of palm oil workers and producers to bring their agriculture under sustainable management.

Want to know more

about Solidaridad's impact?

Join us Support our work

Developing mutually beneficial partnerships is perhaps the single most important aspect of our work in reconciling social and ecological responsibility with market and supply chain realities.


Related News

  • 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.

    Read more

  • The Netherlands Signs First Bilateral Agreement on Sustainable Palm Oil from Colombia

    Solidaridad, the Netherlands’ Oils and Fats Industry (MVO), the Colombian National Federation of Oil Palm Growers (Fedepalma), and the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) have signed a joint declaration to increase the production and trade of sustainable palm oil between Colombia and the Netherlands.

    Read more

  • Village Super Market: A Facility for Improving Food Systems in Bangladesh

    In this blog, Solidaridad Executive Director Nico Roozen highlights a new facility in Bangladesh that has the potential for far-reaching impact across the country. Learn how this village super market is setting a new standard for sustainable business in South Asia.

    Read more

  • The Solidaridad Show: Broadcasting Best Practices in Ghana

    More than 10,000 people in both the western and Brong Ahafo regions of Ghana tune in regularly to a new radio show that addresses issues of climate change and land use through informative and entertaining formats. The project is supported by the Dedicated Grant Mechanism (DGM) and focuses on raising awareness among hard-to-reach communities.

    Read more

  • Executive Director

    Solidaridad offers a rare opportunity to work for change that matters and to give leadership to a solution-oriented international development organization with a long-standing track record on innovation. We offer a culturally diverse workplace with top-tier skilled staff with a sense of humour, necessary to cope with a demanding environment.

    Read more

  • International Leaders Celebrate 10 Years of Sustainable Growth in Asia

    Sustainability, profitability, growth and the means to achieve benefits for all were the main themes adorning the anniversary celebration as Solidaridad looked back on a decade of sustainable development in Asia on 1 and 2 November.

    Read more