Research that calls into question claims that palm oil is environmentally damaging compared with other vegetable oils will boost the government’s efforts to defend one of the country’s major commodities from negative campaigning.
The study was published in June by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a Switzerland-based global conservationist foundation. According to the research, oil palm is the world’s most efficient oil-producing plant as it requires much less land than comparable plants.
“The study found that it [oil palm] only needs 0.26 hectares of land to produce 1 ton of palm oil,” said Coordinating Economic Minister Darmin Nasution in a joint press briefing with the foundation in Jakarta recently.
“This land use is much lower than that required to produce rapeseed oil, sunflower oil or soybean oil.”
In the study, the IUCN found that the production of 1 ton of rapeseed oil required 1.25 hectares, while 1 ton of sunflower oil and 1 ton of soybean oil need 1.43 hectares and 2 hectares, respectively.
IUCN researcher Erik Meijaard, who led the study, said the evidence in his findings proved that oil palm would play a major role in fulfilling the increasing global demand for vegetable oil, which is projected to reach 310 million tons in 2050.
In the meantime, he said, current global vegetable oil production only amounted to 165 million tons.
“I think countries around the world need to be careful in banning the use of palm oil because if we do, we will need more land in other areas to fulfill the increasing demand for oil in the future,” he said.
He added that the increasing need for land would cause further harm to the world’s ecosystem and biodiversity.
The study also argued that oil palm had helped Indonesia and other producer countries in achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The goals were ending poverty, providing clean water, creating economic activity, producing and consuming responsibly, as well as limiting climate change and promoting stable governance, he said.
Darmin said the study could become a scientific tool to counter black campaigns against palm oil.
Similarly, Indonesia Palm Oil Organization (Gapki) chairman Joko Supriyono said the study would hopefully create an understanding among those who denounced palm oil as the main source of deforestation in the world.
“With this scientific study, we hope that we can continue our efforts to negotiate with the EU [European Union] about this matter,” he said.
In its revised Renewable Energy Directive (RED) II last year, the European Parliament decided to phase out crude palm oil (CPO) from the sources of biofuels and bioliquids starting in 2021, saying that the crop played a major role in causing deforestation and threatening the world’s biodiversity.
The directive caused uproar among the main palm oil producers, including Indonesia, as it was deemed “discriminatory” and could hurt CPO exports, given that the EU was one of the world’s biggest palm oil consumers in 2016 according to the European Palm Oil Alliance (EPOA).
Although the EU initially planned to start putting RED II into effect in every EU member country in February, it had yet to make it official for undisclosed reasons.
“There has been speculation that the postponed implementation of RED II is a result of new developments surrounding palm oil,” said Mahendra Siregar, executive director of the Council of Palm Oil Producer Countries (CPOPC).
He, however, said that should the EU officially implement the directive, the council would challenge it at the World Trade Organization (WTO).
While his study favored palm oil, Meijaard said he did not deny the fact that the crop definitely played a role in deforestation as the EU had claimed. In order to lessen its impact on the ecosystem and biodiversity, he suggested that governments, including Indonesia, comprehensively map oil palm cultivation.
“Governments should also create a comprehensive map on what mix of crops should be planted to fulfill the increasing demand for vegetable oil,” he said.