Is sustainable production the answer?
December, 2015 in Issue 4 - 2015
Today, public opinion expects economic and political decision-makers to take practical measures to fight deforestation and climate change. One such measure is to introduce more sustainable and more responsible production practices in those commodity supply chains responsible for deforestation.
In response to this challenge, the French Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil organised a workshop. It gathered producers, industry figures and distributors from the timber, paper, rubber, palm oil and soybean sectors at the Convergences World Forum 2015, in order to develop innovative and joint solutions to the problem of deforestation.
Sustainable palm oil industry
Despite facing much criticism, sustainable palm oil may be the answer to one of the great challenges of our time: the challenge of feeding nine billion human beings by 2050.
Palm oil is extracted from the fruit of the oil palm. It has been widely used as a cooking oil in Africa and Asia for centuries. Its natural properties have made it a firm favourite among manufacturers, helping to extend the shelf-life of food and conferring uniquely soft, crunchy or creamy textures on certain products.
In order to achieve the same properties, other types of oil must be partially hydrogenated – a process that results in the formation of trans fats, with their recognised negative impacts on health. However, this is not the case with palm oil.
In addition, the oil palm offers the best yield per hectare of any oil – equivalent to oil from 6 ha of rapeseed, 8 ha of sunflower seed and 10 ha of soybean. In order to meet future demand, current crop coverage would need to be expanded on a colossal scale, thereby exacerbating environmental problems and accentuating deforestation in the process.
The oil palm is a tropical plant, with 87% of global production located in Indonesia and Malaysia. Demand for palm oil took off in the 1980s. At the time, there was limited concern for production conditions. However, a new responsible production process has now emerged.
The French Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil was founded in 2013 as part of this initiative. The Alliance’s ambition is to transform the supply chain within our industry and to promote the production of sustainable palm oil – grown without deforestation or exploitation, in a manner that respects both the environment and local populations.
We do so by working with local stakeholders and NGOs which help us to develop our procurement policies, assess the entire supply chain from plantation to factory in order to ensure that it is environmentally and ethically sound, and keep a watchful eye on our progress.
By working hand-in-hand with plantation owners on the ground, we are also able to foster more responsible crop-growing practices. It is important to remember that around 50% of palm oil producers are small-scale farmers, and that the wealth generated by oil palm plantations provides millions of producers with access to education and health services, helping to lift countries such as Papua New Guinea and Liberia out of poverty.
Genuine, recognised progress has now been made. More than 80% of stakeholders in the sector (brands, manufacturers, suppliers and producers) have entered into historic traceability commitments for 2020 and have announced procurement policies that focus on protecting forests, conserving biodiversity and respecting the rights of local populations and workers.
Currently, more than half of all global palm oil consumption occurs in Asia, primarily in China, Indonesia and India. Consumption remains extremely low in France. However, simply rejecting palm oil in our country will make no real impact on the problem of deforestation.
Instead, it is those members of the French Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil – companies that place rigorous demands on their suppliers and work directly with local NGOs – that have the real power to transform the industry worldwide.
When palm oil producers abandon deforestation practices at the request of the (in this case, French) brands and manufacturers that they supply, this change affects their entire business and all of their plantations. This, in turn, has a direct impact on the products sold in Asia.
If we, the French members of the Alliance, decide not to purchase palm oil in the future, what leverage will we have to encourage plantation owners to change their practices? Working with our European counterparts, we believe we are well placed to lead this change, and to bring other manufacturers along with us.