We may not realize it, but palm oil, made from both coconuts and palm nuts, is one of the main causes of the wholesale destruction of rainforests in many parts of the world, especially in Indonesia.
The Indonesian rainforests, or what’s left of them, are home to some of the most threatened animal species on earth; including the Sumatran tiger (only a handful remain in the wild), and Man’s first cousin, the orangutran, whose name translated in English means literally “forest people”.
Now why does this wholesale destruction of rainforests to produce palm oil have an effect on countries in the Middle East, many of which are mostly desert or near desert in their geographical makeup? Very simple: people in the Middle East are big purchasers of palm oil and products made from it.
An economic study was conducted in 2005 dealing with the demand for palm oil in MENA countries and found that the demand for palm oil was significantly dependent on the income of the area populations. The study found that more healthy substitutes such as soy bean oil being used in countries such as Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Morocco and Turkey; and that the major substitute oil for palm oil in Saudi Arabia and Libya is now corn oil.
Why does he have to suffer?
Rain forests in southern and southeastern Asia have been decimated in recent years by farmers who use “slash and burn” land clearing methods that resulted in huge fires in parts of Indonesia and helped increase the problem of global warming.
But these methods for the clearing of tropical forests to provide land for growing palm trees and other crops is not only occurring in Indonesia and Malaysia, but also in African countries and those in South America as well.
The current issues surrounding the destruction of rain forest for producing palm oil and other crops is part of an awareness campaign being carried out by environmental awareness groups like the Middle East EcoMena Community, which presented its “Seven reasons why not to buy or invest in palm oil”, and points out that palm oil is not only high in saturated fatty acids (like many types of household margarines) but is used in producing foodstuffs which include some of the most popular brands of powdered milk, instant coffee, coffee cream, candy and other products (cosmetics etc.) in which palm oil is used in the production of these products.
By using these products we are investing in the destruction of tropical rainforests and the livelihood of their native people who depend on these forests for their very existence.
Palm oil tree (Elgeis Guineensis)
In addition to the production of foodstuffs, palm oil is also being used to produce bio fuels such as diesel fuel and as fuel to produce electricity in power plants. All of this is occurring at the expense of destruction of forestland and to the increase of global warming.
While it is not possible to prevent the importation of lower priced palm oil and its use in both foodstuffs and cosmetics (take a look at the ingredients of many types of liquid hand soaps and sunscreen lotions) we can at least try to avoid purchasing products which contain it and to demand that it be removed as an ingredient in these products.
The bio fuel issue may be more difficult to deal with, however; and as a result much more environmentally friendly vegetable substances, such as algae are being developed.
Despite efforts to the contrary, palm oil use is likely to continue as long as there is a demand for it; much to the sorrow of the world’s decreasing rain forests and the unique ecosystems they support.
Read more on biofuels and edible oils:
With So Much Oil and Gas, is Biofuel a Viable Middle East Option?
Kiima Doubles Chromosomes to Make More Plant Power
Is Margarine Your Best Choice?