National Geographic : 2018 Dec
1970 1980 1990 2000 2010 2017 20 40 60 85% of palm oil is produced in Indonesia and Malaysia. Palm oil production by country in millions of metric tons Indonesia Malaysia Rest of world GABON Borneo TROPIC OF CANCER TROPIC OF CAPRICORN INDONESIA MALAYSIA GABON INDONESIA MALAYSIA Borneo AFRICA ASIA TROPIC OF CANCER TROPIC OF CAPRICORN Hot Commodity Oil palms grow best in the steamy tropics, where rainfall and sunshine are abundant. Most of the world’s palm oil comes from Southeast Asia, but production is rapidly expanding in Africa, the trees’ original home. 0mi 200 0km 200 MALAYSIA BRUNEI BORNEO BRUNEI MALAYSIAINDONESIA BORNEO 0mi 100 0km 100 Mouila oil mill and plantation Awala oil mill and plantation Libreville Industrial oil palm plantations Over 32,000 square miles, an area about the size of South Carolina, have been planted with oil palms. High Low Oil palm suitability Unsuitable 0mi 200 0km 200 MALAYSIA BRUNEI BORNEO BRUNEI MALAYSIAINDONESIA BORNEO 0mi 100 0km 100 Mouila oil mill and plantation Awala oil mill and plantation Libreville Industrial oil palm plantations Over 32,000 square miles, an area about the size of South Carolina, have been planted with oil palms. High Low Oil palm suitability Unsuitable Kinabatangan and other regions into groups that can be certified together and sell palm fruit to a certified mill. Nestlé, a large palm oil consumer that doesn’t own plantations itself, is helping to fund the project. Farmers get a better price; RSPO members such as Nestlé get a way to trace their oil. “ We want to link this to the supply chain,” says Kertijah Abdul Kadir of Nestlé. Since 2011 she also has overseen the planting of some 700,000 trees along the Kinabatangan River, covering more than 6,000 acres. Else- where in Sabah, Wilmar, the world’s largest palm oil supplier and another RSPO member, is replanting forests to protect watersheds and create wildlife corridors. Reforestation is labor- intensive, expensive, and slow—several lifetimes of waiting won’t produce anything resembling an old-growth rain forest. But it’s a start. Critics of the RSPO complain that working with companies that caused the loss of forests renders the effort suspect. They say one of the main requirements for certification—no new deforestation—sets the bar far too low. The RSPO’s Webber, who once worked for WWF, responds by comparing the palm oil industry to St. Paul on the road to Damascus. “Do you forgive a huge sinner because that per- son could be your greatest missionary?” Webber asks. “Or do we keep all the sinners out, and then what change would we have? We have to find a way to bring on board the whole group.” During the past decade, Webber says, a growing number of palm oil companies have accepted the need for change. “ We’ve got quite a few in acceptance but also quite a few in denial. Our job is to push this long tail of producers into acceptance. It will take a while.” IN GABON, ONE OF AFRICA’S most forested coun- tries, palm oil is coming home, and a boom may be on the horizon. Situated on the Equator and on the continent’s west coast, Gabon is roughly the size of Colorado with a third of the people. More than 76 percent of the country is covered in forest, with 11 percent of its land area protected in national parks. It’s a wildlife wonderland. “It’s exactly the kind of large, intact forest you want to protect from any kind of develop- ment,” says Glenn Hurowitz, CEO of Mighty Earth, a Washington D.C.-based environmental organization that has criticized Olam’s palm oil operations in Gabon. “ There’s so much MATTHEW W. CHWASTYK AND RYAN T. WILLIAMS, NGM STAFF SOURCES: USDA; DAVID GAVEAU AND OTHERS, BORNEO ATLAS, CENTER FOR INTERNATIONAL FORESTRY RESEARCH; INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR APPLIED SYSTEMS ANALYSIS Gabon’s future Little of Gabon’s land is planted with oil palms. But as it looks to diversify its economy beyond petroleum, Gabon is exploring how to embrace the cash crop sustainably. Borneo today Industrial oil palm plantations have caused 47 percent of the deforestation on the island since 2000. Some 877,000 acres are currently lost each year.