Land Swaps

Palm Oil Solutions 
Provide Damage Control 
to Ravaged Terrain

“Area cleared of forest where alang alang grass and tropical bracken now dominate the landscape. (Photo: Sekala)"
Companies concerned with the environment and public image may be signing up to support sustainable palm oil practices, but after they make their monetary contributions  and responsible purchases, what does their money do and who is doing it? 
Previous posts mentioned that some of this money goes to offering incentives for change to plantation companies in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia. 
If plantation companies obtain RSPO certification, they may be able to participate in a land-swap, which would provide the company with land for cultivation of palm oil. A “swap” exchanges land that needs protection, such as forest, with land that is determined suitable for responsible palm oil cultivation. 
The land offered for palm oil production in these swaps is land that has been labelled “degraded.” This means that at some point the land was ravaged or irresponsibly used and now lies barren. Rather than cut down new forest in order to cultivate palm oil, already degraded land is allowed to be re-used.
Not all “barren” land is labeled “degraded.” The World Resources Institute (WRI), an organization that determines this status of used lands, is conscientious about what qualifies a land as “degraded.” Their goal is to ensure “future growth doesn’t lay waste to remaining forests.” Some lands are capable of being restored to forest, and where this is possible and vital, the WRI recommends this as the best option for an area. (Map of forest restoration possibilities.)
The WRI hopes, through its efforts, to “maximize benefits to local people, biodiversity, the economy, and the climate.” Studies and research are conducted which balance considerations of the environmental, economic, social and legal impact cultivation of a particular land would have in a certain area. 
Public awareness and efforts towards supporting sustainable practices in palm oil production are making it more difficult and expensive for plantation companies to gain permits for planting on forested land. 
The WRI is one more group dedicated to identifying realistic solutions for the future of palm oil, and assisting in their implementation.

Still wondering what Palm Oil is, where it comes from and what all this has to do with You?

In our everyday life we may not think about Palm Oil, but in reality we are all consumers of it on a daily basis. Palm Oil is used in a variety of industries, for food and non-food products such as:  chocolate, mayonnaise, margarine, sauces, cereals, chips, soaps, deodorants, toothpaste, cosmetics… you get the idea!
So, what IS palm oil?
Palm Oil is an edible oil derived from the crushed pulp of the fruit of the Oil Palm tree. Half of this plum sized fruit is trans-fat-free oil! Palm Kernel Oil also comes from Oil Palm fruit’s kernel/seed. There are two species of Oil Palm: Elaeis guineensis native to west Africa and Elaeis oleifera the American Oil Palm.
Fig 1. Oil Palm fruit.  Note the oil pooling below the fruits.
Why Palm Oil?
Palm Oil has properties of hydrogenated oils (being semi-solid at room temperature), making it usable in non-food products. It is actually NOT hydrogenated and is free of trans-fats, which is why it is good for you. Additionally, it is high in saturated and unsaturated fats, but is plant based making it digestible and has beta-carotene, vitamin E and contains antioxidants.
Where is it grown?
Oil Palms grow within 20 degrees of the equator in tropical regions. Though native to Africa and America, in SE Asia deforestation is making room for the non-native cash crop. Malaysia and Indonesia currently vie for position as the world’s largest producers of Palm Oil. 4.5 million people earn a living with Palm Oil.
How is it grown?
Plant a palm seed and after only 5-6 months a fully mature tree reaching around 20m tall, will bear fruit all year round. The fruit grow in bundles weighing up to 50kg. This short growth period and abundance of fruit, make this a very attractive crop for farmers and investors.

Why all the hullabaloo?
Rainforests are being cut down, the wood sold for immediate investment returns, while the Oil Palm trees grow. This is much more profitable than repurposing agricultural land, which has been improperly/unsustainably managed. The problem is, deforestation is not a sustainable farming practice and causes loss of habitat in the most biodiverse areas of our planet and contributes to global warming by reducing the trees that help get rid of damaging green house gases.
What can you do?  
Preserve the biodiversity and save the rainforest by purchasing palm oil products that carry this logo:  

Fig. 5 GreenPalm Programme.
Exclusively endorsed by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)

Palm oil output is to increase by far more than last year.

In 2010, researchers determined a 1.1 percent increase in palm oil production from the previous year.  Apparently, that was "unusually small." But this year, the output may rise another 6.6 percent, equal to another 48.6 million metric tons of palm oil, along with a price decrease.

What does this mean for world commerce and our environment? This will make important impacts. It is clear that palm oil is becoming an issue that will make its way further to the forefront.

Learn more:

Sustainable Palm Oil Movement With Earth Day Pledge

Many of the controversies and negative conceptions of palm oil result mainly from all the social and environmental implications that are associated with it. In fact, in places like Southeast Asia, one of the main locations where palm oil is being grown, such worries as deforestation and emission of greenhouse gases exist. Hopefully, there are organizations such as GreenPalm that exist. GreenPalm is a "certificate trading program which is designed to tackle the environmental and social problems created by the production of palm oil." Thanks to that program, a resource once seen as highly unsustainable due to its method of production can be seen in a new light. As to further encourage the use of palm oil that was grown in sustainable ways, some big companies are taking a big step and making a big difference by committing to buy "100% sustainable palm oil." One of these companies is cosmetics giant Avon, although the company does not use much palm oil. However, other companies with more significant needs for palm oil are also committing to buying only that palm oil that was grown with society and the environment in mind: Kellogg's, Walmart, Nestle, etc...
The goals of big companies buying sustainably grown palm oil are to make sure these companies with more or less significant needs for palm oil may have an abundant supply without harming the environment, but also to encourage farmers to keep up their good practices. As the article says, "Companies that buy the certificates don't literally get to use the underlying tone of palm oil, but the purchases do promote and increase demand for sustainable production."

Girl Scouts look to make cookies Rainforest-Safe

Madison Vorva and Rhiannon Tomtishen were doing research five years ago for their Bronze Awards, when they found out that all but one of the cookies sold by Girl Scouts are full of palm oil. The sixth graders also discovered that it contributed to the clearcutting of rainforests and the destruction of orangutan’s habitat. After receiving no response after writing to the Girl Scouts USA, they’ve started a public campaign. Even with assistance from some top environmental organizations, they’ve still been unable to sway the Scout’s policy makers.

There is a petition letter you can sign, and several related articles about the girls mission here.

The Palm oil Truth Foundation

The history of palm oil is very interesting, as it has led to many misunderstandings of what it can and/or can't cause, as well as several myths associated with it. In fact, in the mid-eighties, some organizations advocated that palm oil was unhealthy for several reasons that were not correctly justified. An example of such organizations is the CSPI. The organization "The Palm oil Truth Foundation" states that, NGOs like The Center for Science in The Public Interest campaigned against palm oil, and only after medical and scientific research proving the opposite were undertaken did they recognize their wrongdoings. 
The Palm Oil Truth Foundation supports that there are several benefits to palm oil, one of them being that it can produce 30% of the world's edible oil needs and yet only make up for 0.22% of the world's agricultural lands. Also, unlike some earlier assumptions, palm oil is actually very healthy because it contains certain fatty acids that make it a nutritional and healthy choice (i.e., red palm oil has 45% of oleic acid, found in olive oil). 

Palm Oil: Large Scale Deforestation

To produce palm oil in large enough quantities to meet growing demand, farmers across Southeast Asia have been clearing huge swaths of biodiversity-rich tropical rainforest to make room for massive palm plantations. Today palm oil production is the largest cause of deforestation in Indonesia and other equatorial countries with dwindling expanses of tropical rainforest.

  • An estimated 1.5 million small farmers grow the crop in Indonesia, along with about 500,000 people directly employed in the sector in Malaysia, plus those connected with related industries.

  • As of 2006, the cumulative land area of palm oil plantations is approximately 11,000,000 hectares (42,000 sq mi). In 2005 the Malaysian Palm Oil Association, responsible for about half of the world's crop, estimated that they manage about half a billion perennial carbon-sequestering palm trees. Demand for palm oil has been rising and is expected to climb further.

  • Between 1967 and 2000 the area under cultivation in Indonesia expanded from less than 2,000 square kilometres (770 sq mi) to more than 30,000 square kilometres (12,000 sq mi). Deforestation in Indonesia for palm oil (and illegal logging) is so rapid that a 2007 United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) report said that most of the country’s forest might be destroyed by 2022. The rate of forest loss has declined in the past decade.

  • Global production is forecast at a record 46.9m tonnes in 2010, up from 45.3m in 2009, with Indonesia providing most of the increase.

“Oil palm agriculture could soon be a major emerging threat to the Amazon. In concert with massive expansion of Amazonian cattle ranching and soy farms, it could sharply increase economic incentives favoring destruction of Amazonian forests. Conservation interests must prepare to deal with this new challenge, which could potentially have serious economic, social, and environmental impacts. Particularly urgent is a need to confront recent political and corporate assertions in Brazil that massive oil palm expansion would occur almost solely on deforested lands without threatening native ecosystems—an argument clearly divorced from economic and biological reality.”

Palm Oil: Magical bullet or ticking timebomb?

From cleaning supplies, to cooking products, metal plating to bio-fuel, palm oil is a product with far-reaching possibilities. Its emergence on the global market is a fairly recent one, yet it has become a dominating force for global environmental change as well as economic growth in poorer countries. At first glance, it would seem palm oil is a cure-all for many of the current climatic and economic problems facing our planet; but, like all good things, there are stringent drawbacks to its increasing production.

In the 1950’s changing market demand forced Southeast Asian producers to realize they must diversify their exported products if they were to stay viable in a global market. Palm oil quickly became the answer, and large tracts of land were redeveloped to support the growth and harvesting of the oil palm. The benefits of this plant were quickly realized. It is an ideal foodstuff, healthier and more versatile than other cooking oils, having similar properties to olive oil. Oil derived from the palm kernel is similar to coconut oil in its ideal use in long-life bakery products. Also, palm kernel oil’s fatty-oil content makes it useful for industrial detergents. This is all overshadowed by the oil’s usefulness as a bio-fuel. The Malaysian government set up several agencies to propagate and promote this very useful commodity.

The Immediate result was a significant increase in their GDP, a large reduction in poverty, and a possible solution to the fuel crisis. The downside was a reduction in natural rainforest habitats, threats to already endangered species, and the loss of the use of palm oil as foodstuff for the nations that produce it. This highlights the central problem with palm oil production: Palm oil is useful and so easy to grow that the desire for it overreaches the amount of already fallow land that is needed to cultivate it.

Palm oil can be very useful, but it’s important going further to make sure its production does not harm lands and animals that are essential to our ecosystem. All its possibilities have not been explored and more thought needs to be placed on its environmental impact.

Brands to Shop

Lead the way in creating a sustainable future: shop brands committed to healing today. 

In prior posts, EcoMerge team members have:
Discussed the uses of palm oil in our daily life and the high demand for this low-cost vegetable oil throughout the world.
Pointed out the damage and destruction most present day production involves: deforestation, inhumane labor practices, slavery, species endangerment, and displacement.
Offered insights into how companies, consumers and producers can work together to change our approaches to palm oil.
This post addresses the question:

"As a consumer, what products can I be assured are addressing the palm oil problem?" 
Avon, a $10 billion revenue company for beauty and cosmetic products, has recently launched a worldwide fundraising project, Hello Green Tomorrow, which is committed to covering 100% of their palm oil use in sustainable production certificates through GreenPalm. The beauty company’s “Palm Oil Promise” expresses their intentions.
GreenPalm is a trading company supported by the RSPO  (Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil) which “works by enabling a financial premium to be earned by producers who can prove they are environmentally and socially responsible, who are not destroying primary forest, and who develop plans to continually improve their operations.”
Avon has also joined forces with the RSPO along with other popular names to follow an international certification standard in sustainable palm oil practice. 
Other RSPO members:
—Golden Foods/Golden Brands
—SC Johnson and Son
—Seventh Generation
—The Body Shop
—The Boots Group
—Twincraft Soap
—Ventura Foods
There are many more names worldwide, but not enough. Do your part by supporting companies that support a sustainable future.

Palm Oil and Human Trafficking in South East Asia


Recently, the United States Department of Labor released a report (Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act) which contains a list provided by the Bureau of International Labor Affairs (ILAB) from December 15, 2010 listing goods which are being produced by child and forced labor around the world. 


As has been discussed in recent posts, palm oil is a common commodity used in the food we eat and the products we use everyday. However, it is also a highly controversial product that is not only destructive to the rainforest environment in the top palm oil production countries of Indonesia and Malaysia but has also now been listed as a product of child and forced labor in these countries as well by the ILAB report (see pages 13, 14, and 21 of the list by clicking here).


Human trafficking is an ever increasing and highly disturbing international concern. Most of the general public is not aware that child and forced labor in agricultural and factory settings contends for the majority of human trafficking cases. In the case of palm oil, children and young adults are forced stay confined in camps where they must work under immoral conditions--such as spraying pesticides for hours with no protective gear--and receive little to no pay. And this is only one such circumstance. 


Don’t believe there is nothing you can do to put an end to human trafficking in the palm oil industry! Already, companies have begun to either be more responsible in their harvesting of this commodity or eliminate the use of it all together. You can help by increasing your awareness of palm oil, both its good benefits and bad effects, and spread the word to your community. Awareness is the key to working together to create a better world! 

Sources (check them out for more in-depth information): 

And for more information and statistics on human trafficking visit

Palm Oil, Deforestation and Some Potential Solutions

The profitability of palm oil has improved life for many people living in poor communities of Southeast Asia over the last 20 years. Unfortunately, these improvements do not come without consequences. Palm production has lead to deforestation of tropical forests, which reduces biodiversity (see prior posts for more information).

Because palm oil production has some positive affects on the working poor in developing nations, many incentives for growing sustainable palm oil are lacking. Stopping the rapid deforestation of these areas will require a number of solutions. David Wilcove and Lian Pin Koh’s article “Addressing the threats to biodiversity for oil-palm agriculture” outlines four potential solutions.

1. Regulations on the conversion of forests to palm oil.
2.  Financial incentives to produce certified, sustainable palm oil.
3.  Financial disincentives such as consumer pressure on manufacturers and retailers of unsustainable palm oil.
4. Promotion of biodiversity-friendly uses of forested land.

Please click here to view the PDF of the Wilcove, Koh article.

Palm Oil: Too good to be true?

Consumption and use of Palm Oil is extremely common amongst all consumers in America. According to, "Palm oil is currently the second largest edible oil in terms of global production and the largest single oil that is exported. Current estimates are that within the next decade, palm oil will become the largest single oil traded globally." It is a commodity that is grown in massive plantations in tropical nations, and is used in over 50% of all consumer goods from soaps and detergents to breakfast cereals and bio-fuels (

One of the best features of this item is that it is generally beneficial for health. Palm oil contains no trans fat, rich in antioxidants, and through animal studies have proven to inhibit some cancers and prevent some blockage in arteries. Furthermore, it's great for cooking because it has a long shelf life, can be used in many different recipes, and is odorless.

Aside from being a mass resource and great for health and cooking, Palm oil is a very harmful commodity according to the Rainforest Action Network. Through their research, they have found that Palm oil is associated with rainforest destruction; threatened extinctions of animals, including orangutans; huge increases in greenhouse gas emissions; and gross human rights and labor violations ( Organizations like the Rainforest Action Network feel that corporations who have been importing Palm Oil are environmentally and socially irresponsible, and are actively trying to reduce market demand.

Since this oil is very common in our food and everyday products, we as consumers can make a difference in this cause. You can educate yourself further by visiting sites such as, or . Tell others you know about the new information you have learned, and also shop smart by reading labels on the items your typically purchase that make contain Palm Oil.

Palm Oil: an Overview

"Demand for palm oil is growing - and fast. At the moment, most of it ends up in hundreds of food products - from margarine and chocolate to cream cheese and oven chips - although it's also used in cosmetics and increasingly, for use in biodiesel. But the cost to the environment and the global climate is devastating - to feed this demand, tropical rainforests and peatlands in South East Asia are being torn up to provide land for oil palm plantations." (

Groups like the America Palm Oil Council assert the benefits of palm oil production and consumption, highlighting these positive factors:
  •  Health benefits: a source of bodily energy, protector against diseases, free of transfatty acids, cholesterol free, and rich with antioxidants.
  • Oil palm forests provide habitats to many species of flora and fauna.
  • Yields 10 times more than other oil seeds, and oil palms can effectively produce for up to 25 years of their lifespans.
  • Versatility: used in a number of products such as food, soaps, cosmetics, etc.
  • Can be made into bio diesel.  
On the other hand, environmental groups (such as Greenpeace) point out the negative effects of the palm oil industry:
  • As palm oil continues to be harvested in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, rain forests also continue to disappear in order to provide space for oil palm plantations.
  • Contributes to the destroying of biodiversity and introducing "large amounts of pesticide and manure." ( 
  • The peatlands in Indonesia "only cover 0.1 per cent of the land on Earth, but thanks in part to the activities of the palm oil industry they contribute 4 per cent to global emissions." And as the palm oil industry becomes more prominent, that amount is expected to rise. (
  • Negative social impacts: conflict between palm oil companies and local communities, displacement of communities for oil palm plantations.  
To learn more about these groups' stances and causes, and palm oil in general, these sites are a great place to start.  The first step toward making a decision is to be informed.,,5072916,00.html

Understanding Palm Oil: The Pros and Cons of Palm Oil

“Palm oil may be a booming global commodity. But economists and environmentalists remain sharply divided over whether the oil helps slow global warming or is in fact a major climate killer.”

  • Palm Oil generates 10 times the amount of energy that it consumes.
  • It is said that palm oil can help to reduce poverty since it generates returns of over $3,000 per hectare vs. $100 for conventional agriculture.
  • Researchers believe that the high antioxidant of red palm oil makes it a natural weapon against cancer.
  • Palm oil makes excellent cooking oil and doesn't lose valuable nutrients when it’s heated.
  • Palm oil is a source for biofuels and bio diesel used for power plants and other renewable energy purposes throughout the world.
  • Palm fruit is rich in vitamins, antioxidants, and other phytonutrients.

  • Since palm oil is in such high demand, rainforests the size of 5 football fields disappear every minute.
  • Rain forests are being eroded to make way for palm oil plantations.
  • 83% of the world’s palm oil is produced in Indonesia and Malaysia meaning in 15 years 98% of their rainforests will disappear because of deforestation.
  • When palm oil forests are cleared large amounts of carbon dioxide is released making Indonesia the 3rd largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world.

It’s important for us to understand both sides of the ongoing situation before coming to a conclusion. Producing palm oil may have many pros but are those reasons worth the deforestation of our rainforests and increased carbon dioxide in our world? Or, can we afford to sacrifice some of our rainforests to reduce poverty and possibly prevent cancer?

Find out more about palm oil here:

What’s the scene on Palm Oil?

Palm oil is probably a part of your day whether you know it or not. It’s likely you’ve eaten it, cleaned yourself with it, put it in your underarms and maybe even decorated your face with it. 
The inexpensive vegetable oil is a popular ingredient in cosmetics, toiletries, soaps and many foods. It comes from palm fruit flesh and even from the fruit’s kernels which have multiple uses of their own: animals eat them, machines are fueled by them and furniture is made from them. 
The good news: 
Palm oil can be very efficiently produced. Using the same amount of land, palm oil can produce 10 times more than most other vegetable oils.
The disturbing news: 
Most palm oil is not being produced efficiently, causing problems like displacement, deforestation, and species endangerment. Countries that produce large amounts of palm oil, like Malaysia and Indonesia, are experiencing the devastation in drastic ways.
What can you do about it? 
Here’s one idea: read your labels so you can shop smart. As of 2011 some companies are beginning to display logos to inform the public that they are committed to sustainable solutions for palm oil.
One of these groups, Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil, lists companies and groups that have signed on as supporters. You may find some familiar names here: Or go to their main page to check out two product logo options:  
So if you’re willing to be a little pickier about what you put in your shopping cart, you can promote a change of scenery in Malaysia, Indonesia, and the shelves of your local drugstore.