The facts: Addressing the campaign to stop the planting of oil palm trees in the Philippines
THE OIL PALM tree produces palm oil or vegetable oil, which is now a major component of the Filipino diet, providing nutrition and high energy. In recent years, there has been a huge increase in the percentage of oil consumption among Filipinos. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that 30% of the total energy intake should come from oils (2015).
The per capita consumption of the country is below that but is increasing. Housewives, restaurant chefs, and food processors discovered that palm oil is a cheap, nutritious, healthy, and versatile vegetable oil cheaper than other vegetable oils. In the past, coconut oil fulfilled this role. Lately, a larger portion of our coconut oil production is exported at much higher prices than when used domestically as vegetable oils, and this benefits our coconut farmers. Consequently, the country has to import palm oil to meet domestic needs.
In 2012, the country imported US$ 454,000 of palm oil. This increased to US$ 968,000 in 2016 and is projected to zoom up to over US$ 1.5 billion by 2020. The country has only 89,000 hectares (ha) of oil palm trees whose production meets less than 10% of the domestic requirement. Palm oil supplies almost 80% of domestic vegetable oil requirements; the rest is supplied by coconut, soybean canola, and other oils. There is a need to expand palm oil planting to another 400,000 ha to meet our domestic requirements.
The planned expansion is, however, meeting resistance from campaigners who advocate the stopping of the planting of oil palm trees. The campaigners focus on convincing policy makers, agricultural program planners, and implementors, LGUs, farmers, and rebel groups using half-truths and lies without scientific basis to create a negative impression of the oil palm tree. They hide the truth about the many positive benefits of oil palm farming and the use of palm oil.
They allege that planting oil palm trees (a) creates environmental degradation leading to rapid climate change; (b) causes rapid soil erosion and loss of soil fertility; (c) requires the heavy use of fertilizer, which pollutes the land and water; (d) requires heavy water consumption, leading to reduced availability of ground water; and (e) causes the loss of diversity in the farming communities. In this article, scientific evidence is used to present a more factual picture of oil palm trees and oil palm farming. With these, the right decisions can be made in the direction of the expansion of the oil palm cultivation in the country.
REFUTING THE ISSUES A. Oil palm helps mitigate climate change. Climate change is brought about by the increase in greenhouse gas (GHG) or the high concentration of carbon in the atmosphere. The solution is to bind the carbon to reduce the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. The forest serves as a carbon sink, and oil palm has been found to be a better carbon sink than natural forest trees because it captures a higher amount of carbon/unit area. It also stores carbon better than naturally grown forest trees. Scientific studies reveal that the biomass of naturally grown forest trees trap 25.6 tons/ha of carbon over their lifetime, while oil palm traps 45.2 tons/ha (Table 1). This shows that oil palm is better than natural forest trees in promoting climate change mitigation. Plants
1. Oil palm 2. Natural forest Increase In Biomass Amount Of “Trapped” In 25 Years/Ha Carbon/Ha