WHO NEEDS THE PALM OIL?
Not many people around here know what an oil palm looks like. But palm oil is found in the ingredient list of one out of ten food products, and though its use has thus far been limited in the U.S., palm oil is in high demand in places like China, India, and throughout the European Union. Since the FDA has ordered trans fats to be phased out in the U.S., experts think demand for palm oil will grow. After all, it’s cheap and keeps dishes pleasantly creamy at room temperature. Palm oil is a massive business because it has many uses. In contrast with the 700 million tons of wheat produced worldwide every year, the 60 million tons of palm oil produced annually around the world constitute just a small cog in the massive machine of an enormous industry. Palm oil also has drawbacks: In Indonesia alone 32 million acres of rain forest were transformed into an immense palm plantation within just a few decades. Another example: Palm oil producer Wilmar International is the biggest agricultural corporation in Asia, and according to the data from a number of environmental organizations it is entangled in more than 100 conflicts relating to acquisition of new land. Primary oil consumers are the major food companies. In Indonesia there are rows upon rows of oil palms— on an area the size of Mississippi…
Global consumption of palm oil, primarily produced in Indonesia and Malaysia: 60 million tons per year.
BLOODY SEEDLINGS The problem of land acquisition does not only exist in Indonesia, but also in Brazil (shown here) and the fertile regions of Africa. The rain forest (visible in the background of the photo), along with its inhabitants, must make way: Before workers can cultivate hundreds of thousands of oil palm seedlings (foreground), the residents of the area to be transformed into a plantation are expelled— often by force.