The Sustainability Challenge: Palm Oil Production and Environmental Impact

palm oil production

Palm oil is present in many products. It is found in food and cosmetics, making it a necessary resource worldwide.

In Malaysia and Indonesia, people’s livelihoods depend on this. They account for a total of 85% of the exports in global palm oil production. It has a significant impact on economies.

Sustainable techniques will help in reducing environmental problems due to their production. It will reduce deforestation, biodiversity loss, and rising greenhouse gas emissions.

The oil industry must balance financial gains with social and environmental obligations. It should meet demand worldwide without endangering the environment.

The Global Palm Oil Market Overview

Food and biofuels are only two of the many everyday products that use palm oil. Global sales of palm oil produced $71.23 Billion in revenue in 2023. (Source)

This illustrates the scope and importance of the oil industry. It is vital to the world economy and creates many jobs. There is extensive production, distribution, and usage of this oil. Thus, it plays a vital role in global trade.

Let’s look at the various trends in palm oil prices:

● Steady Growth Rate:

From 2024 to 2030, the market will increase at a consistent annual pace of 5.1% to reach $100 billion. This steady expansion points to a healthy and expanding market. (Source)

● Rising Prices:

As the market expands, palm oil prices will rise as well. This is due to the rise in demand from many businesses that depend on the oil.

● Different Markets and Different Demands:

The food, biofuels, and personal care products industries, drive demand for the oil. Since these sectors use oil in a variety of their products, it is growing in popularity.

● Impacts on the Biofuel Industry:

One of the main sources of demand is the biofuel industry. Demand and palm oil prices rose as they became a biofuel alternative. It contributes to one-third of the vegetable oils used globally to manufacture biodiesel or around 12% of total oil use.

● Food Industry's Role:

Confections, baked products, and snacks are among the various items. It has led to changing eating habits and an expanding global population. Due to this, there is a further demand increase. In 2023, palm oil eclipsed all other edible oils as India's most extensively used cooking oil, with a consumption volume of more than 8 million metric tons.

● Personal Care and Cosmetics Sector:

Many cosmetics and personal hygiene products contain palm oil as a component. This market is expanding due to rising consumer awareness. It also led to a desire for products made with natural ingredients. ASD (Action for Sustainable Derivatives) was established in 2019 to address the issue of leverage on palm oil production. Currently, its 23 members, which include well-known companies like Estee Lauder, Chanel, L'Oréal, and Natura, represent almost 1 million tons of demand for palm derivatives.

● Global Economic Implications:

The increasing demand for and cost of this oil has significant financial ramifications. This is true for two of the world's biggest producers, Malaysia and Indonesia. It affects trade balances, employment rates, and income levels in certain sectors.

● Durability Issues:

There are concerns about deforestation and other environmental effects linked to its production. This could lead to changes in market dynamics and production techniques.

Importance of Palm Oil in the Global Commodity Market:

Palm oil is one of the most significant agricultural products worldwide. The value of the global palm oil market was estimated at USD 71.23 billion in 2023 and is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.25% to reach USD 103.6 billion by 2032. (Source)

Political leaders, businessmen, and investors always keep a careful eye on palm oil prices. Politics and regulations in key producing nations like Indonesia have a big impact on palm oil companies like Wilmar International, which controls an estimated 45% of the worldwide palm oil trade.

People make decisions with the use of up-to-date pricing information available. Palm oil price variations may state shifts in the supply and demand of the market. This affects trading and investing strategies. This oil is used in lots of industries: Food, Cosmetics, Detergents, Biofuel.

Palm oil is found in a wide range of baked goods, chocolate, biscuits, margarine, and frying fats. It can be found in a variety of products, such as cleaning supplies, shampoo, and soap, as well as used as biofuel. These days, 50% of the goods found in UK supermarkets contain palm oil.

The constant flow of information on the prices of palm oil guarantees transparency and makes the market more transparent. Facilitates the process of figuring out the best price for this oil. It aids in maintaining the stability of the market.

Environmental Impacts of Palm Oil Production

The production of palm oil has significant detrimental consequences on the environment. The development and cultivation of the plant cause a variety of environmental issues.

● Tropical Deforestation:

The extraction of oil leads to deforestation in Malaysia and Indonesia. Key habitats including old-growth forests and species-rich communities have been lost as a result of the destruction of natural forests to make way for palm oil plantations.

● Decrease in Biodiversity:

It threatens the existence of creatures like tigers, orangutans, and rhinos. It also clears land for plantations. Oil palm farming's greatest direct effect on biodiversity is habitat loss caused by pre-planting fires and deforestation. Palm oil production accounts for up to 50% of global deforestation.

● Contributes to Climate Change:

Deforestation for the production of oil raises greenhouse gas concentrations. The rise of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere aggravates climate change. Forest fires, which are used to clear vegetation for the construction of oil palm plantations, emit carbon dioxide and contribute to climate change.

● Degradation of Peatlands:

Draining and converting peatlands into crops leads to significant carbon dioxide emissions. In addition to oxidizing peat, the drainage required for palm oil production makes the land more susceptible to flooding and fires. Drainage degrades peatlands, accounting for more than 5% of global atmospheric CO2 emissions.

● Soil and Water Pollution:

Water and soil contamination sources result from using fertilizers and pesticides on plantations. A palm oil mill produces 2.5 metric tons of wastewater for each metric ton of palm oil produced. This effluent's direct release may pollute waters, affecting people and species downstream.

Sustainability Challenges in Palm Oil Production

Let’s look at the sustainable challenges in oil production:

● Land rights disputes could arise from acquiring land for oil plantations. It could then affect nearby farmers and indigenous groups.

● Over the oil industry allegations of child labour have been persistent. Dangerous working conditions and exploitation have been the main causes of concern too.

● The tactic of misleading investors and consumers by presenting fictitious promises.

● Many people are unaware of the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) standards.

● High demand for low-cost, non-sustainable oil hampers the industry. It affects the ongoing efforts to promote sustainable methods.

Solutions and Alternatives

Sustainable Palm Oil Certification Schemes:

  1. There are guidelines for responsible oil production. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) works on these.
  2. These certifications promote improved practices by incentivizing growers. They try to reduce pesticide use and protect animal habitats.
  3. Certifications help consumers make conscious decisions, by identifying which oils are sustainable.

Innovative Techniques for Producing Palm Oil Using Technology:

  1. Precision agriculture uses cutting-edge technology to track and manage plantation conditions. It enhances productivity and efficiency.
  2. New processing technology reduces the quantity of waste produced and the environmental impact.
  3. Advances allow us to raise output yields on our current crops without expanding. It leads to reduced deforestation.

Potential Alternatives to Palm Oil:

  1. Other possibilities include coconut oil, sunflower oil, and soybean oil. These may be less effective due to lower output rates, but they are still available.
  2. Instead of switching to alternative oil crops, the way forward is to cultivate the oil in a better way.


The palm oil business has undergone a sea change. It is required for the manufacturing of numerous goods. Many people in Malaysia and Indonesia make their living from this industry. However, it has negative effects on human life and the environment.

Deforestation and animal suffering result from it. To farm, one must adhere to environmental regulations and contemporary technology. The global palm oil market's prices may incentivize ethical behavior. It also adds to palm oil's environmental friendliness.

In the long run, we need to ensure that palm oil production and use don't negatively impact the environment. Therefore, farmers and consumers must work together. It results in a more promising and sustainable future.


1. What are the economic perspectives of palm oil production?

It benefits economies, creates jobs, boosts GDP, and contributes to exports and national economy stabilization.

2. What are some potential alternatives to palm oil?

Sunflower oil, coconut oil, and soybean oil are some of the potential alternatives to palm oil.

3. What are some environmental impacts of palm oil production?

Deforestation, soil and water pollution, biodiversity loss, climate change, and peatland degradation are all consequences of cultivation.