The oil palm tree (Elaeis guineensis) produces high-quality, versatile oils that are used in numerous foods and household items. Unfortunately, its cultivation has dramatically altered Southeast Asia’s landscape and threatens to erase the last rainforest habitats of orangutans and other endangered species.
Palm oil is used as an inexpensive substitute for animal or vegetable oil in products such as:
Palm oil is a lucrative, fast-growing crop that yields far more than traditional oils. But rising worldwide demand has prompted Indonesia and Malaysia to convert massive amount of land into oil palm plantations, and those nations now account for over half the world’s total plantation area (more than 10 million hectares).
Today, oil palm plantations are the fastest-growing agricultural commodity on earth. The principal buyers of palm oil and palm oil products are the European Union, Indian, China, Japan, Egypt, Singapore and China.
The emphasis on palm oil production has caused high conservation value forest across Borneo and Sumatra – the two islands that house the last wild populations of orangutans – to be cut down. As a result, environmental degradation has resulted in soil erosion, drought, air pollution and climate change. It can also cause social conflicts between indigenous communities and palm oil companies.
© 2012 Great Apes Survival Partnership