History and Origin

The oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) originated from West Africa, where evidence of its use as a staple food crop dates as far back as 5,000 years. There is even evidence in Egyptian tombs of people being buried with casks of palm oil, reflecting the high societal value attributed to the product. Needless to say, with origins in West Africa and evidence of consumption in Egypt, palm oil can be considered one of the earliest traded commodities.

While palm oil was ubiquitous in West Africa, the use of palm oil in the international market expanded significantly as a result of the British Industrial Revolution and the expansion of overseas trade. From candle-making to industrial lubricants, palm oil was a driving force behind the expansion of industrial production, while nutrient rich red palm oil became a vital asset on long sea-faring voyages. And it was a result of this increased demand that Europeans began investing in palm oil production, first in West Africa and then expanding to Southeast Asia.

A combination of European settlers and entrepreneurs, seeing the opportunity for commercial palm oil production to produce soaps, lubricants and edible oils lead to a dramatic expansion of oil palm plantations throughout Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia. The first commercial scale plantation in Malaysia was founded in 1917 and established in Tennamaran Estate in Selangor.

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