Global demand for vegetable oils is expected to more than double to 230 million tonnes by 2021, driven largely by developing world demand. In India – the world’s largest palm oil importer – cooking oil imports are forecasted to surge 44 percent over the next eight years. Indian consumption of cooking oils is projected to jump to 23 million metric tons by 2020 from 16 million. The bulk of increased demand is expected to come from imported oils, especially palm oil imports.
This will have significant implications for the Malaysian industry. Malaysian exports of low cost and healthy vegetable oil can assist India meet some of its nutritional requirements. Fats are a vital component of a healthy diet. According to D. Bhalla, a joint secretary in the India’s Food Ministry, per capita consumption of edible oils in India is approximately half that of the global average.
India currently suffers from some severe nutritional deficiencies. An increase in the consumption of some healthy vegetable oils may improve this in some instances. For example, palm oil has been proposed as effective supplement to combat vitamin A deficiencies in India that can lead to blindness.
NGOs like Greenpeace have recently focussed attentions on India, campaigning to restrict the entry of palm oil by promoting outlandish claims against the industry and advocating for trade restrictions against palm oil imports.
Western NGOs are effectively arguing that India’s nutritional deficiencies should come second to sensationalist environmental claims. The message from the NGOs is simple: inexpensive nutritional food supplies are bad for the planet – and India’s poor should carry the burden.
India’s consumers should ignore these campaigns. India is still home to around 25 per cent of the world’s hungry poor according to the FAO. Roughly 43 per cent of children under the age of five years are malnourished. This is what India should be paying attention to – not Western activists.