Authors Pierre Bois D’Enghien

Answer to Nicolas Hulot, Palm Oil and Sustainability

The authors of a column published in Le Monde doubt the effectiveness of the RSPO certification for the development of a truly sustainable palm oil.

The RSPO repository has eight principles, 43 criteria and 69 key indicators; certification is conducted by an accredited third party – like it is done with ISO certification – which is a guarantee of quality. But unlike ISO certification, which evaluates a management system, RSPO also assesses good practices implemented. A company may be ISO 14001 while exceeding pollution standard, a certified oil palm plantation RSPO can not.

An assessment of areas with high conservation value (and thus, not only forest) is required before any new planting occurs. Under no circumstances primary forests or those with protected species (including apes) can be destroyed (criterion 7.3); the repository application that operators avoid planting on peatlands (criterion 7.4) and if the use of Paraquat is still permitted, (ranked II, moderately hazardous, according to WHO), it is only so in exceptional and fully documented circumstances (criterion 4.6).

The authors, without saying so, acknowledge the importance of this type of certification and only point out the excesses of some planters which are even in violation of local environmental legislation.

They skilfully combine the impact of all monocultures on biodiversity and the conversion of natural areas into oil palm plantations, but forget to say that alternative (rapeseed, sunflower) are also monocultures and that they create biodiversity deserts ; if 15% of local biodiversity actually remain in oil palm plantations, what remains in a plant of rapeseed or sunflower: less than 0.1% ?

For equal production in vegetable oil, it takes 8 to 10 times more areas with annual oil monocultures (such as rapeseed). Do the authors really think that by reducing annual crops intended for biofuel production in Europe, we will significantly reduce the surfaces dedicated to this incredibly well performing plant that is oil palm? In a world that will be shelter to 9.3 billion in 2050? This is naive.

At similar consumption levels, it will require an additional 150 million tons of vegetable oil in 2050, which will add another 37 million hectares of palm trees or 187 million hectares of rapeseed, a difference of 150 million ha, the area size of ​​Mongolia.

Finally, we note that this famous Asian company producing and selling palm oil located in the Cross River State, and that the authors do not mention, is called WILMAR and the latest quarterly and annual reports of the Afi Mountain Wildlife Sanctuary never mention Wilmar nor any oil palm plantation; but illegal hunting and village cultures as unique factors of disappearance of the monkeys in the reserve. The authors of course avoid mentioning the real causes and are content to note the presence of a palm plantation in the “buffer zone”. Oil palm is the ideal scapegoat to avoid asking the really good questions.

While European imports (around 6 million tonnes per year) are significantly lower than what is produced as Sustainable Palm oil  (11.9 million tonnes in 2014), the authors should instead insist that all European consumptions be 100% sustainable according to RSPO or local repositories (MSPO) and take their pilgrim’s staff to persuade China and India to do the same.

The authors might understand that palm oil is not to problem. It is deforestation, due to the increasing global population, which needs fat to live, too.

By Pierre Bois d'Enghien

Pierre Bois D’Enghien is an agronomist and agricultural expert from Belgium. He has spent his career advising African and international companies about agriculture and sustainability, including SOCFIN in the Cote d’Ivoire, the Feronia group in Congo, and the Belgian companies Condroz Energies. He is an acknowledged expert on plantation agriculture, including palm oil.