The Oil Palm

Feeding The World In The 21st Century

The oil palm is a remarkable crop, providing the most efficient oilseed that feeds millions throughout the world, while contributing to rural development and poverty alleviation. While Western consumers benefit from a low-cost, sustainable vegetable oil, smallholders in the developing world are prospering from the industry.

Right now, the world’s population is a staggering 6.8 billion people. That number is set to rise to nearly 9 billion – almost a 50% increase – by mid-century. Today, nearly a quarter of the world lives under USD $2.00 a day. Food security and combating poverty demands that the poor be given the opportunity to become food secure and prosperous.

Yet if the world is going to address the growing issue of food security, it must do more with its current resources; a good first step would be to invest in sustainable crops such as palm oil. MPOC CEO Tan Sri Datuk Dr. Yusof Basiron recently discussed the issue of food security in a Bangkok Post editorial and detailed the many benefits palm oil has created in the fight to ensure food security:

“…World demand for calorie-rich, nutritious fare is starting to jump. Feeding so many hungry mouths is a complex task. But it will never happen unless we substantially increase food yields, especially the yields of staple foods such as palm oil which is already used by over one billion consumers around the world.

The good news is that our industry has the potential to meet the rising demand. We have invested in productivity-enhancing technology to boost yields. And we have done this while protecting the global environment. Palm oil is the world’s most sustainable vegetable oil as it produces significantly more calories per acre than competing products. Thus our industry contributes safe food products to enhance global food security; protects valuable natural resources such as forests; and provides good jobs and careers for an aspirational middle class…”

If the world is going to meet these new challenges, there are some important steps that need to be taken. Land productivity needs to be improved, so that agriculture is more effective and efficient. And poverty must be reduced, so people can benefit from the fruits of innovation and engage as economic equals with the developed community.

With ballooning populations, food insecurity is increasingly becoming a hindrance to eradicating poverty and achieving prosperity in the developing world and across the globe. With more mouths to feed, it’s important that the world utilizes high productivity crops such as palm oil when planning for its future.

But there are opponents to the efforts of palm oil’s expansion, which would threaten food security. The World Bank, under pressure from environmental NGOs in the Western world, has sought to redefine its lending standards, imperiling funding necessary for development to feed the children of the future. The developing world must be supplied with adequate tools and investment necessary to support food security in both the short term and the long term. Instead of pushing for strict guidelines that risk future palm oil cultivation, the World Bank should support the sector as part of its true mission of poverty alleviation.

Agriculture development in emerging markets is critical to countering the effects of hunger and poverty. Palm oil is an important part of the solution, increasing land efficiency while promoting new means of sustainable development. The West needs to embrace these new solutions, and not bow to pressure from misguided environmental forces.