Authors Pierre Bois D’Enghien

Palm Oil – Essential for Food Security

In recent years in Europe, a strong smear campaign relayed by the media has tried to discredit palm oil. Among the main arguments raised was that oil palm should be substituted with other, different, crops.

Yet the question arises: which crops would be able to match oil palm? All competing oilseed crops – sunflower, rapeseed, soy, and others – are far, far behind oil palm on all environmental metrics.

Oil palm is more efficient, uses less land, needs fewer pesticides, and less fertilizer. These are established facts of agronomy. The push to displace oil palm, then, would lead to more land being used; more fertilizer and pesticides needed. This is absurd. Why would we turn our backs on a food source that is so abundantly efficient and simple to grow?

This question is particularly important, in light of food security. It is no accident that most activists calling to replace palm oil live in the comfortable surroundings of Western Europe. They have plentiful food supply, and are rich. Perhaps food security is not at the top of their personal list of concerns.

The question of food security is, however, a critical one for the developing world, and for generations as yet unborn.

With high population growth expected for decades to come, the world is running out of land to produce food. Those who will be hit hardest, are the poorest.

Already, palm oil is a lifeline for the developing world: 3 billion people globally consume palm oil as a major source of energy and vitamins – including in India, sub-Saharan Africa and South-East Asia. As land pressure increases, the ability of oil palm to produce more food, using less land, will become even more vital.

Let’s not just focus on the abstract. What are the numbers?

The United Nations FAO predicts that the earth will house 9 billion people by 2050. To meet their needs, it is estimated that 150 million additional tons of oils and fats will be required each year. Producing 150 million tonnes of oil is a major challenge. It will need a lot of land. Which crop would be best used?

  • 38 million hectares of oil palm; or
  • 187 million hectares of rapeseed
  • 250 million hectares of sunflower
  • 375 million hectares of soybean

Oil palm is so far ahead in terms of productivity. The 150 million hectares between oil palm, and rapeseed, represents an area the size of Mongolia.

A lesson for those who call for replacing palm oil…remember food security and land use. Oil palm is the best option, by far.

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.