We know palm oil mainly as a vegetable oil used for cooking and food production. Therefore, it is already remarkable to know all palm oil can contribute to better the non-food sector. Palm oil in the non-food sector can be used in everything from cosmetics to detergents to fertilizers. Palm oil can be used in pet food as well as infant formula. Palm oil is a truly versatile commodity whose reputation has been all but destroyed by allegations and accusations against the industry. Now palm oil, if nurtured and supported, could essentially be the backbone for biodiesel production and thus a greener future. The question is whether it will be allowed to happen, or whether the effort will be scuttled before it even begins.
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So, let us ask our self a question, what do we know about palm oil? What are the first few things that come into our mind hearing palm oil? chances are if you are a vivid reader of blogs, internet articles, follower of environmental NGOs, then that word is not many, but one, deforestation. If you followed National Geographic, you might even remember a barren land harassed and stripped of its natural beauty. But let us be critical and ask ourselves the question again, what do we know about palm oil?
Palm oil is a very versatile and nutritious commodity. Numerous studies have shown that palm oil has health-promoting properties, such as antioxidant and anti-cancer. Applications of palm oil range everything from ice cream to shampoo.
So why is such a super oil coming under fire? Why isn’t the public aware of all these benefits? Is it a lack of compliance? Could it be that the real story is not fully known or understood?
When it comes to land use, the oil palm tree stands tall. This “golden crop” is the most efficient oil crop in the world. Sustainably grown in Malaysia, this stately tree feeds billions, brings prosperity to farmers and nurtures its environment. And it accomplishes this on just a tiny sliver of the world’s farmland. Now, that’s smart growth!
The world has four major oil seed crops: oil palm, soybean, sunflower and canola (rapeseed). Together, they use 3.55 percent of the world’s total agricultural land. Oil palm occupies the least land: just 0.23 percent of the world’s farmland. Sunflower uses 0.51 percent, rapeseed 0.67 percent and soybean, the most at 2.14 percent.
Episode two of the Asian Food Channel television show, Eating Wild, explored how the Malaysian palm oil industry is protecting the abundant wildlife on the island of Borneo. Wildlife explorer Nigel Marven and chef Anis Nabilah toured Malaysia’s pristine landscape together, which then inspires Nabilah’s spicy, locally sourced recipes. In this episode, Marven and Nabilah interacted with native Bornean wildlife such as flying lizards and a feisty young python. Two Vietnamese-influenced dishes are also prepared using Malaysian sustainable palm oil. The antioxidant-rich oil is grown in the same region where the wildlife thrives.
With almost six million hectares of land planted with oil palm, the palm oil industry plays a major role in contributing towards Malaysian revenue. In 2018, more than RM 68 billion was generated by the oil palm industry (MPOC Europe, 2020). The industry also supported more than two million people, directly and indirectly, for their livelihood (MPOC, 2019).
The six million hectares of oil palm plantation represents 17% of total Malaysian land mass. At the same time, Malaysia still maintains 53% of its land, under forest. Malaysia is one of the megadiverse countries in the world. There are 306 species of mammals, 742 species of birds, 567 species of reptiles, 242 species of amphibians and more than 150,000 species of invertebrates in Malaysia (Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of Malaysia, 2015).
The richness of Malaysian biodiversity is not limited only to the forest. Many species of wildlife have been spotted and recorded within the oil palm plantations. This article focuses on bird diversity in an oil palm plantation landscape. A study by Azhar et al., (2013) recorded 163 species of birds in oil palm plantations. This account for 22% of all bird species which is the highest recorded in Malaysia. Another study in oil palm plantations by Jambari et al., (2012) recorded 72 species while a similar study in Sarawak recorded 42 species (Amit et al., 2014).
Birds play an important role in an ecosystem because they have significant effects on vertebrates (Kross et al., 2018), herbivorous insects and plants (Mäntylä et al., 2011). They provide important ecosystem services such as pest control (Karp et al., 2013), seed dispersal and pollination (Sekercioglu et al., 2016).