Gabon: The Palm Oil Paradox - What Asia Can Learn From Gabon

Photo: This Day
(file photo).

Palm oil is universally viewed as one of the most destructive monocultures globally, contributing to massive deforestation and wherever it is grown, exacerbating the climate crisis. But the biodiversity-rich African nation of Gabon is developing an innovative approach to offsetting its destructive environmental effects.

Accounting for roughly one-third of the world's annual vegetable oil production, palm oil -- cultivated in the Asian, African and Latin American tropics -- constitutes the most widely consumed, traded and high-yielding vegetable oil commodity in the world. The controversial cash crop, native to West Africa, is cheap to produce, generates five to eight times more oil per hectare than other oil crops such as soybean, sunflower and rapeseed, and is ubiquitous, found in everything from processed foods, cosmetics, biofuels and candles, to soaps and detergents.

To put its pervasiveness into perspective -- about 50% of products stocked in supermarkets contain palm oil. In response to its multifarious uses and growing market demand, the global extent of palm cultivation has increased exponentially, with 75% of production traded internationally. The global palm oil industry, valued at $65.73-billion in 2015, has been projected to reach a staggering $92.84-billion by 2021.

Such predictions alone are enough to strike despondency,...

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