What are good substitutes for vegetable oils

Solutions & ways

Despite the challenges mentioned, the cultivation of the oil palm is not fundamentally bad. The oil palm has the highest yield of all oil crops and is the only crop that produces two different oils that are of interest to industry: palm oil and palm kernel oil. The oil palm takes up the smallest part of the total area under cultivation for global oil and fat extraction, but at the same time accounts for the largest share of total production with around 32 percent. Sunflowers, coconut or soy - their area yield is on average three times less than that of palm oil. Replacing it with other vegetable oils would therefore not lead to the desired goals, but merely shift the problem and in some cases even worsen it. Soy and coconut, for example, grow in the same or ecologically similar sensitive regions. More land would be required for their cultivation, there would be more greenhouse gas emissions and more species would be threatened. Even the most important European vegetable oil, rapeseed oil, could not meet the increasing global demand for vegetable oils. In view of the increasing world population and the economic growth of the consumer countries, good area coverage is an important prerequisite for meeting the increasing demand for vegetable oils.

How is the cultivation of the oil palm made more sustainable?

For the sustainable production of palm oil, it is particularly important that the areas used for the cultivation of the oil palm are not converted to the detriment of the environment. Compliance with good agricultural practice is one of the pillars for this cultivation. This should only take place on fallow land and arable land and areas in order to minimize the risk of carbon being released. This is where the governments in the producing countries have a duty to address the problem of land use. In addition, producers and consumers are also responsible along the entire supply chain. For Europe to play a pioneering role in the use of certified palm oil, there needs to be an increasing demand for sustainable palm oil. In this way, incentives are created for producers to further expand sustainable production.

In the growing countries themselves, palm oil production is an important economic factor. The international trade in palm oil brings valuable foreign exchange to the countries. In addition, the non-mechanized harvest of palm fruits¸, which is possible around 15 times a year, creates numerous important jobs. These are mainly offered in rural, often structurally weak regions.

It is also clear, however, that field workers receive a minimum wage and that international labor law must be complied with. It is also necessary to involve and support smallholders who produce a large part of the world's palm oil, as well as a ban on child labor on the plantations.

Certification - an opportunity in palm oil

Oil palms are grown both on large plantations and on small family farms. The challenge of sustainable cultivation is to achieve the greatest possible yield and at the same time to impair nature as little as possible. Due to the worldwide criticism of the practices in oil palm cultivation, various certification systems have developed in recent years. In addition to the most widespread certification system, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the Rainforest Alliance, International Sustainability & Carbon Certification (ISCC) and the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB).

The aim of these systems is to make the cultivation of oil palms more sustainable overall through a large number of criteria and specifications and thus to prevent rainforest deforestation, slash and burn and human rights violations in palm oil cultivation. The sustainability criteria of the certification systems ensure that the fundamental rights of indigenous landowners, local communities, employees in the cultivation businesses, small farmers and their families are respected and taken into account. Certification systems contribute to greater transparency in the value chain and help to strengthen the dialogue about sustainable palm oil.

In addition, pesticides may only be used to a very limited extent in the cultivation of oil palms in the future. Certifications are also intended to guarantee that no rainforest areas or areas worthy of protection are converted for the production of palm oil - mills and cultivation companies must keep their environmental impact as low as possible. Accompanying measures such as training for small farmers, support in setting up organizations and the involvement of governments are also an important lever of certification systems in emerging and developing countries.

Weaknesses of certification systems

As far-reaching as the specifications of the various certification systems are in some areas, weaknesses often still appear in their implementation. The various possible trade routes - especially the purchase of certificates - do not yet offer companies sufficient incentive to switch to the stricter system of segregation. Criteria and indicators that are checked by certified plantations and mills are often not yet strict enough to meet the goals and requirements of the RSPO, ISCC, RSB or the Rainforest Alliance. This applies in particular to the implementation of the complaint procedure in the event of a violation of the criteria. In addition, the verification of certification by independent auditors is inconsistent and has weak points.

It is clear that voluntary certification systems cannot solve the problems in the palm oil sector on their own, since the implementation of the criteria is not legally mandatory. They only guarantee compliance with self-imposed rules on the areas of their voluntary members. In addition, certifications are often associated with high investments, which make it difficult for small farmers to commit to sustainable palm oil.

Despite all the criticism of the certification systems, companies around the world are increasingly deciding to assume their responsibility in the global supply chain and only buy certified palm and palm kernel oil. Certification systems contribute to an improvement on site: The sustainable and certified production of palm oil pays off noticeably, especially for small farmers. Improved cultivation and harvesting methods help to increase yields. As the quality of the palm fruits also improves, the palm oil farmers can earn higher incomes. Due to its very good market prospects and the high profits per area, palm oil offers positive income opportunities for rural areas and thus also for small farmers. The sustainability certification enables international market access. This also increases employment and income opportunities in rural areas in the producing countries. Certification systems are therefore an important step towards improved and sustainable practices in the palm oil sector.