Palm oil has a bad reputation. In the media we have seen how its production destroys rainforests and exploits people. But there is another side to palm oil. When we produce it the right way, good things start to happen.
Palm oil has many advantages to offer, that we can all benefit from when we grow and produce it using organic practices, protect forests and wildlife, and follow fair and socially responsible work ethics. This way we’re positively impacting nature and the lives of farmers, workers, and communities. Like Mario’s live, an Ecuadorian farmer: ‘Since I transitioned to organic farming I can finally breathe again in my plantation’.
A proud farmer
Mario is one of the oil palm farmers that switched from conventional to organic palm growing practices. I met him in Ecuador and asked him how organic palm cultivation has changed his life. Sitting on his porch he served me some of his home-made chocolate, made from cocoa beans his son cultivates. Many independent Ecuadorian family farmers grow multiple crops on their land.
He pointed to the piece of land, close to his house, where cocoa trees and oil palms are planted. “In the old days it was difficult to get by”, explains Mario. He made less money from his plantation. He also suffered from the chemicals he used, making it hard to breath while working his land. Now he smiles, when he talks about his work as an organic farmer: “I am really happy. I am preserving nature and protecting my health, as well as my family’s and my workers’ health. It also brings me joy that I’m creating more work for people from nearby communities by farming organically.”
Benefits of palm done right
When we produce palm oil the right way it brings many benefits. It is palm oil that elevates the quality and performance of many products that we use daily. It enables margarine to be spreadable, ice cream to taste creamy, cookies to be crispy and it helps your detergent to get rid of those nasty stains you dread. It also ensures work and income in countries where palm oil is grown. This is often overlooked, in the discussion around palm oil. A growing number of farmers, like Mario, are proving it can be done right, by using better practices, creating jobs, and ensuring stable incomes for workers.
Another side of palm oil
Good palm oil does exist, produced with respect for people and nature: 100% organic, deforestation-free, wildlife friendly, fair & social. It is important to look beyond the horror stories that the media circulate. When we start to ask for sustainable palm oil and reward its use, we will not only protect nature, but we will also make sure that farmers like Mario, and his workers, will have a better life.
What you can do
There is no need to be anxious and keep palm oil out of your cupboards. What you need is more clarity, by reading the wrappers of the products you buy. Ask yourself if palm oil was used in your product, and whether it comes from sustainable sources. Reach out to your favorite brands to ask them where the palm oil in their products was sourced and how it was produced.
As for the manufacturers, be open about the palm oil you use. Start a conversation with your consumers. Explain why the only real solution is to transition to sustainable palm oil. And move away, today, from using palm oil from unknown origins. Demand transparency from your suppliers.
If we’ll do this together, we will start a movement that benefits everyone.
Monique van Wijnbergen is Sustainability and Corporate Communications Director at Natural Habitats Americas
Natural Habitats Americas is a company fully committed to the sustainable production of organic and fair trade palm oil. She is also a spokesperson for Palm Done Right, an international campaign on a mission to change the conversation around palm oil and to advocate palm can be grown for good. Check their stories about how palm oil can be done right and join the movement.