India’s initiative to develop its own standards for sustainable palm oil based on Indian laws, practices, and market realities with an alignment to global sustainability principles holds great potential.
There is a growing need for the sustainable production of vegetable oils globally, one of the key ingredients in our day-to-day lives. Palm oil, the world’s most consumed vegetable oil, leads the pack as a sustainable agri-commodity in meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals(SDGs) and also contributes towards agricultural development, food security, nutrition, sustainable food production, and conservation of biodiversity in producing and consuming countries.
According to a study, ‘Global Environmental Change’, palm oil contributes to 11 SDGs, the most by any vegetable oil globally. Reports have also shown that the palm oil industry has met 65 percent of its ‘No deforestation commitments’, while other edible oils are lagging behind significantly.
Palm oil producing countries have made significant efforts in ensuring sustainable production and the progress made on this front is commendable. Currently, palm oil is the only vegetable oil in the world, to have mandatory as well as voluntary sustainability certification programmes. To ensure sustainable production of palm oil, mandatory certification schemes like Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) and Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) play an important role in meeting the sustainability demands of buyers globally.
According to a study titled ‘Criteria for Effective Zero-deforestation Commitments’, by ‘Global Environmental Change’, palm oil contributes to 11 SDGs, the most by any vegetable oil globally. Reports have also shown that the palm oil industry has met 65 percent of its ‘No deforestation commitments’, while other edible oils are lagging behind significantly.
India’s initiative to develop its own standards for sustainable palm oil based on Indian laws, practices, and market realities with an alignment to global sustainability principles holds great potential. The initiative, the Indian Palm Oil Sustainability (IPOS) framework which has been created for the Indian palm oil industry by Indian palm oil stakeholders, includes The Solvent Extractors' Association of India (SEA) and the Society for Promotion of Oil Palm Research and Development as well as global non-profit Solidaridad. India and other major consuming countries need to strengthen cooperation with producing countries on palm oil sustainability standards that comply with ISPO and MSPO, and IPOS.
Key consumer countries have a crucial role to play in ensuring sustainable usage of palm oil. Asia is the fastest-growing market for palm oil, responsible for two-thirds of global consumption with India leading the charts. Its affordability makes it the favoured edible oil import for India which ranks as the biggest importer of palm oil by volume. According to Indexmundi, Indian domestic consumption has increased by 181 percent over the last 2 decades as the country consumed close to 8.8 million tonnes in 2020 out of which 93 percent was used for cooking and baking.
Palm oil is the most affordable edible oil globally due to its high-yielding properties that require less land for production. Underlining the contribution of palm oil in catering to the needs of the ever-increasing global population, a recent International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) study stated that oil palm contributes close to 40 percent of the current global vegetable oil supply despite occupying only around 5.5 percent of the total global oil crop area (between 21.5 and 23.4 million hectares), which is the least in comparison to other vegetable oil crops in the world.
UN Sustainable Gastronomy Day aims to promote sustainable food practices across the world. Reports have shown that palm oil is one of the most salient, healthy, and sustainable ingredients present in most food items. On the nutritional front, various studies have shown that the saturated fats found in palm oil are not harmful to the heart if consumed in moderate quantity. The vitamin E found in palm oil has been proven to be beneficial for humans and is being extracted and sold as an expensive supplement for heart and brain health. In addition to its vitamin E content, palm oil is also a food source with a high vitamin A level. Many studies have shown that palm oil is the world’s richest natural plant source of carotene which is also known as pro-vitamin A.
Sustainable gastronomy takes into account the origin of key ingredients, how the food items are cultivated, how it gets to markets, and finally to our plates. This World Sustainable Gastronomy Day, I urge all the stakeholders to take a step forward in ensuring sustainable practices across supply chains in the food industry. There is no doubt that the palm oil sector leads by example for all other vegetable oils in meeting sustainability standards.
—The author, Dr Yusof Basiron, is Executive Director, Council of Palm Oil Producing Countries. Views expressed are personal
(Edited by : Ajay Vaishnav)