Indonesia welcomes efforts by Swiss-based environmental network The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to conduct a series of researches to gather data on vegetable oil, including palm oil, across the globe to provide a strong basis for best policies on the sustainable provision of vegetable oils to meet the fast rising global demand.

“I think this study is a good start to come out with a better understanding of various sides which are currently engaged in efforts to conduct false campaigns,” Indonesian Coordinating Minister for the Economy Darmin Nasution said, speaking to journalist after receiving a copy of the result of the first study at his office on Monday (4/2),

Nasution said that palm oil has been the target of criticism and attacks from various sides, mostly accusing the commodity of being behind the rapid deforestation and threatening their biodiversity.

“We deem this study is trying to be balanced. It does not follow the rhythm of merely seeking the faults of palm oil, but is trying to show the advantages, the shortcomings and what can be done by various countries, including Indonesia in the matter of meeting world demand for vegetable oil,” Nasution added.

“This is just the beginning, “Nasution said, adding that “We need dialogue and in this dialogue, we see this study as a beginning.” He said that further studies were still needed to get a better understanding and more detailed results.

Researcher Eric Meijaard, a prominent member of the IUCN task force which wrote the report said that although the analysis of the situation is conducted on all crops producing vegetable oil, it was primarily focused on palm oil in the context of biodiversity conservation. He said that palm oil, was just a crop and as an oil-producing crop, it was the most productive compared to other vegetable oil producing crops.

Nasution said that to produce one ton of vegetable oil, palm oil would only need 0,26 hectares of land at present, compared to 1,34 hectares for rapeseed, and 1,43 hectare for sunflower or even two hectares for soybean.

“What does that mean? If we understand that the world’s need for vegetable oil will continue to increase by 2030, 2040 and 2050, and palm oil plantation is not expanded, then a much wider surface (of land) would be needed for growing oil from other crops. This is not a solution that the world can bear,” Nasution said.

Meijaard said that preliminary results showed that palm oil only accounted for one percent of the world’s deforestation.

“We will make efforts so that further studies can proceed so that a positive understanding can be reached between various countries in the world especially in the matter of palm oil and its aspects,” he said.

Meijaard said that the study was primarily about palm oil and the impact on biodiversity and the environment and how does the commodity compare to other vegetable oil crops.

“We are looking at 310 megatons in demand by 2050, while current production is at 265 megatons. It becomes a really important global question how you can produce so much oil in limited land,” Meijaard said.

“If you want to ban palm oil, be careful. By taking palm oil out, you would need much more land to grow,” he said, adding that the cultivation of palm oil was not free of mistakes and it was quite clear that there had been an impact on biodiversity on forests. However,  through the series of studies “What we are doing is put the facts on the table. What we are trying to do is to be a neutral, scientific and objective voice.”

He had earlier told The Palm Scribe that the IUCN task force was currently trying to map out all land used to plant palm oil, including those of smallholders, using satellite imaging. By subtracting concessions managed by companies, the total surface of palm oil planted land managed by smallholders could then be obtained.

“If everything goes well, we will be able to have the results this year,” he said.

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