Lack of research on palm oil production's environmental effects

By Katie Bird

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Palm oil Sustainability Agriculture

More research is needed on the effect of palm oil plantations on
biodiversity in order to inform conservation practices, say
researchers from the University of Cambridge.

Palm oil appears in a wide range of personal care products including soaps, shampoos and deodorants as well as foods and biofuels. Global demand for the oil is increasing and as production intensifies so do fears over the environmental impact of its cultivation. This is particularly worrying as the majority of palm oil production occurs in the world's most biodiverse regions and scientists at the University of Cambridge, UK, claim that there is a significant lack of research into the effects of palm oil plantations on biodiversity. Research is crucial for sustainable management ​ Although the number of publications focusing on palm oil has increased in recent years, the number devoted to biodiversity and conservation issues has remained extremely low, say the scientists. In addition, the scientists highlight that the research that has been done has focused on larger animal and bird species, and has not focused on the insect population which performs many of the important tasks in the ecosystem. More research on the impacts of palm oil plantations on the insect populations in an ecosystem is vital in order to ensure the sustainable management of plantations. The researchers hypothesize that sustainable management might also benefit the yields and profits of the plantations. For example, the maintenance of forest fragments within the plantation is likely to increase biodiversity as well as reducing the erosion and flooding that can be so damaging to the crop. Despite the lack of research, the scientists recognised the work of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil in making progress in promoting sustainable plantation management. Sustainable and palm oil free cosmetics ​The Body Shop, one of the Roundtable's members, announced in July 2007 its use of sustainable palm oil for cosmetics in partnership with Daboon, a Colombian organic producer. The company is hoping to inspire competing manufacturers with the new initiative, suggesting that there is a need for greater cooperation in the entire industry if ethical sourcing of the oil is going to continue. Lush, a UK-based manufacturer of bath and body care products, has taken a different approach by dispensing with the oil altogether. The company recently announced the development of a palm oil free soap base in response to growing concerns over environmental damage caused by the oil's production. Source: PLoS ONE (3)2 e1572 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0001572 Title: Oil palm research in context: Identifying the need for biodiversity assessment Authors: Turner EC, Snaddon JL, Fayle TM, Foster WA.

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