Indonesia’s Palm Oil Puzzle

Oil Palm PlantationWorldwide demand for palm oil, a commodity used in cooking, cosmetics, and biofuel, is expanding rapidly. Indonesia leads global production, but the price is often large swaths of tropical forest, contributing to the loss of indigenous lands and further threatening the habitat of endangered species such as the orangutan. The country already emits more greenhouse gases than any other nation besides China and the United States, due primarily to the clearing and burning of tropical forests.

As part of Worldwatch's continuing efforts to track emerging economies, staff writer Ben Block explores the expanding palm oil industry in this three-part series, published in April 2009.

Part 1: Global Palm Oil Demand Fueling Deforestation

Global economic decline has put a significant dent in the palm oil industry. Yet international buyers, especially in China, India, and the Middle East, are expected to buy more palm oil, regardless of its environmental or social impact. 

Part 2: Oil Palm Industry Takes Land, Promises Livelihood

The global palm oil market may boost Indonesia's small farming communities. But human rights activists raise concerns that violations will expand as oil palm plantations displace more people.

Part 3: Can "Sustainable" Palm Oil Slow Deforestation?

Despite new efforts at sustainability certification, oil palm development will likely remain unsustainable unless a global solution increases incentives for preserving forest.

For more information on the topics discussed in the three-part series, see the following sources:

Heather Augustyn, "A Burning Issue," World Watch, July/August 2007.

Ben Block, "U.K. Biofuels Sources Are Largely Unknown," Eye on Earth, 15 August 2008.

Joe Monfort, "Despite Obstacles, Biofuels Continue Surge," Vital Signs, 23 April 2008.