Palm Oil Industry Saves Resources and Minimum Pollution

The need for vegetable oils for global consumption will rise in line with population growth as well as economic growth. But the land available for the production of more vegetable oils is limited in both the developed and developing countries. The solution is that the global community must choose a vegetable oil which has a higher productivity per unit area of land.

Compared to other sources of vegetable oils, oil palm is more efficient in terms of using land areas. (Table 1). To produce a thousand tonnes of vegetable oil, oil palm only requires an area of 234 hectares, while soybean needs 2,222 hectares, rapeseed 1,449 hectares, and sunflower 1,923 hectares.

 Table 1. Land Requirement for 1,000 Tonnes of Vegetable Oil from Main Vegetable Oil Crops

Type Of Vegetable Oil Oil Productivity


Land Needed for Every

1.000 tonnes Vegetable Oil (ha)

Soybean 0,45 2.222
Rapeseed 0,69 1.449
Sunflower 0,52 1.923
Groundnuts 0,45 2.222
Coconut 0,34 2.941
Cotton 0,19 5.263
Palm Oil 4,27   234

Source: Oil World , 2010


Besides saving land, oil palm is also more efficient in use of input (fertilizer, pesticide, energy) while it only causes minimal pollution into water and soil.  Oil palm plantations use less fertilizer (N,P) than soybean and rapeseed. Also in energy consumption oil palm is more efficient compared to other vegetable oil crops.

For every giga joule (GJ) oil palm uses, it creates two tons of vegetable oil. Soybean only yields 0.34 tonnes of vegetable oil, while rapeseed yields 1.4 tons of rapeseed oil. It means that to support the international effort of saving the use fossil energy, the use of fossil energy in production of palm oil can be a rational choice.

Regarding pollution, emissions, fertilizer use, pesticides and water and land use, oil palm is more efficient than soybean and rapeseed. This fact means that the production of palm oil is far more sustainable than the production of soybean and rapeseed oil.

Aside from the use of land and inputs one also has to consider the use and management of water. Today, the issue of water scarcity has also drawn the public attention. Even there has been a prevailing opinion that oil palm plantations had absorbed a lot of water from the soil, or even had dried out the land. Such an opinion needs to be backed up by empirical facts.

Of the biofuel crops sugar cane is the most economical in water use per unit of energy generated. Oil Palm takes the second place followed by sunflower and soybean. Maize and cassava use more water, while rapeseed is the most wasteful in water use.


Table 2.       Water Footprints of Various Biofuel Crops

Crops Type Range




Cassava 30 – 205 118
Coconut 49 – 203 126
Maize 9 – 200 105
Palm oil 75 75
Soybean 61 – 138 100
Sugarcane 25 – 31 28
Sunflower 27 – 146 87
Rapeseed 67 – 214 184

Source: Garbens – Leenes et al., (2009)

The above facts show that of the biofuel plants, the oil palm is an efficient user of water. It is more economical than soybean, rapeseed, cassava and maize. Thus the opinion saying that oil palm plantations are wasteful users of water is not supported by the facts and is simply not true.

The use of biodiesel made from palm oil also reduces the use of diesel fossil-fuel and lowers green house gas emissions by 62 percent. The reduction in GHG emission from using palm oil based diesel is larger than the reductions achieved by other bio diesel from other sources. This has important implications for the blending of biodiesel in global diesel consumption, and the global GHG emission reductions.

Most of Indonesian CPO production are exported to foreign countries. If palm oil is used as a biodiesel to substitute fossil-fuel, especially in countries with a high consumption of fossil-fuel like the European Union, the USA, and other countries, it will reduce CO2 emissions globally.

Thus, palm oil is part of the solution to reduce CO2 emissions globally in two ways, first by absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere; and second, by reducing CO2 emissions globally through substitution of diesel fossil-fuel with palm-oil-blended diesel fuel.

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