How India’s Youth Can Drive Sustainability In Palm Oil Production

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I should declare right off the bat that it has been a long while since I have been considered as a “youth.”

What inspired me to write on Youth Ki Awaaz was the recent publication of Shikha Sharma’s articles on palm oil. As an industry monitor, if her views on palm oil could be transformed into an movement among Indian consumers for sustainability in the industry, we could see a milestone moment in the global palm oil industry.

Older articles on Youth Ki Awaaz like Palm Oil Companies Are Destroying Tiger Habitats In Indonesia. And So Are We! was a good wake up call but fell short in suggesting solutions. Later articles like Are Plantation Forests Eco Friendly Or Just ‘Green Deserts’? also fell short.

The thing is, with one the largest populations globally, Indian consumers need access to affordable cooking oils. I dare say that for the average person in India, the survival of forests in Indonesia or their tigers and orangutans would rank very low in what they buy.

Being the largest consumer and importer of palm oil, India has a critical role to play in driving sustainable palm oil practices in the sector. (Photo: Flickr)

It was therefore, extremely refreshing to read Shikha’s thoughts on palm oil and her suggestions for sustainability. As far back as 2015, The Guardian had already declared that Without India, You Can Forget About a Sustainable Palm Oil Sector.

Shikha in her article The World is Boycotting Palm Oil But India Wants to Produce More of it. Here’s Why, supported The Guardian’s article when she wrote:

“A keyword missing in India’s palm oil policy is “sustainability”. Across the world, environmentalists have blamed palm oil for ecological destruction in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, but in India, that conversation is a non-starter, and both growers and consumers largely remain ignorant of it.”

Her article titled Your Favorite Brand Of Lipstick May Be Killing the Planet brought up the huge impact that Indian consumers could have when she wrote:

“The ironic bit? As the largest consumer of palm oil in the world, India has the power to pressure both suppliers and companies into sustainability and demanding deforestation-free products.”

As someone who has long pushed for sustainability in the palm oil industry, it was exciting  for me to see talk on sustainability in palm oil posted on a popular media platform like Youth Ki Awaaz.

Her latest article This is What’s India Got to do With The Extinction of The Orangutan did present some information which I thought needed clarification.

She correctly stated that:

“With over 1.3 billion people, India is also the world’s largest consumer as well as the biggest importer of palm oil, and its use remains fundamental to the country’s challenge of providing inexpensive (cooking oil) to an increasing population with limited agricultural land. and further reinforced her message for sustainability in saying “What makes matters worse is that as a consumer market, we aren’t too worried about sustainable sourcing, a factor directly responsible for severe environmental destruction, and extinction of precious wildlife, including but not limited to the orangutan.”

The clarifications needed here are that:

  1. ) The orangutans are not extinct. Latest population data on orangutans based on a 2018 report shows there are some 100,000 orangutans left in the wild.
  2. ) The claim that “300 football fields are plowed under every hour for palm oil plantations” is a myth that was busted on the MPOC website.

Other facts that maybe of interest to your readers include the thousands of Indian citizens working in Malaysia who “send almost 90% of their wages to their families living in India. Environmentally conscious consumers like Shikha should also find some comfort in knowing that a large portion of Malaysia’s palm oil operations has been certified under the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification scheme.

This is a rock solid guarantee that orangutans in Malaysia will be around many generations from now. What caused the Malaysian government to spend millions of dollars to certify its palm oil operations was the European Union’s increasing demands for sustainability in its palm oil imports.

India’s imports of palm oil is much higher than that of the European Union. Imagine if India demanded a model of sustainable palm oil that includes job protection for her citizens, whether in-country or migrant, which also works to mitigate the impacts of climate change on her citizens with the preservation of forests while providing an affordable vegetable oil.

This is possible. It would be a much better situation than what is currently happening with the Modi government’s restrictions on refined palm oil imports. One need only look at the history of world changing movements to see that it has always been the youth that sparked these movements.

In the case of palm oil and India, it will take India’s youth to spark the movement to make it happen.

Featured image for representative purpose only.
Featured image source: oneVillage Initiative/Wikimedia Commons.
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