Is there room for sustainable palm oil?
Thankfully, more companies are acknowledging the devastation palm oil is creating and are choosing to source sustainable palm oil which is made with respect for both the environment and local communities. It may surprise you to read that not all palm oil farming contributes to deforestation. Increasing yields on existing palm oil plantations is the first step to sustainable palm oil. If farmers closed the gap between the most and least productive yields, more palm oil would be created, without using more land. It is also possible to expand plantations into land that isn’t already forested; an example being Brazil palm oil farmers who are expanding their plantations into old cattle pastures.
Another effective way to sustainably farm palm oil is to plant palm trees amongst other trees. Whether this be interspersing with other crop trees such as cocoa, or simply amongst natural flora trees – allowing them to grow naturally and eliminating the need to cut down trees in other areas in order to develop plantations is always beneficial.
Since 2013, Traidcraft has worked with a cooperative in Ghana called Serendipalm, who has followed these methods very successfully, focusing on natural ways to increase production and support their workers’ training and healthcare. They also use completely organic methods of farming and allow crops to grow at their own pace. The “Serendi” part of the company name is derived from the word “serendipity”, meaning “finding something valuable or delightful when you are not looking for it”—a motto that applies to all Serendi projects.
Through working with Serendipalm as well as Natural Habitats in Ecuador, Traidcraft has developed FairPalm – the world’s only fair trade, organic palm oil, that protects the environment while supporting smallholder growers. Read on for more information about FairPalm and where it can be found.
Where can we get sustainably sourced products?
Many of the big brands which we are familiar with as consumers are now claiming to be working sustainably, or even removing palm oil from their own branded products. These claims don’t always show the whole truth. For example, some large supermarket chains made this pledge and have continued to sell their own branded products containing palm oil online or under another brand name. Other examples include palm oil being listed in ingredients as a different type of ‘vegetable oil’, which masks the fact that palm oil still exists within their products.
Despite the outside picture looking positive for some businesses, palm oil is being replaced with a similar product that is not sustainably sourced, defeating the objective. Examples like these haven’t quite reached the media’s attention yet, and subsequently aren’t common public knowledge. It’s important for consumers to be aware of hidden truths, in order to make informed judgements about who to trust.
As far as sustainable palm oil is concerned, FairPalm is causing real waves across the globe. FairPalm uses organic palm oil in a way that supports smallholder growers and allows the palm plants to grow naturally. There’s no usage of any chemical nasties to increase production or reduce pests – as organic methods are used which encourages palm fruits to grow in the most natural of ways.
Together with the aforementioned companies, Traidcraft have defied industry norms in creating the ultimate sustainably sourced palm oil. We’ve called this oil FairPalm which can be found in our eco-friendly cleaning products and our delicious fair trade biscuits. The FairPalm label guarantees that the process of creating the oil involves fair pay, makes direct links between smallholders and consumers, as well as focusing on high environmental standards.
How did FairPalm start?
The overall goal was to demonstrate that palm oil could be cultivated in a just and sustainable way. Prior to the amalgamation with Serendipalm and Natural Habitats, which resulted in FairPalm being created, Traidcraft joined the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil). This allowed us to understand the complex issues surrounding the topic, and talk to other members such as Greenpeace and WWF, who liked the idea but whose focus was on the wider industry. Traidcraft then went on a scoping visit to Ghana, where there are some large palm plantations, but the majority are smallholders who are generally intercropping (growing different crops together) rather than practicing monoculture, which is a great for sustainability and a process which the group then adopted.
FairPalm recognises that palm oil is a great crop for smallholders to focus on, due to the fact that little land is needed and it’s fairly low maintenance, but extremely high yielding. FairPalm is much more than just organic palm oil, as it is extracted from the fruit and arrives to the UK as crude palm oil, and to Traidcraft as ‘RBD’ (refined, bleached, deodorised), which means that, unfortunately for larger manufacturers, it can’t be simply substituted for regular palm oil in their products.
In the future, FairPalm will be included, where possible, in as many products as possible across Traidcraft Shop.