Palm Oil Coverage
Present in the shampoo we use and the packaged food we buy, palm oil is the most widely produced edible oil. But palm oil development in Indonesia and Malaysia—the top two producing countries—has led to significant forest loss over the last 30 years. The deforestation and land-use changes that often occur during palm oil cultivation are some of the leading causes of climate change—yet the sector is increasingly vulnerable to its impacts.
However, the production of palm oil is also very efficient: oil palms produce significantly more oil per hectare of land than any other vegetable oil crop, with yields over 10 times higher than soybean and sunflower. The sector also represents a source of livelihood for over 7 million smallholder farmers worldwide. Palm oil therefore plays an instrumental role in maintaining global food security and alleviating poverty.
Voluntary sustainability standards (VSSs) such as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), Rainforest Alliance, Organic, and the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification first emerged in the sector 30 years ago. Today, roughly 17% of palm oil produced complies with one of these VSSs. Many include requirements for building climate resilience and reducing deforestation in the sector. They also encourage oil palm farmers to implement better practices that can help to increase their yields and crop incomes—for example, by maintaining soil health and reducing production costs by using fertilizer more effectively.
However, very few oil palm farmers who comply with VSSs receive minimum prices or premiums for their produce. This is exacerbated by the fact that demand for VSS-compliant palm oil remains low, with a large proportion of RSPO-certified crude palm oil being sold as conventional.
With rising production costs, limited negotiation power, and a lack of access to finance and quality inputs to contend with, many oil palm farmers in developing regions are left struggling to earn a living. This report provides a series of recommendations for governments, private sector actors, and standard-setting bodies to ensure that palm oil producers receive better incomes and are incentivized to adopt more sustainable practices.
Over 14 million jobs
In Indonesia and Malaysia, the palm oil sector employs almost 5 million smallholders and workers and a further 6 million people indirectly. It is responsible for nearly 3 million downstream jobs in importing countries.
USD 65 billion industry
The palm oil sector grew to a global market value exceeding USD 50 billion in 2021. It is projected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of at least 4% to reach USD 65 billion by 2027.
74.7 million tonnes
29 million hectares of oil palms were cultivated in 2020, leading to global production volumes of around 74.7 million tonnes—roughly 32 million tonnes more than in 2008.
Two thirds exported
More than 60% of palm oil produced in 2020 was exported, providing an important source of foreign exchange revenue for exporting countries. Palm oil meets 40% of the global demand for vegetable oil.
VSS-compliant oil palm reached 17% of total global production in 2019
Production of palm oil has grown consistently at a CAGR of over 5% over the last decade. Growing at a CAGR of 76% between 2008 and 2019—and accelerating to 129% from 2014 to 2019—VSS-compliant oil palm fruit now represents 17% of total global production.
Progress on sustainable sourcing commitments
Only 10% or 3.3 million tonnes of palm oil purchased by the seven largest palm oil trading companies in 2020 was VSS compliant, up by a CAGR of 13% from 2017. However, 90% or 2.8 million tonnes of the palm oil purchased by the 10 largest manufacturing companies was VSS compliant, up by a CAGR of 8% from 2017.
VSS-compliant oil palm fruit production volumes in 2019
The most prominent VSSs in the palm oil sector in 2019 were RSPO (68.47 million tonnes), Rainforest Alliance (2.18 million tonnes), and Organic (0.74 million tonnes).
Slightly higher prices for VSS-compliant palm oil
Oil palm producers in Malaysia and Indonesia received about 14% and 20%, respectively, of the final price of a tonne of crude palm oil sold in export markets from 2010 to 2020. Producers selling under RSPO terms received prices on average 2% higher than the market price in the period analyzed.
Distribution of oil palm production in the top 15 producing countries in 2019
85% of global palm oil comes from Indonesia and Malaysia. It is also grown in parts of Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia. Indonesia, Malaysia, and Guatemala have the largest oil palm exports, each shipping 25.5 million, 13.5 million, and 0.8 million tonnes, respectively, in 2021.