One of the most well known types of area sources are wood burning practices with slash and burn being one of the most common methods to clear land.

What is slash and burn?

Nowadays, there is a growing concern regarding slash and burn practices which represent one type of activities that is widely used in tropical rainforest areas. According to EcoLogic Development Fund (2016) “slash and burn agriculture is a widely used method of growing food in which wild or forested land is clear cut and any remaining vegetation burned. The resulting layer of ash provides the newly-cleared land with a nutrient-rich layer to help fertilize crops. However, under this method, land is only fertile for a couple of years before the nutrients are used up”. In addition, slash and burn is considered to be environmentally destructive as it leads to deforestation, loss of habitat of wild animals and indigenous population, as well as climate change which is a result of the release of carbon dioxide and particulate pollution into the atmosphere. Other environmental impacts involve soil contamination and erosion, fertility decline as well as water contamination (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2018).(See Chart 1)

 

What is Palm oil and how is it produced?

Palm oil is a type of vegetable oil that comes from palm oil trees. These trees are mostly grown on plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia and their oil is found in almost half the products in UK supermarket (Greenpeace, 2019). 

The palm fruit takes 5–6 months to mature from pollination to maturity (Thakur et al. ,2015). It is reddish, about the size of a large plum, and grows in large bunches. Each fruit is made up of an oily, fleshy outer layer (the pericarp), with a single seed (the palm kernel), also rich in oil (Mitchell, 2010). When ripe, each bunch of fruit weighs between 5 and 30 kg (11 and 66 lb) depending on the age of the palm tree (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2018).

For each hectare of oil palm, which is harvested year-round, the annual production averages 20 tonnes of fruit yielding 4,000 kg of palm oil and 750 kg of seed kernels yielding 500 kg of high-quality palm kernel oil, as well as 600 kg of kernel meal. Kernel meal is processed for use as livestock feed (Wikipedia, 2019).

The video below, produced by Learn at Chester Zoo demonstrates the palm oil supply chain starting with harvesting palm fruit up to the point when it ends up on the shelves.

 

UK Government Policy on palm oil 

Despite destructive environmental impact of slash and burn UK Government is currently pushing for an increase in import of palm oil which is linked to deforestation and climate change. Although the EU is trying to ban the biofuel which is using unsustainable palm oil, UK is not intending to follow suit (The Guardian, 2018). Recently a video produced by Greenpeace and shown by Iceland Foods as their Christmas advert was banned for “political” reasons. The advert shows the destruction of rainforests and how it affects the environment and natural habitat of many tropical species (The Guardian, 2018).It is a well known fact that the UK Government is hoping to sell $2 Billion worth of Eurofighter planes to Malaysia (PressTV , 2018) which is together with  Indonesia, account for 84 percent of the world’s palm oil production and ring up sales of US$11 billion annually (WorldWatch Institute, 2018).

Chart 1: Unsustainable Palm oil and its impact on the Environment

Palm Oil 

Palm oil is used in many applications from chocolate and cosmetics to biofuel and the demand is increasing constantly. While 21% of Palm Oil is farmed sustainably, giving employment to millions of people and having no detrimental effect on the Environment, human greed has resulted in some being produced through slash and burn (Eco-Business, 2017). Large areas of rainforest are being burned and destroyed in order to be replaced by thousands of hectares of unsustainable palm oil plantations.

Rainforests account for producing around 40% of all oxygen on our Planet. (National Geographic, 2015-2018). As a result more and more Oxygen producing trees are cut down and burnt, creating vast clouds of smoke and Pollution which can be seen for miles and has a significant impact both on the environment and on the local population (See Chart 1).  According to Ricardo Carrere, “many animal species particular to tropical forests need extensive areas of forest to survive and to be able to reproduce, so when all of these forests are burned and then planted to one single species, that provides the animal with no food. Then many species tend to disappear or their numbers decrease substantially. At the same time, all of the local flora disappear because the plantation owners don’t want anything to grow underneath, and we’re talking in terms of tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of hectares” (WorldWatch Institute, 2018). Local population has also been severely affected. For example, In Indonesia and Malaysia, long-time business owners had to close shop for good due to health impacts, and airports were closed for days on end due to low visibility (WorldWatch Institute, 2018).

Which products contain palm oil?

Palm oil is used in a wide range of products from cosmetics to margarine. Here are 12 most common products which contain palm oil (WWF, 2018):

  1. Lipstick
  2. Pizza bases
  3. Instant noodles
  4. Shampoo
  5. Ice cream
  6. Detergent
  7. Margarine
  8. Chocolate
  9. Cookies
  10. Biodiesel
  11. Soap
  12. Packaged Bread