“If we use soybean to meet the world’s need of vegetable oil in 2050, it will cost 300 million hectares of deforestation. If we use palm oil instead, the amount of deforestation that can happen will be around 20 million hectares.”
The need for vegetable oil continues to increase following population and economic growth. A study by Corley, R.H.V (2009), How Much Palm Oil Do We Need which is quoted in the journal of Environmental Science and Policy (12) stated that the demand for edible oil will probably reach around 240 million tons in 2050. Based on consumption data in 2015, it is estimated that additional 150 million tons of vegetable oil is needed to cover the demand. The question is what is now the most suitable vegetable oil plantation that can be expanded in order to meet the world’s demand?
Out of 17 different types of global vegetable oil, only the production of soybean oil and palm oil are the most likely to increase. It is going to be difficult to expect additional production from the other sources of vegetable oil. Soybean oil productivity is 0.5 tons per hectare area. If the world’s additional consumption of 150 million tons of vegetable oil is met from the expansion of soybean plantation areas, then the additional area needed for more soybean plantations is going to be around 300 million hectares. Unfortunately there is not enough land. To cover these additional areas, the expansion of soybean plantations is only possible through forest conversion in the South American region such as Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay.
In comparison, palm oil productivity is 5 tons per hectare area. If the additional consumption of 150 million tons of vegetable oil is met from using palm oil, then the additional global palm oil plantation areas needed is going to be around 30 million hectares. Such additional oil palm plantations are still possible in Indonesia and some parts of Central Africa.
The next question is about which one will the world community choose to expend between the two? Ideally if possible, it is neither expansion of soybean plantations nor oil palm plantations because either way it can cause global deforestation. The problem is that it is unavoidable to meet the needs of global vegetable oil in 2050; the world vegetable oil production must be increased. The least we can do is to save and minimize global deforestation.
If the world community chooses to expand soybean gardens, then global deforestation over 300 million hectares areas is expected to occur in 2050, especially in the South American region. While if palm plantations is chosen, global deforestation is expected to be only around 30 million hectares.
Can deforestation caused by global oil palm expansion be saved? Of course it can if the increase in productivity is ascertained. If productivity of oil palm plantations increases from around 5 tons per hectare to 8 tons per hectare, then the cost for oil palm expansion is going to be enough with around 20 million hectares of deforestation. Furthermore, International support is also needed to finance technology research and development of new superior varieties of oil palm. In other words, people should be willing to pay higher for the price of palm oil they consume in order to minimize global deforestation. Hopefully with only an additional 20 million hectares of world oil palm plantations, it is sufficient to fulfill the needs of the world community in 2050.