Palm oil production is much older than the contemporary farming practices behind it, which are widely perceived to be environmentally destructive. Indeed, palm oil was well known to West African peoples for centuries, and became a prized commodity in the early history of European colonialism there.
More recently, palm oil has come under fire largely for the tropical deforestation associated with it. Industrial palm oil producers responded in 2004 with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (see first link below), which ostensibly seeks to reduce the environmental impact of production. Still, many see this move as another simple instance of ‘greenwashing’ (see second link below).
Palm trees, though, are not to blame; nor is their oil. They are naturally occurring plants and there is no reason why the use of their nuts must necessarily be unsustainable. For example, a booklet by Bill Molson, The Palms, discusses the use of palms in permaculture.
Still, whether or not industrial-scale agriculture can ever find a way to operate truly sustainably is far from clear.
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