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Consequences of Palm Oil Harvestation

Shagun Juthani

Palm oil is one of the most prevalent crops in the world. It is found in everyday food items, ranging from the most delicious of chocolates to seemingly mundane dried nuts. It is so commonly found in food items because it is the world’s cheapest and most productive oil crop. “Compared to other oil crops like soybean oil or coconut oil”, palm plants yield the greatest quantities of oil with the least inputs–including money, land, and water. However, although palm oil seems too good to be true, it is far from harmless.

For example, the creation of palm plantations has many detrimental effects. Palm plants are grown in humid, tropical areas, often in the vicinity of tropical rainforests. To create the space needed for these vast plantations, an agricultural technique called slash and burn is used. This includes clearing forest vegetation and then setting it on fire to make the soil more fertile. Not only does cutting trees release stored carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, but particulate matter that accumulates in the air as a result of the burning vegetation reduces the air quality in nearby cities.

Moreover, animals, such as the endangered orangutan, are forced to flee the forest they once called home. In most cases, they are killed in the fire, captured to be sold as part of the illegal pet trade, or poached on site. And even if animals successfully relocate, they often perish from complications like upper respiratory tract infections due to the smoke. Orangutans are especially impacted by this process as many of "[their] babies... [suffer] from dehydration and malnourishment through lack of food" as a result of habitat destruction. It is estimated that around “1000-5000 orangutans are killed each year due to palm oil cultivation in Indonesia and Malaysia” alone. In addition, they don't have the plasticity to adapt to suddenly changing environments as they know no other way of living life than the way their ancestors have been teaching their young for generations. And it’s not just orangutans that are impacted; many other species like birds, tigers, and elephants have become increasingly endangered because of this process.

Essentially, despite its common occurrence, palm oil is far from innocuous. That being said, there are many ways that people can reduce their palm oil consumption in day to day life. For example, skipping that spoonful of Nutella and reading ingredients lists–too make sure there isn’t palm oil–more carefully are great first steps!


  1. “How Fires in Indonesia & Palm Oil Are Killing Orangutans” Green Global Travel

  2. “‘10’ Powerful Reasoms Why palm Oil is Bad for the Environment” Conserve Energy Future

  3. “What is Palm Oil and Why is it Thought to be Bad?” CBBC Newsround


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