Abstract

In establishing the causes and effects caused by expending in palm oil plantations, various researches have been carried on Malaysia and Indonesia, who are the largest producers of palm oil. Palm oil trees cannot grow anywhere in the world. The oil is derived from the fruits produced by mature palm oil trees. There are various causes that lead to a drastic increase in demand of palm oil. As the demand, for palm oil rises, the demand for land to plant palm oil trees rises too. This leads to clearing of tropical rainforests.

The demand for oil is industrially and for consumption. However, a number of negative effects result as the palm oil production increases. The effects are both environmental and socially. Wildlife destruction, deforestation, environmental pollution, poor human health, extinct of indigenous people, and social effects like poor, working conditions are the negative effects caused by palm oil production.

The benefits are outweighed by the effects and various measures can be put forward to curb the destruction resulting from palm oil plantations. Consumers of palm oil and the companies producing the oil can help tremendously in reducing the hazards caused by the oil production. Governments can come up with policies to minimize the effects in their respective countries by implementing heavy penalties among other things. Environmental and health organizations can also put id strict policies to prevent health and environmental hazards that come from oil palm usage. The paper looks at causes and effects of expending oil palm plantations.

Palm oil plants can only flourish in tropical areas of Africa, Asia and South America.  Top producers nations of palm oil are, Malaysia, Indonesia, Nigeria, Thailand and Colombia. The oil is obtained from the fruit (kernel and flesh). From the flesh, we get palm oil, and from the kernel, we get palm kernel oil.

There are various causes for the progressively expending in palm oil plantations. Palm oil is used in the food industry. It is cheap, and it has a delicious taste tasty. Palm oil can be used in the house holds as cooking oil.  Candy bars, cake icing and other chocolate products contain palm oil as an alternate for cocoa butter (Cottrell, 1991).  Snack foods such as trail mix, coffee whitener, sauces and ice-cream contain palm oil (Cottrell, 1991).  The oil can also be used as a chemical; for example, it can be used as a mineral oil replacement for detergents, lubricants and soaps production. A cosmetic such as body lotion, sun cream, makeup remover, and lipsticks are examples of industrial use of palm oil.

The oil can be used as lubricant grease in machines. It can also be used as grease for bread making equipments; grease for tanks and pipelines left in the open air. Biodiesel is a product of palm oil. Other uses of palm oil include  printing inks, glue, candles, tinplate rolling, acids to lubricate fibers, and in steel cold rolling. In addition, the palm kernel meal and palm kernel oil are also useful; palm kernel meal is used in animal nourishment production, and palm kernel oil has the same uses as the palm oil.  All these usages fuel the demand for palm oil and consequently palm oil plantations are growing daily.

Palm oil plantations that are sprawling at a fast rate have devastating effects on wildlife and rainforests. Human health is also at stake because palm oil because of its usage as cooking oil and in food processes. It is, however, unfortunate that, these effects are not recognized in countries that import, finance and trade in palm oil. In addition to human health, palm oil plantations results into a number of ecological impacts.

We shall first of all look at the health effects brought about by palm oil. The oil is used in examples of foods such as cooking oil, crackers, margarine, shortening, baked goods, and soups.  Palm oil comes second from soybean oil as the worlds’ widely used oil. It can be substituted for partly hydrogenated vegetable oil; for hard animal fats; for olive, soy, or liquid vegetable oils (Cottrell, 1991). Palm oil is exceptionally versatile, and that is why it can be substituted for the above named oils.

When creating more solid oil from liquid soybean oil during hydrogenation, Trans fat is created, and it is a promoter of heart disease. Trans fat increases the levels of LDL “bad” cholesterol in human blood and a small margin decrease the levels of HDL “good” cholesterol (NHLBI, 1997). Trans fat is also said to increase risks of impair cardiac rhythm and diabetes. Palm oil has a pleasant taste and delicious cooking properties. It is also cheaper compared to soybean oil because its production is ten times more per acre than soybeans. Other vegetable oils are considered more healthful than palm oil. Research shows that 39% of palm oil is composed of oleic oil, and 44% is palmitic acid (NHLBI, 1997). These two constituents have an effect cholesterol levels. Palm oil promotes heart diseases.  

Another effect of the consumption of palm oil is the replacement of tropical rainforest.  This leads to deforestation.  In Malaysia and Indonesia where we have the biggest producers of palm oil, palm plantations have rapidly expanded. Thousands of square miles of tropical rainforests are cleared to avail land for palm oil plantations. This act results into a drastic loss of forests. According to a study carried out in Indonesia, 16,000 square miles were converted to palm oil, coconut, timber and other forms of plantations in the period between 1982 and 1999 (Lötschert, & Beese, 1983). The 16,000 square miles belonged to the tropical forest, where 44% of the quarter miles were covered with palm oil plantations (Lötschert, & Beese, 1983). Motivation for clearing the tropical forest rather than disused or degraded agricultural land includes: clearing new land is cheaper than rehabilitating degraded or disused land.  In addition, loggings and tropical timber can be sold from clearing the forests.  

As the rainforest vanishes, so do the wildlife that lives in the tropical forests.  In Indonesia and Malaysia, magnificent wildlife like Asian elephants, barking deer, Sumatran tiger, wild fox, Sumatran rhinoceros, proboscis monkey, clouded leopard and gibbons, are under remarkable threat (Thompson, 2010). Destruction of wildlife can be caused by a number of ways. Many of these species are facing extinction due to deforestation, to clear ways for palm oil plantations. These terrestrial species cannot survive in plantations but only in rainforest habitat. Oil palm plantations replace a variety of species of shrubs, vines, trees, and other plant foods that are found in lowland forests.  Fruits, nuts, nectar, bark, roots, and other eating materials for animals are replaced too. Tropical rainforests animal are deprived their food; therefore, they cannot survive.

Another way of destructing wildlife is through the fires set to clear forests for plantations of oil palm, by the plantation companies (Wakker, 2000).  These fires most of the times destroy much larger areas than planned for when they run out of control.  In these scenarios, animals are burnt alive; others are killed as they try to escape the infernos.  

Fragmentation of forests as the bulldozers tries to create access to plantations destructs wildlife.  The roads open up the wildlife surroundings; provide access to poachers; invite settlements in ecological sensitive areas. This further causes disruptions to wildlife.  

National parks are destroyed by oil palm plantations (Thompson, 2010). Some oil palm companies use crooked or corrupt means in order to plant oil palm trees in national parks. This is illegal.    An example is the Naridi Company that cleared over 10 square miles of Dolok Surunggan Wildlife Reserve for palm oil plantain.  

Apart from wildlife being endangered, indigenous people along with subsistence farmers are endangered too by palm oil plantations (Thompson, 2010). Social conflicts, traditional tribal land loss, and indigenous destruction of cultural values are consequences of palm oil plantations. Poor people are put to work in the plantations under barbaric working conditions. Many villagers are pushed away from their traditional lands.  In turn, these poor villagers clear more virgin forests in search of places to live. Indigenous people like the Dayak tribes in Bormeo and West Pupa tribes, in Melanesian, are becoming extinct as a result of increase in oil plantations.    

Fragmentation caused by water, air, and soil  pollution together with  toxic chemical contamination in as effect caused by expendability of oil palm oil plantations (Wakker, 2000). Chemical contamination comes from the insecticides, herbicides, and other pesticides that are used in oil palm industries. These chemicals contaminate groundwater and soil.   Land clearance contributes to soil erosion and this result to sedimentation in streams and rivers.   This causes water pollution.  Partially treated or untreated palm oil mill effluent that is drained into water bodies, causes water pollution. Aquatic animals are killed, and people do not get clean water for domestic use. Air pollution comes from the smoke produced by oil palm industries or by fires that are set to clear lands.   

Various measures can, however, be put forward to minimize the negative effects caused by the palm oil production. Palm oil usage should be minimized since it is harmful to the environment and human health.   Products containing palm oil should be avoided by consumers in order to reduce its demand.  Other oils like soy, corn, and sunflower can substitute palm oil in frying foods. Palm oil plantations can be planted in rehabilitated agricultural lands instead of clearing tropical forests.  Palm oil producing companies should adhere to environmental policies such as policies by World Wide Fund for Nature that stipulates that no damages to natural forests; integration of pest management; watercourse protection, and proper treatment of mill effluents; respect to traditional land use rights; transparency in social and environmental policies of companies (Thompson, 2010).  

Human institutions can stop ecological disasters that come handy with the production of palm oil that promotes heart disease. It is evident enough that the palm oil industry creates a lot of destruction to both wildlife and human beings. Consumers and palm oil producing companies have a significant role to play in minimizing the effects as a result of expending of palm oil plantation.

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