Can we save forests and produce palm oil? Scientists seek answer

29 July 2015

BARCELONA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Despite promises by many big companies that produce, trade and use palm oil to clean up their supply chains, complaints are still pouring in over the conversion of forests into plantations from West Africa to Southeast Asia, experts say.

A fledgling effort to balance forest protection and oil palm production aims to ease those tensions by enabling companies to meet growing demand for the cheap, edible oil, while ensuring villagers can feed their families and curbing climate-changing emissions from deforestation at the same time.

Led by an independent team of 50 scientists, a draft version of the "High Carbon Stock Study" - commissioned by a group of Asian oil palm growers, agribusiness giant Cargill and consumer goods firm Unilever - was released last month for consultation.

It proposes a new method for evaluating which land could be used for oil palm plantations, taking into account pressure to limit global warming and developing nations' desire to prosper.

"You don't protect the world's forests by coming out with big picture commitments for their own sake. You can only (do it) by giving people who live in and depend on those forests a proper economic stake in that set of decisions," said Jonathon Porritt, chair of the steering committee overseeing the study.

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