Surging demand for vegetable oil has emerged as an important driver of tropical deforestation over the past two decades and is threatening biodiversity, carbon stocks, and other ecosystem functions in some of the world’s most critical forest areas, warns a report published last week by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).
But the report, titled Recipes for Success: Solutions for Deforestation-Free Vegetable Oils, sees some reason for optimism, including emerging leadership from some producers, rising demand for “greener” products from buyers, new government policies to monitor deforestation and shift cropland expansion to non-forest area, and partnerships between civil society and key private sector players to improve the sustainability of vegetable oil production.
“It’s important for consumers to insist that companies ensure the products they sell are deforestation-free,” said report co-author Calen May-Tobin, a policy analyst with UCS’s Tropical Forests and Climate Initiative, in a statement. “If leading companies commit to using deforestation-free vegetable oil in their products, others will follow suit, curbing the rate of deforestation and climate change.”
Vegetable oil demand has grown by more than five percent annually over the past decade due to rising affluence and population. To meet increased demand, large swathes of land have been converted for rapeseed (canola), oil palm, sugar cane, maize (corn), and soy. Some of the area has included carbon-dense rainforest in Brazil, Malaysia, and Indonesia, a development that has alarmed environmentalists, scientists, and people who rely on forests for subsistence.