The wonder oil carries an ecological price tag.
KOLKATA, India, Aug 11 2013 (IPS) – When there is feasting in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, there could just be a connection between the celebrations and the fires on Indonesia’s Sumatra Island that trigger frequent transboundary smog.
And when China’s population of more than a billion consumes yet more noodles, Malaysia should perhaps brace for greater air pollution.
Though not as simplistic and direct, there is nevertheless a tangible link among all these happenings and countries. It’s called palm oil, Asia’s new “liquid gold”.
Southeast Asia – read Indonesia and Malaysia – are the biggest producers of the oil obtained from the fruit of the oil palm tree, accounting for nearly 85 percent of global output.
India and China are its biggest consumers, with Pakistan and Bangladesh emerging as growing markets. As the major buyers, they not only influence price and production, but can also impact the way the oil is produced, currently controversial because of its adverse effect on the environment.
Dr Reza Azmi, founder and executive director of Wild Asia, a social enterprise in Kuala Lumpur working for sustainable tourism and agriculture, explains why oil palm has become such a hot product in Asia.
“It provides a higher source of income compared to other cash crops like paddy or rubber,” he tells IPS. Farmers can harvest bunches of oil palm fruit twice a month, while paddy can be harvested twice a year. Oil palm also produces the highest yield per area compared to other crops.
Moreover, it is cheap and used in an amazing variety of products: food from Nestle’s Kitkat to halwa, the dessert obligatory during most festivities in South Asia; a wide array of cosmetics, from lipsticks to shampoos; and biodiesel.
However, the wonder oil carries an ecological price tag.
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India and China Oil Palms Dangerously was written by Sudeshna Sarkar, Inter Press Service, August 11, 2013.