Palm Oil FAQ’s

Q: What is palm oil?

A: Palm oil is the world’s main source of vegetable oil and fats. It is derived from the fresh fruit bunches (FFB) of the Elaeis Guineensis oil palm tree. Each FFB contains thousands of small fruits comprising of a fleshy mesocarp and a hard kernel. When crushed, the mesocarp produces crude palm oil, and the kernel produces crude palm kernel oil. Crude palm oil can be consumed as is or further refined for use in packaged goods, such as margarine, shortening, ice cream, chocolate, tocotrienol extract, vanaspati, soaps, detergents, lubricants, biofuel and oleochemicals. Palm kernel oil is typically used in specialty fats, soap and oleochemicals. The crushed kernel is frequently used as animal feed, while the remaining bunches and effluent can be composted for use as natural fertilizer in the fields. All by-products from processing can be used, including methane, which can be captured for energy creation.

Q: Why is palm oil important?

A: Global demand for palm oil is rising rapidly with population growth. Consumption increased by 50% in the five-year period from 2004 to 2009. Palm oil has the benefit of the highest yield per hectare among vegetable oil-yielding crops, meaning that less land is required for production, while it also requires comparatively lower amounts of inputs such as fertilizer, fuel and pesticides. The World Bank notes that, “with a population increase of 11.6 percent and a 5 percent increase in per capita consumption, an additional 28 million tons of vegetable oils will have to be produced annually by 2020. Palm oil is well placed to meet this demand with the lowest requirement for new land.” Large oil palm plantations also generate more employment per unit area than most other large scale farming, such as soybeans.

Although the oil palm is native to the region, both Ghana and Cameroon are net importers of processed crude palm oil and palm kernel oil, resulting in a higher local cost for these food staples. In 2010, Africa imported nearly five million tons of palm oil, primarily from Malaysia and Indonesia. The West and Central African regions imported approximately 1.7 million tons. The Herakles Farms oil palm plantations will be a local source of both jobs and an important food staple (see below for palm oil and health).

Q: Can palm oil be produced sustainably?

A: As previously indicated, the oil palm is one of the most resource efficient oil crops, requiring comparatively less land, fertilizer, fuel and pesticides. It also employs more people than most other crops, and has been transformative for economies such as those in Malaysia and Indonesia. Like many industries in their early stages, the palm oil industry initially developed with very little regulation. Many of the early-stage companies planted on high conservation value forest (HCVF) and did not appropriately address social issues relating to human and indigenous rights. As a company that embraces sustainable business practices and shared value, Herakles Farms believes the incorporation of regulation and accountability are positive steps for the industry. In addition with the recent introduction of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), companies are learning to produce palm oil in a sustainable manner. Sustainably produced palm oil is not produced at the expense of HCVF; local and indigenous people are consulted and engaged; and companies commit to transparent stakeholder engagement.

Q: Is palm oil healthy?

A: Fats account for approximately 25-35% of a healthy human diet. Palm oil is a natural source of fat that features a number of health attributes, including:

  • Palm oil serves as a replacement for partially hydrogenated fats (trans fats) in certain food applications. Other mono- or polyunsaturated fats (e.g. soya, canola & sunflower seed oil) need to be hydrogenated, which results in trans fats. Trans fats increase cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease.
  • Unlike other vegetable oils (e.g. soya & canola), palm oil is not genetically modified.
  • Among vegetable oils, palm oil features the highest levels of tocotrienols, which are a rare form of Vitamin E that act as a powerful antioxidant.
  • Red (unprocessed) and red or golden (refined) palm oils are rich sources of beta-carotene, a precursor of Vitamin A.
  • Studies have demonstrated that the oleic and linoleic acid from palm oil lower cholesterol.