Palm oil is on a lot of people’s minds. In Indonesia, the industry is booming, with US$19.7 billion of crude palm oil exports in 2011. But expanding oil palm plantations have taken their toll on remaining forests and other natural habitats in tropical regions and led to conflict over land with local people.
The world’s top scientists are also raising concerns. According to a recent study in Nature Climate Change, from 1990 to 2010, 90 percent of lands converted to oil palm plantations in Kalimantan were forested.
There need not, however, be a trade-off between palm oil, forests and communities. It is possible to grow more crops, including oil palm, while keeping forests, and also cutting rural poverty.
In order to do so, companies and investors must lead by supporting sustainable production on land that has already been cleared, while al...