There is abundant literature focusing on the palm oil sector, which has grown into a vigorous sector with production originating mainly from Malaysia and Indonesia, and on increased palm oil consumption in many countries around the globe, particularly European Union states, China and India. This sector expansion has become quite controversial, because while it has negative social and environmental impacts, it also leads to positive benefits in generating fiscal earnings for producing countries and regular income streams for a large number of large- and small-scale growers involved in palm oil production. This document reviews how the social, ecological, and environmental dynamics and associated implications of the global palm oil sector have grown in complexity over time, and examines the policy and institutional factors affecting the sector's development at the global and national levels.
This work examines the geographies of production, consumption and trade of palm oil and its derivatives, and describes the structure of the global palm oil value chain, with special emphasis on Malaysia and Indonesia. In addition, this work reviews the main socioenvironmental impacts and trade-offs associated with the palm oil sector's expansion, with a primary focus on Indonesia. The main interest is on the social impacts this has on local populations, smallholders and workers, as well as the environmental impacts on deforestation and their associated effects on carbon emissions and biodiversity loss. Finally, the growing complexity of the global oil palm value chain has also driven diverse types of developments in the complex oil palm policy regime governing the sector's expansion. This work assesses the main features of this emerging policy regime involving public and private actors, with emphasis on Indonesia.
There are multiple efforts supporting the transition to a more sustainable palm oil production; yet the lack of a coordinated public policy, effective incentives and consistent enforcement is clear and obvious. The emergence of numerous privately driven initiatives with greater involvement of civil society organizations brings new opportunities for enhancing the sector's governance; yet the uptake of voluntary standards remains slow, and any push for the adoption of more stringent standards may only widen the gap between large corporations and medium- and smallscale growers. Greater harmonization between voluntary and mandatory standards, as well as among private initiatives is required. Commitments to deforestation-free supply chains have the potential to reduce undesired environmental impacts from oil palm expansion, and while this risks excluding smallholders from the supply chains, such commitments may function to leverage the upgrading of smallholder production systems. Their success, however, will require greater public and private sector collaboration.