India is the largest consumer and importer of palm oil, with about 83% of the commodity flowing in from Indonesia.
Doing a fact check it was found that more than 90% of palm oil is used as cooking oil in the country, while the rest is for processed foods and items like soaps, chocolate, ice-cream and cosmetics.
Several environmental, social and legal issues are attached with oil palm cultivation, which is directly linked to climate change, biodiversity, workers rights and land ownership issues.
Indias palm oil footprint is approximately 2 million hectare and there is a need for urgent action to protect our environment and forests to minimise the damage to the ecology for the future.
With 7.2-million-tonne consumption of palm oil in 2011-12, it was more than China (16%) and EU (14%), and stood at 19% of the total global consumption. Since 2006-07, Indias palm oil consumption has doubled and is slated to continue in the pattern until 2030. By 2050, the consumption is likely to triple. In 2009-10, 5.8 mt were imported from Indonesia out of its total consumption of 6.5 mt.
Palm plantations in Indonesia are expanding rapidly every year to meet Indias demands. However, the mounting pressure has led to adverse environmental effect on Sumatra and Borneo islands. There is a clear link between deforestation and climate change; and Indian companies can play an important role by adapting to sustainable practices. It is, therefore, vital to raise the level of awareness regarding the direct linkage of unsustainable palm oil practices and deforestation.
As the worlds largest user of palm oil, India has an opportunity and also a responsibility to ensure that its procurement of products such as palm oil are coming from responsible sources and are not linked to rainforest and peatland destruction, resulting in climate change.
As a response to the pressing global call for sustainable production of palm oil, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was formed in 2004 with the objective of promoting the growth and use of sustainable oil palm products through credible global standards and engagement of stakeholders from seven sectors of palm oil sector.
At present, Indonesia sets the record as worlds largest producer of RSPO Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) at 48% followed by Malaysia at 43%. Though most of the imports in India come from Indonesia and Malaysia, there is still very low awareness in the Indian market on the urgent need for sustainable palm oil.
India is a significant new economy for sustainable palm oil across the world. When India eventually adopts strategic policies towards Certified Sustainable Palm Oil, it will set a benchmark around the world from a global reputation as it clearly demonstrates the nations commitment and contribution towards international sustainable endeavours.
The author is secretary general, RSPO