Oil palm fruits © A. Rival, CIRAD

Oil palm

Oil palm is the world's leading oil crop, and is vitally important for many tropical countries. Its rapid expansion is raising new issues for research, in many fields: environmental, social, economic and political. In addition to CIRAD's historical involvement in varietal breeding and fertilizer management, we are now working to minimize the impact of production on resources.

The figures for oil palm

60 million tonnes produced (54 Mt of palm and 6 Mt of palm kernel oil) per year
4 tonnes of palm oil and PKO produced per hectare per year, seven to ten times more than direct rivals such as soybean, rapeseed and sunflower
5 million smallholders worldwide supply 40% of the total output
20 million hectares planted with oil palm in the humid tropics
90% of global output comes from two countries: Malaysia and Indonesia
In tropical countries, the human diet accounts for more than 95% of consumption
Europe imports palm oil as a food ingredient and, increasingly, to make agrofuels
Global demand for oils and fats is growing by 3% per year
The RSPO (Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil) associates more than 2500 players.​​​​​​​

The issues

There are many issues for this supply chain, which represents more than a third of global vegetable oil production:

  • Satisfying growing demand for edible fats in the global South, as a result of population growth and improved living standards in emerging countries .
  • Ensuring the sustainable, responsible development of a supply chain that respects both the environment and the rights of local people; anticipating on and supporting the recommendations of the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil).
  • Making the crop more productive and promoting its by-products, by creating the conditions for ecological intensification.
  • Including family farms, which account for almost half of global output, in the recent changes made in the sector, such as certification.