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Faculty members from Faculty of Environmental Science revealed new factors in Indonesia's palm oil issues from an international trade perspective

December 02, 2020

Palm oil is the most versatile vegetable oil in the world, not only in food and confectionery products such as instant foods and ice cream but also in chemical products such as detergents and cosmetics, grease, and biofuels. On the other hand, as the rapid expansion of oil palm plantations, the raw material for palm oil, has been considered a problem, causing deforestation, a drastic decrease in the number of endemic species such as orangutans, soil degradation, and transboundary air pollution due to slash-and-burn farming. However, palm oil is often listed as "vegetable oils and fats" on the ingredient labels of products, and due to its wide range of uses as abovementioned. It has been therefore extremely difficult to trace the "true" dependency of palm oil, including its use as an intermediate good, by simply tracking the import and export volumes.

Against this backdrop, a research team led by Associate Professor Yosuke Shigetomi and Associate Professor Yuki Yamamoto of the Environmental Policy Course in the Faculty of Environmental Science at Nagasaki University and Lecturer Yuichi Ishimura of the Faculty of Economics at Kindai University focused on the relationship between palm oil production in Indonesia, who is the world's leading producer of palm oil, and its environmental impacts. The team successfully quantified, for the first time, the direct and indirect consumption (footprint) of palm oil in 43 major countries and other countries and regions (Rest of World) since 2000. Using the results, previous studies, and geographic information systems, they also estimated the land-use area and associated fire area necessary for plantations in Indonesia between 2000-2005 and 2005-2010, to which each country contributed indirectly.

The results show that in the most recent year of analysis (2013), Japan as a whole consumed 691,000 tons of Indonesian palm oil (ranked 8th in 44 countries/regions), and its households depended on 3.7 kg per person (ranked 26th in 44 countries/regions) of Indonesian palm oil, both directly and indirectly. Furthermore, it was suggested that palm oil consumption in Japan between 2000 and 2010 required a land use area of 115,000 hectares (Figure 1), with a related potential of 23,000 hectares of fires. The palm oil footprints of most countries, including Japan, exceeded their direct imports from Indonesia, highlighting the high indirect dependence of palm oil on chemicals, apparel, and other products that do not appear in trade statistics.

The conclusions of the study point out the importance of new efforts to solve the problems that arise in palm oil producing countries from the demand side. The results of the study were accepted for publication in the international journal Scientific Reports and were published at 7 pm on November 26, 2020 (JST). Since it is open access, anyone can download and read it freely at the following URL.

【Article Information】
Shigetomi, Y., Ishimura, Y., Yamamoto, Y. (2020) Trends in global dependency on the Indonesian palm oil and resultant environmental impacts. Scientific Reports, 10, 20624.

(URL)
https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-77458-4

Figure 1. Land use area for plantations in Indonesia for direct and indirect use of palm oil
Figure 1. Land use area for plantations in Indonesia for direct and indirect use of palm oil in each country between 2000 and 2010 (a) and per capita land use area for households in each country (b).