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Higher prices for sustainable palm oil could save endangered species

Higher supermarket prices for eco-friendly palm oil could help save endangered species, according to University of East Anglia (UEA) research.

Palm oil is used by the food industry as a cheap substitute for butter. But the conversion of tropical forests to oil palm plantations has had a devastating impact on a huge number of plant and animal species including tigers, elephants, rhinos and orang-utans.

The new research reveals that a willingness among consumers to pay more for sustainably-grown palm oil would incentivise producers to engage with conservation projects.

Lead researcher Prof Ian Bateman, from UEA’s School of Environmental Sciences, said: “International governments have failed to stem the environmental damage caused by oil palm plantations. We wanted to find a new way of halting biodiversity loss that actually becomes profitable for private companies.”

An international research team of economists and ecologists looked for ways to make conservation profitable. The research was led by UEA, in collaboration with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the University of Vermont (US) and the World Wildlife Fund (US).

They focused on Sumatra – an Indonesian island and biodiversity hot-spot which has seen tropical forests replaced with plantations, resulting in a rapid decline of species.

The research team carried out biodiversity surveys across palm plantations, nurseries, forest and cleared land in central Sumatra. They also obtained access to company financial records to see how setting aside land for conservation affects biodiversity and company costs.

The research shows that the location of conservation areas had a major effect upon both the effect on wildlife and the impact on company profits. By taking both of these factors into consideration the researchers identified areas which provide the best balance between promoting biodiversity and reducing costs to companies.

Prof Bateman said: “Consumers’ willingness to pay for sustainably grown palm oil has the potential to incentivise private producers enough to engage in conservation activities. This would support vulnerable ‘Red List’ species.

“Combining all of these findings together allows us to harness the power of the market and identify locations where cost-effective and even profitable conservation can take place."

Prof Brendan Fisher, of the University of Vermont’s Gund Institute for Ecological Economics, said: “We face two potentially opposing forces. One is increasing demand for food, fiber and fuel products across the globe. The other is the absolute imperative to stop the loss of biodiversity from the planet. This work here shows how important it is for industry and scientists to work together and find potential win-wins, or at least to mitigate the trade-offs between conservation and agricultural production."



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University of East Anglia | Global | Palm Oil


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