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New WWF report outlines Palm Oil Sustainability vision for India

India is the world's largest palm oil consumer. A new report released by WWF-India highlights the critical role that companies in India could play in promoting sustainable production of palm oil. "This report sets out a goal for India, as the world’s largest palm oil market, to shift towards sustainable consumption of palm oil. The proposed solutions are recommended with sensitivity to the challenges and uniqueness of the Indian market" says Ravi Singh, Secretary General and CEO, WWF-India.

Many items of everyday use contain palm oil. India is its largest importer in the world (photo courtesy WWF).

India is the largest consumer of palm oil in the world. A new report, ‘Palm Lines – Envisioning a sustainable future for the Indian palm oil industry’, released by WWF-India highlights the critical role that companies in India could play in promoting sustainable production of palm oil and offers practical solutions relevant for the Indian market. Palm oil is the most widely consumed vegetable oil in the world and one of the most productive oilseeds.

However, large-scale conversion of tropical forests to palm oil plantations has led to several negative environmental and social impacts in these producer countries. India is the largest consumer of palm oil in the world, with more than 96 percent of it being imported, primarily from Indonesia and Malaysia.

According to the report, such intensive production systems not only result in ecosystem destruction and associated biodiversity losses but also adversely impact climate change. Unsustainable palm oil production has also been associated with irresponsible use of fertilizers, labour rights violations, health & safety issues and displacement of indigenous people.

‘Sustainable palm oil’ is palm oil that is produced in a responsible manner, with low impacts on forests, biodiversity and society in producer regions. To achieve this, a series of approaches ranging from voluntary standards, regulation, and corporate commitments to traceable and sustainable sourcing have emerged.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is a multi-stakeholder platform that brings together representatives from across the value chain to promote the adoption of certified sustainable palm oil, which is produced based on a set of responsible environmental and social criteria. WWF supports the RSPO certification standard as the best opportunity for global transformation while recognizing that the scheme must improve in certain areas.

The report recommends a set of approaches to increase the adoption of sustainable palm oil in the Indian market through constructive industry engagement. These recommendations include:

  • low-cost solutions, such as the use of the Sustainable Palm Oil Transparency Toolkit (SPOTT), developed by ZSL, for supplier screening as an interim option;
  • implementation of sustainable sourcing commitments by global fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) brands;
  • fostering industry collaboration through an industry forum across the value chain

Tariff-based policy interventions, promotion of responsible domestic production through sustainability frameworks like RSPO and advocating deforestation-free portfolios through green finance in the sector are the other solutions that are also outlined in this report.

According to the report, 90-95 percent of the total palm oil is consumed as edible oil, while the remaining 5-10 percent is used in personal care and cosmetics. While a handful of Indian companies are driving a progressive agenda to promote sustainable practices, there is a lot that remains to be done.

Despite the marked increase in the awareness levels on the sustainability issues, linked to palm oil and the solutions, the uptake of sustainable palm oil in the Indian industry is limited.

The report emphasizes the need for the Indian palm oil sector to collectively work towards addressing the barriers and challenges to sustainable palm oil adoption. The solutions outlined have been made keeping in mind the industry requirements and nuances of the local markets, to ensure the long-term sustainable growth of the sector said Dorab E. Mistry, Director of Godrej International Ltd.

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