Good Palm Oil Yields Could Be Bad News
Here’s a good news/bad news story. Scientists have been able to dramatically increase the yields for oil palm trees, a crop with a global market. Oil palms grow in the tropics, so that should mean more profit from less land, helping to protect tropical forests. Good news, right?
But in an article in the journal Science, researchers show how the increased yield could in fact lead to even more tropical destruction. Because as the value of palm oil planting increases, farmers could want to plant on even greater tracts of land. Which is bad news.
Also, a future increase in supply could eventually lead to a decrease in prices. So palm oil could out-compete, say, rapeseed oil from Canada. Which would lead to an even higher demand for palm oil. Which is worse news.
In addition, current low yields and high production costs means oil palm is not planted much in Africa and South America. But higher yields could make oil palm attractive to planters in those regions, leading to even more tropical forest destruction. [L. R. Carrascol et al, A double-edged sword for tropical forests]
To prevent these developments, the researchers write that policy makers need to be aware of and plan for the unintended negative consequences of technical advances. Which would be good news.
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]