Palm oil production poses threat to tropical forests, according to a new study conducted by the researchers at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. The researchers reported that the population of wild boars in the forests multiplied by a hundred-fold. The overpopulation was sighted in forests neighboring the palm oil plantation.
Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil extracted from the reddish pulp of the fruit of palm trees. It is naturally red in color and rich in beta-carotene, with 49 percent saturated oil content. Palm is used in many industries and related products, in fact, about 50 percent of products in supermarkets contain ingredients based on palm oil and palm kernel oil.
- Palm kernel oil is mainly used in cosmetics and personal care products.
- Palm kernel expeller is common in the animal feed industry.
- Biofuel and energy.
- Foodservice industry.
- Consumer retail food manufacturers.
Products that contain or based on palm oil or palm kernel oil may be indicated by different names including vegetable oil, vegetable fat, palmate, palmitate, stearic acid, sodium lauryl sulfate, and palmityl alcohol. Approximately 85 percent of palm oil is produced in several tropical countries including Indonesia and Malaysia.
In the study, the researchers observed more than 50 percent reduction of small trees and saplings, due to the massive population of wild boars. The reduction was caused by wild boar mothers harvesting small trees to build nests for their young. While the increase in population was caused by the abundance of palm fruit near the tropical forests.
“For 10 years, we saw that plants and small trees on the forest floor were disappearing but we didn’t understand why. Once we started looking outside the forest to the surrounding oil palms, the story became clear,” said Dr. Matthew Luskin, a researcher at the Asian School of the Environment at NTU Singapore.
Wild boars feed on palm fruit when palm trees start producing them. With a great supply of food, wild boars tend to reproduce and that makes them gather the necessary items required to build nests. As a result, wild boars clear the vegetation from the forest floor that destroys the habitat of other animals.
“This important new study uses intensive long-term field research to illustrate that the effect of agriculture is not necessarily restricted to the land under production. Further experiments and observations are critical for understanding interactions between production and protection lands, thereby improving the management of the world’s hyper-diverse ecosystems,” said Dr. Stuart Davis, the director of Center for Tropical Forest Science – Forest Global Earth Observatory, the program that facilitated the study.
Most palm fruits are edible and safe for consumption. One of the most popular kinds of palm fruit is the coconut. The coconut tree is a member of the palm tree and the term coconut palm refers to the seed, nut or fruit of the tree. Coconut water is its famous product that provides numerous health benefits to humans, such as hydration, vitamins and minerals, and antioxidants.
The researchers advised growers and manufacturers of palm oil, and regulatory bodies to create ways to reduce the negative impacts. Both the destruction of the forest floors and overpopulation of wild boars affect other animals and humans. According to Giovanna Massei and Peter V. Genov, wild boars can cause the following adverse effects:
- Their selective feeding of plant parts, such as fruits, bulbs, and tubers, can affect the abundance of plant species.
- Their diet is composed of almost every cultivated plant, such as rice, wheat, grapes, barley, oats, potatoes, and rye. Several populations of wild boars can damage agricultural crops.
- Their omnivorous nature can lead to predation of lambs. They can also feed bird eggs which may affect egg farms.
- Their capability to eat almost anything can also cause food competition with other animals.
A normal population of wild boars in a particular habitat can serve positive effect to the environment, such as helping seeds to be dispersed. Wild boars also help control the overpopulation of many insects, since they feed on them as well.
Palm oil production itself has adverse effects on the environment, aside from attracting wild boars, according to the World Wild Life.
1. Soil erosion: It occurs when the soil if left uncovered during forest clearing and poor practices of plantation establishment.
2. Air pollution: Clearing of vegetation by burning parts of the forests contributes to the growing amount of pollutants in the air. The forest fires produce a haze that can cause serious health problems in plantation workers and people living in nearby areas.
3. Soil and water pollution: Effluent or liquid waste is produced by palm oil production. For every one metric ton of palm oil produced, 2.5 metric tons of effluents are generated. The liquid waste can pollute bodies of freshwater and organisms living in them.