Next time you wash your hair with shampoo or dip a biscuit in the tea, you might be contributing to another Kerala floods like disaster. Chances are that your shampoo or biscuit may be containing palm oil which is used extensively in almost all the household products from cooking oils to cosmetics but comes at a great environment cost.
Realising the dangers it poses to global climate change, the European and American shops sell only those products that use palm oil produced by using green practices. But India, the largest consumer of palm oil in the world, largely remains oblivious to the climate change impact.
It is only now, the Indian companies are now coming under intense pressure to switch to green palm oil to reduce environment impact of palm crop cultivation which is eating up rainforests causing widespread global climate change concerns.
Despite consuming the most, the awareness about palm oil's detrimental effect on environment is missing completely in India. Palm oil has widespread use in food and cosmetics making it among the most used commodities in the world.
The European and the US markets has become conscious to the need to have clean palm oil and it is hard to find products without CSPO (Certified Sustainable Palm Oil) authentication mark on the European or American shopping shelves.
In India, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which certifies green ways of palm oil production globally, is convincing companies to procure only CSPO authenticated sources.
Keeping a hawk-eye on palm oil production, RSPO last week upgraded its sustainability standardization at its 16th round table conference in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, a global hub of palm oil production. The new standards are aimed at further tightening of environmental protection practices. India faces peculiar problems in addressing the issue of palm oil and its impact on environment. The domestic production of palm oil is negligible to cause any direct impact like deforestation which is rampant in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia. But being the largest consumer, the Indian market has a huge responsibility in ensuring that only sustainable palm oil reaches shops, said experts.
Bhavana Prasad, director of sustainable Business at WWF India, told Financial Chronicle that environmental cost of palm oil in India being only indirect is a myth. India faces the direct impact in the sense that natural disasters like floods in Chennai or Kerala more recently are consequences of global environmental degeneration. The depletion of rainforest in Malaysia or Indonesia has a direct bearing on India, she said.
"In terms of global warming and climate change, Indonesia and Malaysia very significantly have an impact. Some of the impacts includes greenhouse gas emissions that come from burning down of forests or from destroying peatland. Deforestation does at to climate change," she said.
WWF is playing a key role in nudging the palm oil industry towards sustainable practices in a big way. RSPO itself as 4000 global members and with new standards being approved by all the stake holders and backed by governments of palm oil producing countries, the impact on ground will be seen in coming years.
"RSPO started n 2004 with only six or seven members and now we have more than 4000. It is a tremendous growth and markets like US, North America and Europe has almost reached saturation in terms of CSPO certification. Our aim is to achieve 100 percent target by 2020," said a senior RSPO executive adding that challenge was now to extend the reach to China and India markets.
Talking about the prospects in India, he said that there is a realization that palm is not a big crop in the country and the chances are it will never be considering high dependence on water. But RSPO is engaging local farmers and stake holders in finding local solutions towards sustainable practices even though they need not conform to international standardization.
Some of these practices are about using innovative ideas. Like Sime Darby, one of th elargest palm oil producers in the world, uses barn own to naturally control rat populations in palm estates. The use of barn owl as control agent for rat populations is one of the practices encouraged by RSPO.