Research that calls into question claims that palm oil is environmentally damaging compared with other vegetable oils will boost the government's efforts to defend one of the country's major commodities from negative campaigning.
The study was published in June by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a Switzerland-based global conservationist foundation. According to the research, oil palm is the world's most efficient oil-producing plant as it requires much less land than comparable plants.
"The study found that it [oil palm] only needs 0.26 hectares of land to produce 1 ton of palm oil," said Coordinating Economic Minister Darmin Nasution in a joint press briefing with the foundation in Jakarta recently.
"This land use is much lower than that required to produce rapeseed oil, sunflower oil or soybean oil."
In the study, the IUCN found that the production of 1 ton of rapeseed oil required 1.25 hectares, while 1 ton of sunflower oil and 1 ton of soybean oil need 1.43 hectares and 2 hectares, respectively.
IUCN researcher Erik Meijaard, who led the study, said the evidence in his findings proved that oil palm would play a major role in fulfilling the increasing global demand for vegetable oil, which is projected to reach 310 million tons in 2050.
In the meantime, he said, current global vegetable oil production only amounted to 165 million tons.
"I think countries around the world need to be careful in banning the use of palm oil because if we do, we will need more land in other areas to fulfil the increasing demand for oil in the future," he said.
He added that the increasing need for land would cause further harm to the world's ecosystem and biodiversity.