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The palm oil sector in Africa: The dynamics, challenges and pathways to sustainability

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Palm oil is the world’s most consumed edible oil (Boyce 2017), produced by oil palms with high productivity per unit area compared with other oil crops such as soybean, rapeseed, sunflower, and olive (Moreno-Peñaranda et al 2018). On a per hectare basis, it yields 5-7 times more oil than groundnuts or soybeans (Verheye 2010). Oil palm accounts for nearly 36% of the global oil market based on just 6% of croplands (Ritchie and Roser 2020), confirming the factor 6 productivity difference. Apart from being a major ingredient for large parts of the food industry (Lin 2011), palm oil is also used in candles, soap, and high-end industrial lubricants. The global palm oil market is dominated by Malaysia and Indonesia, accounting for more than 86% of the total production (Potter 2015; van Noordwijk et al 2021). According to FAOSTAT (online), in 2009-2019, the global production of oil palm increased from 220M to 410M ton fresh fruit bunches, and the area from 16.0M to 28.3M ha, with 89% in Asia. Although it has African roots and the Asian-style monocultural plantations are expanding in Africa, interacting with traditional ways of growing the palms and extracting the oil. Processing palm oil in African countries is either through industrial or artisanal (traditional) milling (Carrere 2010, Nchanji et al 2013).

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