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Oil palm production, instrumental and relational values: the public relations battle for hearts, heads, and hands along the value chain

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In the public debate on the expansion of oil palm production in tropical forest zones, ‘is palm oil demon or unfairly demonized?’, values (instrumental and relational) interact with rationalizations (instrumental) grounded on a priori preferences (relational). This muddied debate urges clearer distinctions between the crop itself and how it is produced to achieve sustainable oil palm systems. More socially oriented narratives emerge, such as oil palm being suitable to family farming, not just large multinational company plantations, and as diversified agroforestry rather than monoculture production systems. These narratives shift the debate, posing new but similar risks of misrepresentation. We dissect current issues in the oil palm debate, linking ‘values of nature (VoN)’ to key dimensions of morality. Classifying different perspectives of reality allows new knowledge and understanding to emerge, moving toward more effective negotiations for developing inclusive oil palm value chains that further economic development, small-scale producers’ livelihoods, and environmental health.

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