Having produced a record 1.7 million tonnes last year, Colombia is the fourth biggest supplier of palm oil worldwide.
But despite the association of palm oil with deforestation, sustainability is at the heart of the country’s agribusiness, with benefits that extend to the wellbeing of growers and wider rural communities.
According to a new report led by Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), Europe is the largest consumer of sustainable palm oil in the world, accounting for 45 per cent of global consumption.
And as demand across Europe continues to grow, Colombia intends to flourish alongside it thanks to its nationwide programme that aims to increase the percentage of sustainably certified palm oil for international export. Colombia is the ideal partner for the procurement of sustainable palm oil.
In 2021, Colombia cultivated $2.1 US billion (€2.14 billion) in palm oil, making it the biggest producer in the Americas, with a crop exceeding 590,000 hectares.
From the yield, 70 per cent was sold domestically and 30 per cent internationally, with almost 50 per cent exported to Europe.
Today, the nation’s 7,000 farmers involved in the sector are supported by The National Federation of Oil Palm Growers, Fedepalma, an association that represents them nationally and internationally. Fedepalma fosters the Colombia Sustainable Palm Oil Programme promoting social, environmental, and economic sustainable development.
And, the future looks bright for the growers and the land itself.
Breaking new ground for sustainable palm oil
In some countries, the environmental damage caused by palm oil cultivation has been extensive, destroying thousands of hectares of forests.
In Colombia, however, deforestation has been minimal, with just 0.4 per cent of national deforestation between 2011 and 2017 due to palm oil according to the Institute of Environmental Studies.In 2019, deforestation associated with palm oil in Colombia, is 0.1%
The Colombian palm oil sector now intends to reduce that number to zero by focusing solely on the natural riches of designated palm-growing regions.
By identifying areas with an adequate supply of water and other natural resources, the crops do not encroach on protected areas, forests or other environmentally essential ecosystems.
The design of the palm lots also involves identifying areas that provide natural vegetation to ensure a healthy ecosystem, which facilitates pollination, biological pest and disease control, formation of soils and protection of riverbeds, efforts that have been recognised around the world.
In 2017, the Zero Deforestation Agreement for the Palm Oil Value Chain in Colombia was signed with the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism and environmental NGOs, such as WWF and Fundación Natura, and sponsored by the governments of the United Kingdom, Norway, and the Netherlands.
The agreement made Colombia the first country in the world to commit to the elimination of deforestation, reaffirming its growing reputation as a sustainable agricultural commodities provider.
As part of the country’s national palm oil sustainability strategy, no conversion of High Conservation Value (HCV) areas is allowed and pollution prevention is a top priority.
Next year, Fedepalma aims for 75 per cent of the country’s 69 active palm oil mills to be certified as sustainable, as it continues to work towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions and mitigating climate change.
The human effect of the growing and inclusive agribusiness
Currently, there are 161 municipalities in 21 departments of the country farming palm oil, creating 197,000 jobs with employees earning 50 per cent more than the minimum wage.
The formality rate of employment is over 82 per cent, compared to an 83 per cent informality rate across the wider Colombian agricultural sector. Of the 6,856 palm oil growers, 85 per cent operate on a small scale and 12 per cent on a medium scale.
In rural areas, the social effect on the community is substantial, with a 1 per cent increase in palm oil planted resulting in a 2.7 per cent increase in higher education and a 2 per cent increase in healthcare in the same area, according to consulting firm C-Análisis.
The company also found that a 1 per cent increase in palm oil resulted in a 14 per cent reduction in coca plantations, allowing locals to earn a stable and legal livelihood.
The findings are supported by Fedesarrollo, an economic and social policy research organisation that reported palm oil production creates formal and stable jobs, improving the living standards of the workers and their families.
But what truly makes palm oil unique in Colombia is the legacy it leaves.
Today, palm growers have developed social programmes including childcare and services for the elderly, promoting the well-being of the whole community.
And, as the sustainable palm oil industry continues to reach new heights, the potential for human advancement continues to grow with it. Sustainable Colombian Palm Oil an origin that makes it different!