In Nigeria, the demand for palm kernel oil – extracted from the fruit of the oil palm tree – is estimated to be double than what local producers can currently supply. Palm oil is used for cooking and it is also an important ingredient in a variety of food and cosmetics products.
Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil that is extracted from the fruit of oil palm trees around the world, including South America, Asia, Indonesia, and Africa. It is in close to 50% of the packaged products we have, from chocolate to shampoo to biofuel. It is extremely versatile and has many useful properties. Palm oil is good at keeping spreads spreadable since it is semi-solid at room temperature, it is stable at high temperatures which helps fried products, and it’s odorless and colorless so it doesn’t affect the look or smell of food products. Palm oil can provide a steady income for farmers since it produces high quantities over small areas.
Palm oil is derived from the fruits of the African oil palm tree, Elaeis guineensis. It has a red/orangey colour and could go from semi-solid to very viscous at room temperature. Cooking palm oil is mildly processed, and when added to food, it gives it a yellowish or orange colour. This oil should not be confused with palm kernel oil.
Red palm oil is extracted from the flesh of the orange colour fruits of the oil palm. Palm kernel oil, on the other hand, is the clear oil extracted from the kernel, which is the seed enclosed within the fruit. Palm kernel oil is different from palm oil, and is used as frying oil as well as for non-food applications like cosmetics and cream production.
In 2022, the production of palm oil in Nigeria reached 1.4 million metric tons. Between 2009 and 2022, the production quantity generally increased, registering the highest growth in 2010, when it grew by roughly 14 percent. From 2014 onwards, the output from palm oil production followed a rising trend. Nigeria is one of the leading producers of palm oil worldwide.
AFRICAN PALM OIL & SUSTAINABILITY
The sustainability issues with oil palms that we hear so much about arise from the demand for refined palm oil. There is so much demand for the product which is used at such large scales, that habitats are being destroyed to plant oil palm trees. Furthermore, our growing consumption of cheaply manufactured goods and processed foods does not help the situation.
In West Africa, oil palm trees are cultivated by small farmers and are an essential part of the local economy in regions where they are grown. Asides from palm oil and palm kernel oil, the locals, get a range of products from the palm tree, like extraction of palm wine from the sugary sap. The cake residue from oil processing is used for kindling fire and the palm fronds are used for making roofs and fences.
The issue with palm oil isn’t the product itself, it is how the palm oil is acquired. This small vegetable oil has proven to be a major driver of deforestation around the world. Deforestation destroys the habitats of endangered species and takes away a carbon sink. A carbon sink is a place that holds CO2, the large forests drive photosynthesis and take in that needed CO2. Destroying a carbon sink leads to more CO2 being released into the atmosphere, which is continuing to affect the recent climate change.