Open Access


Open Hours

Mon-Fri(09:00-18:00 hrs)

Navigating the Path to Sustainable Oil Palm Cultivation: Addressing Nexus Challenges and Solutions

Giuseppe Pulighe

CREA, Research Centre for Agricultural Policies and Bioeconomy, Via Barberini 36, 00187 Rome, Italy


Received: 4 April 2023; Received in revised form: 10 May 2023; Accepted: 15 May 2023; Published: 22 May 2023

Copyright © 2023 The author(s). Published by Nan Yang Academy of Sciences Pte. Ltd.

Creative Commons License

This is an open access article under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0) License.


Global palm oil demand for energy, food, and chemical uses has led to a rapid expansion of tree plantations in Southeast Asia, Central Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. This oil tree is the world’s most productive, highly profitable and traded vegetable oil crop, and the demand is expected to increase further in the near future. Nevertheless, oil palm expansion involves risks and nexus challenges. This work supports the idea that disruptive farming intensification, instead of land expansion, could scale up productivity, reducing the anthropogenic pressure on tropical forests and biodiversity losses. Findings from recent studies suggest that there is considerable scope for further yield improvements per hectare of palm oil with sustainable agronomic practices and farming intensification. Smallholder producers, agribusiness investors, civil society actors, NGOs, governments, researchers, and industry should make coordinated efforts with regulatory and support schemes and landscape design to increase yield and productivity with sustainable management practices and to achieve zero deforestation by protecting ecosystems.

Keywords: Land-use changes, Ecosystem services, Sustainable intensification, Deforestation, Tree plantations


[1] Ordway, E.M., Naylor, R.L., Nkongho, R.N., et al., 2019. Oil palm expansion and deforestation in Southwest Cameroon associated with proliferation of informal mills. Nature Communications. 10(1), 114.

[2] Wiebe, K.D., Sulser, T., Pacheco, P., et al., 2019. The palm oil dilemma: Policy tensions among higher productivity, rising demand, and deforestation. International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI): Washington, DC.

[3] Krishna, V.V., Kubitza, C., 2021. Impact of oil palm expansion on the provision of private and community goods in rural Indonesia. Ecological Economics. 179, 106829.

[4] Woittiez, L.S., Van Wijk, M.T., Slingerland, M., et al., 2017. Yield gaps in oil palm: A quantitative review of contributing factors. European Journal of Agronomy. 83, 57-77.

[5] Byerlee, D., Falcon, W.P., Naylor, R., 2017. The tropical oil crop revolution: Food, feed, fuel, and forests. Oxford University Press: Oxford.

[6] European Palm Oil Alliance [Internet]. Available from:

[7] Ferrante, L., Fearnside, P.M., 2020. The Amazon: Biofuels plan will drive deforestation. Nature. 577(7789), 170-171.

[8] Núñez-Regueiro, M.M., Siddiqui, S.F., Fletcher Jr, R.J., 2021. Effects of bioenergy on biodiversity arising from land-use change and crop type. Conservation Biology. 35(1), 77-87.

[9] Zabel, F., Delzeit, R., Schneider, J.M., et al., 2019. Global impacts of future cropland expansion and intensification on agricultural markets and biodiversity. Nature Communications. 10(1), 2844.

[10] Murphy, D.J., Goggin, K., Paterson, R.R.M., 2021. Oil palm in the 2020s and beyond: Challenges and solutions. CABI Agriculture and Bioscience. 2(1), 1-22.

[11] Tilman, D., Socolow, R., Foley, J.A., et al., 2009. Beneficial biofuels—the food, energy, and environment trilemma. Science. 325(5938), 270-271.

[12] de Almeida, A.S., Vieira, I.C.G., Ferraz, S.F., 2020. Long-term assessment of oil palm expansion and landscape change in the eastern Brazilian Amazon. Land Use Policy. 90, 104321.

[13] Rulli, M.C., Casirati, S., Dell’Angelo, J., et al., 2019. Interdependencies and telecoupling of oil palm expansion at the expense of Indonesian rainforest. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews. 105, 499-512.

[14] Cooper, H.V., Evers, S., Aplin, P., et al., 2020. Greenhouse gas emissions resulting from conversion of peat swamp forest to oil palm plantation. Nature Communications. 11(1), 407.

[15] Lam, W.Y., Kulak, M., Sim, S., et al., 2019. Greenhouse gas footprints of palm oil production in Indonesia over space and time. Science of the Total Environment. 688, 827-837.

[16] Energy: New Target of 32% from Renewables by 2030 Agreed by MEPs and Ministers [Internet]. European Parliament News. 2018. Available from:,upwards%20revision%20clause%20by%202023

[17] Parsons, S., Raikova, S., Chuck, C.J., 2020. The viability and desirability of replacing palm oil. Nature Sustainability. 3(6), 412-418. DOI:

[18] Reid, W.V., Ali, M.K., Field, C.B., 2020. The future of bioenergy. Global Change Biology. 26(1), 274-286.

[19] Oil Palm Plantations and Water Grabbing: Ivory Coast and Gabon [Internet]. World Rainforest Movement; 2022. Available from:

[20] Morand, S., Lajaunie, C., 2021. Outbreaks of vector-borne and zoonotic diseases are associated with changes in forest cover and oil palm expansion at global scale. Frontiers in Veterinary Science. 8. DOI:

[21] Dobson, A.P., Pimm, S.L., Hannah, L., et al., 2020. Ecology and economics for pandemic prevention. Science. 369(6502), 379-381.

[22] Javaid, M., Haleem, A., Singh, R.P., et al., 2022. Enhancing smart farming through the applications of Agriculture 4.0 technologies. International Journal of Intelligent Networks. 3, 150-164.

[23] Monzon, J.P., Slingerland, M.A., Rahutomo, S., et al., 2021. Fostering a climate-smart intensification for oil palm. Nature Sustainability. 4(7), 595-601.

[24] Abdul-Hamid, A.Q., Ali, M.H., Tseng, M.L., et al., 2020. Impeding challenges on industry 4.0 in circular economy: Palm oil industry in Malaysia. Computers & Operations Research. 123, 105052.

[25] Pulighe, G., Altobelli, F., Bonati, G., et al., 2022. Challenges and opportunities for growing bioenergy crops in the EU: Linking support schemes with sustainability issues towards carbon neutrality. Comprehensive renewable energy. Elsevier: Amsterdam. pp. 22-33.

[26] Lambin, E.F., Gibbs, H.K., Heilmayr, R., et al., 2018. The role of supply-chain initiatives in reducing deforestation. Nature Climate Change. 8(2), 109-116.

[27] Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil [Internet]. Available from:

Online ISSN: 2737-4785, Print ISSN: 2737-4777, Published by Nan Yang Academy of Sciences Pte. Ltd.