Sri Lanka joins palm oil boycott by banning imports

The country’s government has banned palm oil imports with immediate effect and is phasing out domestic cultivation to be replaced with more eco-friendly crops.

If you weren’t aware, palm oil – the world’s most consumed cooking oil and an ingredient found in close to 50% of all packaged products – has been and continues to be a major driver of deforestation of some of the most biodiverse forests on Earth.

Not only is its mass cultivation destroying the habitats of many endangered species, but it’s damaging ecosystems and releasing millions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere which drastically contributes to climate change.

In Sri Lanka, the industry has caused a great deal of water, noise, and air pollution, not to mention soil erosion and, of course, a significant loss of biodiversity.

For this reason, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s move to enforce an outright ban on imports of palm oil and new palm plantations with immediate effect is an extremely promising step towards combatting these issues both locally and on an international scale.

It follows in the footsteps of several other regions such as the US, which stopped inbound shipments from Malaysia in light of allegations of forced labour and the EU, which is planning to phase-out palm-based biofuels by classifying the commodity as unsustainable.

Announcing the decision on Monday, Rajapaksa said his aim was to ‘make the country free from palm oil plantation and consumption.’

He has additionally told producers to uproot existing plantations in a phased manner which will eventually be replaced with more eco-friendly alternatives.

‘Those companies and entities which have done such (palm oil) cultivations shall be required to remove them in a phased manner with 10% uprooting at a time and replacing it with the cultivation of rubber or environmentally friendly crops each year,’ he said.

At present, the island nation imports around 200,000 tonnes of palm oil every year, mainly from Indonesia and Malaysia.

The Sri Lankan industry itself has so far invested $131 million in plantations around the country – 11,000 hectares to be exact – which amounts to just over 1% of the total area planted with tea, rubber, and coconut.

When Rajapaksa’s plan is fully operational, this figure will begin to decline, and activists hope this will accelerate a widespread shift to further boycotting palm oil. In its place, there is potential for greener practices that – more and more – seem to be entering the mainstream.

After all, of the seven commodities sectors driving deforestation, palm oil companies are doing the most to alleviate their environmental impact following years of public pressure.

@thredmag

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