Claim that coconut oil is worse for biodiversity than palm oil sparks furious debate. Oil palm so far hasn’t, as far as we know. I had been doing a lot of work on another tropical crop, the infamous oil palm, whose plantations are the scourge of tropical wildlife. All rights Reserved. Indeed, some species have already become extinct because their habitat gave way to coconut palm, Meijaard points out, including the Marianne white-eye (Zosterops semiflavus), a bird in the Seychelles, and the Ontong Java flying fox (Pteropus howensis) of the Solomon Islands, which was last spotted in 1945. Independent Premium Comments can be posted by members of our membership scheme, Independent Premium. Dyna Rochmyaningsih is a journalist based in Deli Serdang, Indonesia. “I believe that the growth of ‘food trends’ in the West/Global North puts an unfair and difficult burden on the poorer farmers in the Global South,” said Simrit Malhi, a permaculture farmer at her family-owned Roundstone Farms. With many of their trees long past peak productivity, the coconut farming industry in Asia has been plagued with low yields for years. If social media is anything to go by, people hate oil palm, but they love products from the coconut palm. Neither has been seen since 1945, but they were once found on islands that have been mostly converted to coconut plantations. So what’s the answer? As they age, they produce fewer and fewer coconuts. Please continue to respect all commenters and create constructive debates. According to the paper’s supplementary information, the number for coconut oil is actually 18.3, not 20.3; when Science asked about the discrepancy, co-author Jesse Abrams of the University of Exeter acknowledged that the calculation contains an error that the authors would ask the journal to correct. By Dyna Rochmyaningsih Jul. Today, coconut plantations threaten to the Balabac mousedeer (Tragulus nigricans), endemic to three small islands in the Philippines, and the Sangihe tarsier (Tarsius sangirensis), a small primate endemic to the Indonesian island of Sangihe, according to IUCN’s assessment. If people want to boycott palm oil due to its contribution to deforestation, perhaps they should also shun coffee, chocolate and, indeed, coconut. Why is there such a bias?” Meijaard asks. Our journalists will try to respond by joining the threads when they can to create a true meeting of independent Premium. These species include a bird called the Marianne white-eye (Zosterops semiflavus) of Marianne Island in the Seychelles, and the Solomon Islands’ Ontong Java flying fox (Pteropus howensis). Other critics take issue with different aspects of the study: In absolute terms, palm oil threatens five times more species than coconut oil, according to IUCN (321 versus 66), and palm oil production is growing much faster. Per volume of oil produced, coconut production affects more species than any other oil crop, including oil palm. But 18.3 is still a very high number. In fact, coconut cultivation has directly contributed to the extinction of some species. A few scratches and broken fingernails later, I managed to get to the nut’s core. “Most planters are shying away from coconut production as a result of exorbitant wages being demanded to climb coconut trees and de-husk nuts,” said Mathew Jose, founder of the company Farm Origin. According to a report released by Allied Market Research, the global coconut products industry was pegged at $12.75 billion in 2019 and is projected to reach $31.1 billion by 2026. That coconut was among my early disappointments, but it taught me to look beyond an enticing shell. One skillfully shimmies up the trunk, and within 20 seconds, is up in the palm’s canopy. Palm oil has a bad reputation—but is coconut oil worse? Afterward, he said, many of those farmers adopted a more sustainable multi-crop approach, circulating a variety of crops on their lands and distributing the risk that comes with planting just one. Coconut oil is a good alternative to palm oil because it has contributed significantly less to Amazon rainforest deforestation. She pointed, as an example, to the environmental costs of chemically grown avocados in Mexico, planted to feed the avocado boom in the U.S. Coconut trees have a productive life of 30 to 40 years. © 2020 American Association for the Advancement of Science. Like palm oil, coconut seems to be used in almost everything, from hair conditioner to mosquito repellent. All rights reserved. Coconut threatens 20.3 species for every 1 million tons of oil produced, they report. The best recipes, kitchen tips and genius food facts. They miss out on the benefits of this surging trade. “At least in Kalimantan where gigantic palmoil plantations of 10,000 hectare are savagely carved out of virgin rainforest, coconut gardens tend to be mom & pop operations of 10-20 ha [hectares],” tweeted Biruté Galdikas, a primatologist at the Orangutan Foundation. The conglomerates whose products crowd supermarket shelves source coconuts from large-scale monocropping plantations that are corporatized and mechanized to ensure consistent supply. So despite its benign reputation, coconut has a surprisingly large negative impact on tropical biodiversity. “Dear logging companies, should you ever need to justify your destructive and extractive (illegal) activities in the Amazon + SE Asia, or protection against nature conservation NGO’s [nongovernmental organizations] or legal action, please refer to the following paper in @CurrentBiology,” primatologist Adriano Lameira of the University of Warwick wrote in one of several sarcastic tweets about the paper. Some critics also pointed to a potential conflict of interest: Meijaard has received funding from an Indonesian palm oil company and from the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil, a large multistakeholder group that seeks to make the industry more environmentally friendly. Coconut oil involves a similar tradeoff, considering that other oils have their own environmental impacts to consider: Olive oil can also have a … In the U.S., consumer attention to coconut products remains focused on health issues and has yet to consider the ethical sourcing of these products. A new study argues coconut production poses a threat to biodiversity—including vertebrates, arthropods, mollusks, and plants—five times greater than palm oil. “Consumers lack objective guidance on the environmental impacts of crop production, undermining their ability to make informed decisions,” Sheil says. This article first appeared on The Conversation, If people want to boycott palm oil because of deforestation, they should boycott coconut, coffee, and chocolate as well, writes Erik Meijaard, Coconut farming has directly led to the loss of certain species (Getty/iStock), Monocrop: A coconut plantation north of Salvador, Brazil (AFP/Getty). Please be respectful when making a comment and adhere to our Community Guidelines. Coconut oil is touted as a healthy alternative to toxic lotions and skincare products. Recipes and more delivered to your inbox! AAAS is a partner of HINARI, AGORA, OARE, CHORUS, CLOCKSS, CrossRef and COUNTER. The growing wellness industry has encouraged consumers to fold more coconut products into their lives. The vast majority of the species threatened by coconut palm live in small island nations that together produce only 8% of the global output of coconut oil, says Meine van Noordwijk, a senior research fellow at the World Agroforestry Center. Coconut oil is a crop-based oil and is therefore considered a biodegradable fluid like soybean oil, vegetable oil, rapeseed oil and sunflower oil. This leaves no significant space for the small, marginalized farmers struggling just to break even with their cost of production. Tomy Mathew explained that aggregators and middlemen in the coconut trade drive fluctuations in the market price of coconut, which eventually affects farmers’ livelihoods. He said market conditions in Kerala, the highest coconut-producing state in India, are one of the big reasons that production is on the decline. In the past few years, coconut oil has become a popular cooking and cosmetic choice, appearing on more and more shelves and ingredient labels across the country. Fueled by the newfound enthusiasm for coconut products in the West, major coconut producers have turned over massive acreage to this monoculture, leading to chemically intensive farming and ruining the biodiversity of land on which the coconut palms are planted. In the last decade, the humble coconut has experienced a tremendous boom in the Western world.