Fieldwork in Malaysian Borneo

See behind-the-scenes work by the research group.

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See our research trip to Borneo

Follow our horticulturists into the rainforest on their research trip.

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The problem

Palm oil is the most widely consumed oil in the world – it's in everything from chocolate to pesticides. The world consumed 62 million tonnes in 2015. And by 2050, scientists reckon we'll have tripled our current use.

As demand for palm oil increases, so does the pressure for growers to produce more, especially in the humid tropics, where the yield is highest. This has led to destruction of the tropical rainforest to make room for oil palms – and the surrounding wildlife and world's climate are suffering.

Where is oil palm grown?

Indonesia produces the highest amount of palm oil, followed by Malaysia and Nigeria. Nearly half of all oil palm cultivation is in the hands of smallholders – ordinary people trying to better themselves and look after their families.

Why is palm oil so popular?

1. It's extremely high yielding

The fruit of the oil palm produces far more oil than other vegetables.

Vegetable oil yields (litres per hectare)

2. It's incredibly versatile

Palm oil can be used as a bio-fuel and cooking oil and is also found in processed foods, cleaning detergents, cosmetics, plastics and industrial products.

What to do?

  • Use other oils instead such as sunflower oil; however, this may shift the problem elsewhere and impact people’s livelihoods in the tropics.
  • Use RSPO – responsibly-sourced palm oil - certain plantations can get certification (if they protect existing forest, improve diversity on plantations, and protect and enhance livelihoods)
  • We stock RSPO products in the Eden shop - look out for the logo and check product labels.
  • Find out more at the new Palm Oil exhibit in the Rainforest Biome.

Exhibit in our Biome

The new exhibit in the Rainforest Biome, which sits among real examples of oil palms growing in the rainforest, asks if the introduction of the bird's nest fern (Asplenium nidus) into palm oil plantations can help increase biodiversity and give benefits to the growers by encouraging beneficial insects and improve nutrient cycling. 

Research trip to Borneo

Some of our Rainforest Biome team were lucky enough to go to visit Danum Valley in Borneo to help with PhD projects looking into the feasibility of using the bird's nest ferns in palm oil plantations, and bring the cutting edge, living science back to the Biome to tell the story to our Eden visitors. 

A special thanks to UWE Bristol for supporting our oil palm exhibit and to UWE Bristol and the Royal Geographical Society for making the research trip to Borneo possible.