Sustainability of oil palm plantations in Malaysia

Research paper by Kuok Ho Daniel Tang, Hamad M. S. Al Qahtani

Indexed on: 09 Nov '20Published on: 10 Sep '19Published in: Environment, Development and Sustainability


This paper reviews and evaluates the sustainability of oil palm plantations in Malaysia, encompassing the aspects of environmental, social and economic performances. It also provides recommendations for improving the sustainability of the plantations. The review involves examination of the existing literature and reports in the genres of environmental, social and economic sustainability of oil palm plantations, where environmental sustainability is further divided into the themes of biodiversity, deforestation, environmental pollution and peatland conversion. The outcomes of the review are then evaluated using the popular models of weak and strong sustainability. Recommendations for sustainable practices of the oil palm sector at planning, policy-making and implementation levels are also made. The review shows that oil palm plantations have lower biodiversity compared to logged over forests and are not solely to be blamed for deforestation in Malaysia, particularly before 1985 during which logging was active. The expansion of oil palm plantations has nonetheless caused environmental pollution and catalyzed the conversion of peatlands. Socially, while benefiting smallholders by improving their incomes, oil palm plantations have drawn in large number of foreign workers and this potentially gives rise to the issues of welfare, human right, equity and demographic change. Oil palms have significantly contributed to the Malaysian economy and are highly productive. Biodiversity and environmental management, sustainability certification, increased social corporate responsibility and review of employment policy are perceived to be beneficial for oil palm sustainability.