Does Coconut oil production threaten five times more species than palm oil?

There is an article on the Daily Telegraph UK website about how coconut oil production threatens five times more species than palm oil.

It quotes an article written on the which is here,

So, we wanted to look at the evidence for and against this.

Some background, the article is not specifically about the Philippines, but as the largest global producer of coconuts, it does cover the production there.

The first part of the article focuses on the fact that coconuts are grown on primarily on tropical islands, which is true, as they are the local indigenous plant. Therefore, it makes sense they are grown there, palm oil trees grown in South-East Asia, are African palm trees which are not indigenous.

The next point is that they affect biodiversity (remember they are an indigenous plant) in fact in the Philippines they account for 25 per cent of total agricultural land in the country according to Wikipedia. So not the massive takeover they imply, and 75% of the other farmed plants are more likely to be none indigenous.

The next point is that “Per volume of oil produced, coconut production affects more species than any other oil crop, including oil palm. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)”

Remember that coconut palms do not just produce oil (unlike palm oil trees) they produce coconut oil, copra meal, desiccated coconut, coco shell charcoal, activated carbon, coco chemical and wood from older mature trees.

However, the source material ( ) for the study says “If we consider impact by area rather than production—as is typically done—threatened species per hectare, oil palm (17 sp/MHA) surpasses coconut (5.3 sp/MHA)” – So, it depends on how you look at the numbers, but palm oil farming is 3.4 times greater than coconut palms.

Also remember that coconut production uses no pesticides in production, unlike soya, rapeseed or sunflower oils which use pesticides and has a massive effect on the biodiversity of insects and the food chain.

The next thing to consider is the farms themselves “Most of the global coconut cultivation occurs in primarily in smallholdings under four hectors.” In contrast, palm oil is produced on much larger commercial plantations.

There are 2.5 million coconut farmers in the Philippines, and overall 25 to 33 per cent of the population are at least partly dependent on coconuts for their livelihood, that is either farming manufacture or the subsidiary business associated with coconut production.

In the past 100 years, farming has increased right across the world. And we have seen the decline of wild habitats. Coconut farming will have played its part in that but not to the extent that is implied in the article.

The article also talks about the decline of indigenous species; some mentioned went extinct in 1945!

It does mention the Balabac mouse-deer (Tragulus nigricans), endemic to three Philippine islands. Wikipedia suggests a major factor for its decline is hunting, “the meat is considered a delicacy on the islands, and the skin is also used to make leather”.  However, habitat loss from population growth in the leading cause of its decline.

The article summarises that “All food products must be sustainably grown and for that to happen, we must understand that food systems need systemic change, not a fixation on a few bad apples.”  And we couldn’t agree more.

Most of the farmers are part of the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), and part of their mission statement is “we…shall ensure the development and implementation of responsive and sustainable programs carried out in a participatory manner for the benefit of all stakeholders.”.

So, like many articles, there are many sides to the story, and we like to put the record straight.

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