When doing the initial research for our synthetic alternative to palm oil components, we quickly came across lots of information regarding the current palm oil industry. It soon became apparent that the economies of some countries, for example Indonesia and Malaysia, depend almost entirely upon the current methods of palm oil production. Therefore we compiled a detailed impact analysis report for synthetic palm oil, which can be found by clicking on the button to the right.

Will Business Ever Be The Same For Oil Palm Growers?

Malaysia and Indonesia are currently the main palm oil-producing countries, it is our principal concern that it might take them a long time to overcome the effect of commercialising our project.

  • In terms of land, the soil used in the palm oil plantations for a long period of time become infertile[1], meantime, pesticides and fertilisers used upon the palm oil plantation contaminate the soil and underground water source. Thus, conversion of the particular land into planting other crop types is not effective, the aftermath is those lands would be left as weedy lands which is not productive at all[2]

  • Recently in Africa and Asia, another instance of synthetic biology producing a naturally-occurring product is in process. The plant Artemisia annua is grown for the antimalarial drug artemisinin, providing livelihoods for a considerable amount of farmers[3]. Lab-based production of artemisinin is becoming more common recently, Jay Keasling has suggested that the original plant growers could grow potatoes or wheat instead[3]

  • Although there are possible alternate plants which could be grown by palm oil or Artemisia annua planters, it might take the growers a long time to switch the crop type and the new crop types might not as beneficial and productive as the previous one.

It is not yet clear what the effect of replacing a naturally-occurring product with a synthetic alternative will do to an economy almost entirely dependent on its current production, yet the future does not seem very promising.

[1] Butler, R. (2006) ‘Why is oil palm replacing tropical rainforests? Why are biofuels fuelling deforestation?’ Mongabay. April 25th
[2] Rainforest Rescue. Facts about palm oil and rainforests
[3] Thomas, j. (2013) 'Synthetic anti-malarial compound is bad news for artemisia farmers' The Guardian. April 12th
[4] Photo © CIFOR