Behind the Packard Foundation’s Focus on Palm Oil

Chances are you’ve consumed palm oil this week. Found in a vast array of supermarket goodies including cookies, cereals, potato chips, margarine, and ice cream – palm oil usage is on the rise in the US food industry. Unfortunately, the increased demand for oil has led many companies to push their palm plantations into the world’s most biologically diverse forests. Unsustainable palm oil production is causing deforestation and pushing endangered animals to the brink of extinction. The Packard Foundation (see IP’s profile) has recognized the problem and has funded several projects to promote sustainable palm oil.

In 2013, the Packard Foundation funded five different projects related to palm oil and forest conservation. The largest grant, worth $1.3 million, went to the Rainforest Action Network to “minimize the social, environmental, and climate impacts of global palm oil trading operations”. This wasn’t the first time the network received a Packard grant; in 2011, the Rainforest Action Network received $250,000 for its work. The Rainforest Action Network focuses much of its efforts on palm oil, educating and advocating on behalf of forest conservation.

The Packard Foundation also gave a hefty grant to the Netherlands-based consultancy AidEnvironment. The grant, worth $830,000, is to fund a report on the major palm oil industry players and their sustainability risk profiles. The report will be aimed at raising awareness of sustainable palm oil practices within the finance industry.

Not all of the Packard Foundation’s grants for palm oil were so large, however. A smaller grant for $185,500 went to the Conservation International Foundation to "accelerate market conversion to sustainable palm oil," while a similar $180,000 amount went to the individual Frances Seymour to research and implement strategies for reducing emissions in Indonesia’s palm oil industry. Finally, a $50,000 grant went to CERES for their work in helping consumer-brand companies to source Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) products.

It is unlikely that palm oil will go away in the near future. However, there are options for producing this important food product in sustainable ways. Environmentalists are tackling the problem from a variety of angles and it looks like the Packard Foundation has been willing to support various strategies to promote sustainable palm oil in the past. The Packard Foundation funded grants in a range of sizes and for a variety of strategies in 2013, it will be interesting to see where the fight goes in the future.