Sustainable development research paper 

How has Palm Oil Production in West Africa Impacted Climate Change?

Gases and Emissions

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Palm oil is generally high carbon sequestration which means that not only does it reduce the overall CO2 emission, it is potential as a fuel substitute means that it can contribute to SDG 7 on affordable and clean energy (Nerini et al. 2019: 678). Indeed, Ricardo Carrere (Carrera 2013: 7) notes that some West African states have been approached with the encouragement to initiate the establishment of large-scale palm oil plantations in line with the World Bank, USAID, and the USDA since 2008 (Nerini et al. 2013: 56). In Ghana, the national government’s EPA, in conjunction with the Ghana Palm Oil Production Company, are in talks over how carbon credits can be generated from the biodiversity plots cultivated (Stenek & Connell 2011: 12-13). In effect, the case with West Africa is that most palm oil cultivation is not as environmentally destructive on peatlands or cleared forests as observed in Malaysia and Indonesia (Meijard et al. 2020: 1422-1423).

While palm oil production and cultivation generally lead to higher GHG (green-house gases), VOG (volatile organic gases), and aerosol particles from land clearing that impact on the troposphere (Paterson & Lima 2017: 2-3; Potter 2015: 8), these effects are only observed mainly during the early cultivation period as land is overturned for palm oil production. The effect is more noticeable with West Africa due to less environmentally demanding and destructive industrial processing methods as well as a higher preference among small-scale farmers to limit sourcing to traditional methods such as seeking palm oil fruit from wild plants. That said, data on carbon stock from countries such as Cameroon and the Congo Basin are not reliable (Ordwayet al. 2019: 2) as these two regions comprise a significant portion of plantation land managed by industrial agents (Carrera: 7).


At the same time, sustainable development goals require understanding that local industries and governments need to place income generation above climate concerns (Sachs 2015: 45-46). Most of Africa relies on agro-based industries that come with their contributions to upsetting climate balance, with many West African countries numbering among the least developed states in the world (Sachs 2015: 48). What makes matters worse is that most of the poorest people in West Africa are densely packed along with the rainforests and wetlands of the region (Sachs 2015: 53). The lack of advanced resources makes reliance on palm oil for income generation exceptionally high, hence contributing to SDG threats.

In general, deforestation effects are responsible for a large portion of the reduction in carbon stocks and the increase in particle contaminants in the atmosphere. Deforestation effects from palm oil production in West Africa are relatively low at 3% regionally, but some countries, such as Cameroon, possess most palm oil plantations under industrial management (Mesmin et al., 2021). The point is of interest for SDGs when it comes to West Africa primarily because of the patterns in cultivation observed. In Nigeria, 2.8 million hectares have 2.5 million (Carrere: 9) produced by non-industrial methods such as sourcing from wild plants and using manual methods rather than industrial processing techniques (Carrera: 7).

Meijaard et al. note on the trend in small-scale palm oil farmers in South East Asia tending to convert vulnerable forest lands into palm plantations (Meijaard et al. 2020: 1419-1420). The significance of the figure is further impacted when considering the added complication that is afforestation resulting from palm oil tree planting. Palm oil plantations have seen a general increase in land area in the years between 1989 and 2013 (Vijay et al. 2016: 8). Observations on trends in West Africa in Nigeria, Cameroon, Ghana, and Ivory Coast are that while initial plantation ventures resulted in deforestation, afforestation leading to palm oil cultivation in Cameroon, Ghana, and Ivory Coast generally reversed the effect (Vijay et al. 2016.: 8). Furthermore, Paterson and Lima suggest that climate change impact is reduced because cleared forests in West Africa are almost immediately re-cultivated with palm oil (Paterson & Lima 2018: 454). In this regard, significant research is necessary in order to gain a clearer understanding (Meijaard et al.:, 1420).

SDG 13 goals in West Africa adopt methods aimed at making production in West African more environmentally friendly through measures aimed at reducing environmental impact. Unlike in Indonesia and Malaysia, the more significant percentage of palm oil production in Africa accrues from small-scale farming practices (Carrere: 7), with Cameroon the main outlier where the vast majority of palm oil production comes from industrial plantations (Carrere: 7). The result of this is that the impact on forestation is not as extreme as observed in South East Asia. Paterson and Lima’s observation on SDG initiatives in Indonesia point out that limiting palm oil cultivation to regions with lower carbon stocks can contribute to reducing GHG and VOG emissions due to deforestation (2017: 4), a strategy that may be employed in West Africa and especially Cameroon.

Mono-cultralization and Climate Change

Focus on the subject is that the introduction of alien or parasitic plant species non-indigenous to a particular region upsets the ecological balance hence contributing to climate change. Palm oil is a wild plant indigenous to West Africa (Meijard et al.: 1418-1420). This means it grows in its natural habitat; thus, while mono-culturalization may be a danger in terms of reducing biodiversity due to intensified palm oil cultivation, the overall impact on climate change should be minimal to non-existent. Palm oil requires warm and wet climates with high humidity and high radiation from the Sun (Meijard et al.: 1418-1420). This also means that the impact on groundwater is minimal since the ecological impact from cultivating palm oil is non-existent due to its native nature (Meijard et al.:, 1419). In addition, because the species is indigenous to West Africa, Meijaard et al. proceed to imply that forest destruction from pests, diseases, or reduced pollination may not be a contributive factor to eliminating carbon stocks (Meijaard et al.: 1421-1422). Stenek and Connell claim that there are no observable effects accruing from pests or disease impacting on palm oil initiatives in Ghana (2).


Carerre, Ricardo (2013) ‘Oil Palm in Africa: past, present and future scenarios’ World Rainforest Movement. 15(1).

Meijaard, Erik, Thomas Brooks and Kimberly Carlson (2020) ‘The environmental impacts of palm oil in context’ Nat. Plants 6(1), 1418–1426.

Mesmin, Tchindjang, Ludovic Miaro, Fideline Mboringong, Gilles Etoga, Eric Voundi and Emmanuel Ngom (2021) ‘Environmental Impacts of the Oil Palm Cultivation in Cameroon [Online First]’ IntechOpen.

Nerini, Francesco, Benjamin Sovacool and Nick Hughes (2019) ‘Connecting climate action with other Sustainable Development Goals’ Nat Sustain 2(1)674–680.

Ordway, Elsa, Rosamond Naylor and Raymond Nkongho (2019) ‘Oil palm expansion and deforestation in Southwest Cameroon associated with proliferation of informal mills’ Nat Commun 10,114.

Paterson, Russell and Nelson Lima (2017) ‘Climate change affecting oil palm agronomy, and oil palm cultivation increasing climate change, require amelioration’ Ecology and evolution, 8(1), 452–461.

Potter, Lesley (2015) ‘Managing oil palm landscapes: A seven-country survey of the modern palm oil industry in Southeast Asia, Latin America and West Africa’ Center for International Forestry Research.

Sachs, Jeffrey (2015) The Age of Sustainable Develpoment Columbia University Press.

Stenek, Vladimir and Richenda Connell (2011) ‘CLIMATE RISK AND BUSINESS AGRIBUSINESS Ghana Oil Palm Development Company Executive Summary’ International Finance Corporation.

Vijay, Varsha, Stuart Pimm, Clinton Jenkins, and Sharon Smith (2016) ‘The Impacts of Oil Palm on Recent Deforestation and Biodiversity Loss’ PLoS One. 11(7).

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