Palm Oil

Palm oil is the most used vegetable oil in the world.

Palm oil comes from the fruit of the oil palm
The palm fruits grow in bunches at the top of the tree; they form a ring around the trunk of the palm, at the base of the leaves.
Palm oil is extracted from the pulp of the fruit by simple hot pressing, without solvents or chemical additives.

Where does the oil palm grow?
It grows best in West and Central Africa, Southeast Asia and South America.

Oil palm cultivation
The palm tree germinates in a nursery and grows there for 12 months. The young oil palm is then transplanted into the field or ‘palm plantation’. The first fruits are usually harvested three years after transplantation; harvesting then continues for nearly 35 years. By this time, the palm has reached a height of nearly 15 metres, and must be cut down, as it is too tall for harvesting.
The bunches vary in weight from a few kilos for a young palm to around fifteen kilos for an adult palm tree.


  • Every 8 to 10 days, throughout the year
  • Manually, using a sickle attached to the end of a pole
  • The bunches are transported to the factory by truck or tractor

A palm oil extraction plant or oil mill

  • Fruit bunches are first sterilized with steam to loosen the fruits from the empty fruit bunch (efb) and to block the acidification of the oil;
  • The fruits are then separated from the efb in a thresher drum;
  • Before the fruits are pressed, they are technically and mechanically prepared in a digester;
  • With the press, the crude oil is extracted from the fruits. The left over fibres and nuts are called cake;
  • During the clarification process, the real palm oil is separated from the other fruit juices;
  • Most of palm oil mills are also equipped with nut cracking;
  • Palm oil mills are energy self-sufficient, being equipped with units producing their own renewable energy.

The residual fibres and shells from the production process are used as fuel for biomass boilers. The steam produced by the boilers enters a turbine that generates electricity for the factory and some surrounding villages. The rest of the steam is redistributed and provides the heat necessary for the entire process.
Oil palm cultivation is relatively low on mechanisation and labour-intensive; this makes it a significant source of direct employment.
Organic residues resulting from the processing of the bunches are returned to the field and used as organic fertiliser.

Palm oil: an autonomous and sustainable production process

  Palm Rapeseeds Soya
Economic life 25 to 35 years 1 year 1 year
Area under cultivation (274.4 million ha) 6.6 % 12 % 43.5 %
Global production (177.4 million T - 2015) 62 million T 26 million T 49 million T
% of global vegetable oil production 35 % 14 % 27.6 %
Oil production per hectare per year 3.8 T 0.8 T 0.5 T
Fertilizer consumption compared with soya 14 % 31 % 100 %

A sustainable agriculture label exists: CSPO, established by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil: 2.87 million hectares are certified, representing 12 million tons or 20 % of global production. (31/05/16)


Presence of oil palm plantations

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