62 MT
Global production
432 000 T
Socfin’s production
25 000 T
Produced by Socfin’s smallholders
128 000 ha
Surface planted by Socfin

Palm oil

Palm oil is the most used vegetable oil worldwide. It is produced from the pulp of the oil palm fruits. The oil palm is the most profitable crop in terms of land use and the most sustainable, particularly thanks to its circular production method. 

Having an oil yield that is 6 to 8 times higher than other vegetable oils, oil palm cultivation reduces the need for agricultural land and preserves ecosystems. 

The oil palm

The oil palm is a tropical tree with leaves of almost 5 meter long and the main supplier of vegetable fat. Its fruits, very rich in oil, grow in bunches, also called "fresh fruit bunches", at the crown of the tree. The palm oil is extracted from the pulp of the fruits by simple hot pressing, without solvents or chemical additives. 

Where does the oil palm grow?

The oil palm is mostly cultivated in West and Central Africa, Southeast Asia and South America. These humid tropical regions offer optimal development conditions. 

Oil palm cultivation

The oil palm seeds are planted in a nursery. The young oil palms grow there for a period of about 1 year before they are transplanted into the field. After 3 years of growth, fruit harvesting starts and continues for almost 30 years. By this time, the palm has reached a height of about 15 meters, too tall to be harvested manually. Fruit harvesting is done throughout the year. Every 8 to 10 days, the fruit bunches, whose weight can reach about 15 kilos, are manually harvested using a sickle attached to the end of a pole. Oil palm harvesting is very labor intensive as it involves little mechanization, and thus represents a huge source of direct employment for the local population. The harvest is then transported to the mill. 

Palm oil extraction

When the bunches arrive at the mill, they are sterilized under steam, facilitating the detachment of the fruits and preventing the oil to acidify. The bunches are then placed in rotating drums to separate the fruits from the bunches. Before pressing, a mechanical and thermal mixing process prepares the fruits. During pressing, the crude oil is extracted, the fibers and shells are put aside and will be used to produce energy or as organic fertilizers. The last step, the clarification, separates the crude oil from the rest of the juice by decanting in order to obtain a pure crude palm oil.

A circular production method

Palm oil production is a circular production method where each step of the cycle is optimized. Hence, the residual fibers and shells from the production process fuel the biomass boilers. The steam produced by these 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 needed for the entire process. Palm oil mills are thus energy self-sufficient as they produce renewable energy. 

The organic residues from the processing of the bunches are returned to the field and used as organic fertilizers. In addition, all water used is treated in lagoons and does not contain any additives. 

Palm oil: an autonomous and sustainable production process.

 

Oil palm

Rapeseeds

Soya

Life cycle

25 to 35 years

1 year

1 year

Area under cultivation (274.4 million ha - 2015)

6.6%

12%

43.5%

Global production (179.6 million T - 2015)

62 million T

26 million T

49 million T

% of global vegetable oil production

38.7%

14%

27.6%

Yearly yield per hectare

3.8 T

0.8 T

0.5 T

Fertilizer input compared to soya (for 1 ton of produced oil)

14%

31%

100%

Source: European alliance for sustainable palm oil

A sustainable agriculture label exists: CSPO, established by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil: 2.87 million hectares are certified, representing 12.9 million tons or 17% of global production. (2016)