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Synopsis: Instead of implementing Oil Palm mission, the government can look to set up sanctuary for endangered animal species.
One of the problematic items in economic and environmental terms in the Indian food basket is edible oil. India imports 60 per cent of its cooking oils, and more than half those imports are of palm oil, sourced from Malaysia and Indonesia.
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The import bill for edible oil comes to around Rs 80,000 crore. In the interest of atmanirbharata and cutting down forex outflows, the government has set up a Rs 11,000-crore mission to incentivize palm oil production.
What are some advantages & applications of oil palm?
It is an evergreen plant with a very high-yield.
The oil doesn’t spoil at room temperature. It doesn’t have a strong smell, and it’s colourless. Hence, it’s versatile and used in pizzas, chocolate and doughnuts apart from being a staple of many Asian cuisines.
It’s also used as a base in deodorant, shampoo, toothpaste and lipstick and as a biofuel. Replacing it with alternatives would take much more land.
What is a possible alternative instead of implementing the oil palm mission?
Set up orangutan, pygmy elephant and Java rhino sanctuaries in the target areas instead. Those habitats are suitable. The Andamans are practically part of Indonesia in geographical terms, with similar climates and forestation. So are those parts of the Northeast where palm oil can be cultivated.
Importing the animals, and generating suitable vegetation for their consumption, may take a little time. But there would be positive payoffs.
One is high-end tourism. Orangutan safaris could generate forex. Global investor community will see India in a positive light for implementing such a scheme.
It may sound crazy and ambitious but an orangutan mission may be a better option than a palm oil mission.
Source: This post is based on the article “Trading Orangutans for palm oil” published in Business Standard on 10th Sep 2021.