India is one of the largest consumers of palm oil, responsible for using 20% of global supplies, primarily for cooking and food production. Much of the country’s growing demand is met by Malaysia and Indonesia, where mass cultivation of the crop has been linked to deforestation, contributing to India’s so-called ‘imported deforestation’ footprint. In August 2021, the Union Cabinet approved INR 1,100,400 million (€1.2 billion) to be spent through the National Mission on Edible Oils-Oil Palm (NMEO-OP) over the next five years to boost domestic production, raising major concerns about the risks to biodiversity in India.
As defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), imported deforestation occurs with “the importation of goods whose production has contributed, directly or indirectly, to the deforestation or conversion of natural forest ecosystems”. This article gives an overview of the complex nature of the linkages between palm oil production, sustainability, as well as implicated livelihoods and food security in India. The low price of palm oil makes it a more viable and attractive option for a country where 22% of the population lived below the poverty line pre-pandemic, and 75 million more people are with incomes of $2 or less a day, due to the pandemic-related economic downturn, while the Indian middle class is also estimated to have shrunk by 32 million in 2020.