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Oil palm cultivation can be expanded while sparing biodiversity in India

Abstract

India is the world’s largest consumer and importer of palm oil. In an aggressive push towards self-sufficiency in vegetable oils, the Indian government is prioritizing the rapid expansion of domestic oil palm plantations to meet an expected doubling in palm oil consumption in the next 15 years. Yet the current expansion of oil palm in India is occurring at the expense of biodiversity-rich landscapes. Using a spatially explicit model, we show that at the national scale India appears to have viable options to satisfy its projected national demand for palm oil without compromising either its biodiversity or its food security. At finer spatial scales, India’s oil palm expansion needs to incorporate region-specific contingencies and account for trade-offs between biodiversity conservation, climate change, agricultural inputs and economic and social security. The policy decisions that India takes with respect to oil palm can substantially reduce future pressures to convert forests to oil palm plantations in the tropics globally.

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Fig. 1: Suitability of land for oil palm cultivation in India.
Fig. 2: Land use, land cover and HCV areas in India.
Fig. 3: Overlaps between HCV areas and potential oil palm growing areas.

Data availability

Source data on spatially explicit oil palm yields under various scenarios are freely available at https://gaez.fao.org/pages/data-viewer. Source data on land use and land cover are freely downloadable at https://land.copernicus.eu/global/products/lc. Vector and raster data files used in the analyses in this manuscript are available at https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.fj6q573v3.

Code availability

The R script used in the analyses in this manuscript is available at https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.fj6q573v3.

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Acknowledgements

We thank M.O. Anand and R. Senior for their help with the GIS analyses. A.T. Vanak commented on savannah/grassland areas and grassland biodiversity in India. This work was supported by a grant from the High Meadows Foundation. K.F.D. was supported by The Nature Conservancy’s NatureNet Science Fellows programme. J.S.H.L. acknowledges funding from the Singaporean Ministry of Education Academic Research Fund Tier 1 RG145/19.

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U.S., N.V. and D.S.W. co-conceived the paper. U.S., N.V., J.S.H.L., D.D.C. and K.F.D. extracted the data from online sources and performed the analysis. U.S. wrote the first draft of the manuscript and all authors contributed substantially to revisions.

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Correspondence to Umesh Srinivasan.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature Food thanks Clinton Jenkins, Edward Mitchard, Stuart Pimm and Giovanni Strona for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary methods, Tables 1–3 and Figs. 1–3.

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Srinivasan, U., Velho, N., Lee, J.S.H. et al. Oil palm cultivation can be expanded while sparing biodiversity in India. Nat Food 2, 442–447 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-021-00305-w

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