India’s palm oil quandary

The world’s largest buyer of palm oil is enabling rampant environmental destruction in Southeast Asia. Local cultivation could be a solution… except that it isn’t.

It was sometime in 1848, when the British East India Company was marauding the Sikh Empire, that a Dutch ship sailed from West Africa to the East Indies, the country we now know as Indonesia. On its deck were the seeds of an oil crop that would have the world in the palm of its hand. The crop took to Southeast Asia even better than it did in its native Africa and bore vermilion fruit so rich in oil, they called it red gold. 

This red gold or palm oil has many aliases: it’s the sodium lauryl sulfate in toothpaste, …


Roshni P. Nair

Roshni is a features writer and former editor of The Morning Context's Chaos team. Her career spans The Ken, Reuters, the Hindustan Times and DNA. She is a recipient of the UNFPA Laadli award and was shortlisted for the RedInk Awards 2016 for her story on Mumbai’s leprosy colonies. Her far-flung ideas would sometimes drive our editor-in-chief Ashish up the wall, but he wouldn’t have had it any other way (even if he didn’t admit it).