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Malaysian Palm Oil: Meeting the World’s Needs for Nutritious, Sustainable and Versatile Oil

Walk into any supermarket and chances are for every ten packaged products on the shelves you will find one that is derived from an amazing crop – the oil palm.

The oil palm crop produces palm oil, an important commodity which performs many tasks in the consumer products and makes our lives better. The fact is palm oil along with its derivatives, has been widely used in various food and non-food applications including;  as a renewable fuel. Yet, only a few know how this commodity became globally popular and synonymous with Malaysia.

Below is a brief story about Malaysian Palm Oil and its attributes to the world. As you scroll down, you will also learn about the intrinsic qualities of this commodity that make it highly versatile and valuable.  At the end of the story, you may enroll in an online contest and stand a chance to win IT products.

This contest starts from 1 August  31 October 2018.


The oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) is a single stemmed palm tree of the palmae family. It is commonly planted  up to 10º  North and 10º  South of the Equator where the climate provides optimal conditions favourable  for its growth.


Some Characteristics of the oil palm :

    • Perennial. The oil palm has a long lifespan and is usually replanted after 20 – 25 years when it is no longer economically viable.
    • It is a tree. The oil palm is capable of growing up to 20 meters in height and provide green canopy underneath its huge fronds.
    • Monoecious. A single oil palm tree produces both male and female flowers, which makes pollination easier.
    • Fruiting all year long. Once mature, the oil palm will bear fruits in bunches and continue producing all year long until it is replanted.
    • Highly productive. A mature oil palm tree is harvested once in 2 – 3 weeks and is capable of producing 10 – 15 FFBs per year; each averaging 10 – 20 kg.
    • Efficient. Unlike other oil crops, the oil palm produces two types of vegetable oil from a single fruit; palm oil from the mesocarp (flesh) and palm kernel oil from the seed (kernel).



Palm Oil In Ancient History

In the late 1800s, archaeologists unearthed a jar containing traces of palm oil from a tomb in Abydos, Egypt. This indicates that palm oil was used by the Egyptians and their Pharaohs, whose era dates back 5,000 years ago.

As the oil palm was never planted in Egypt, there must be something special about this oil that the ancient Egyptians had realized and traded for it at that time.

Ca’da Mosto, a famous Portuguese explorer, who stumbled upon palm oil in the coast of West Africa in the 15th century, was also intrigued by it. His reaction best defines the intrinsic qualities and goodness of palm oil, which hundreds of years later began to unfold in Malaysia, a small country far away in Southeast Asia.

“It had the scent of violets, the taste of olive oil, and a color which tinges food like saffron but is more attractive.” ~ Ca’da Mosto, 15th-century Portuguese explorer


Today, the oil palm is synonymous with Malaysia. With a small population of about 32 million people, Malaysia is one of the biggest growers of the oil palm and the world’s leading producer of sustainable palm oil. The country is also one of the elite few, which are self-sufficient in oils & fats. This enables Malaysia to export excess of its production to fulfil global demand and generate income for its coffers and people at the same time.

Key Facts  about Malaysia’s oil palm:

    • 8 to 10 times more productive than other major oil seed crops.
    • Capable of producing up to 18.5 tonnes of vegetable oil per hectare annually; making it the ideal crop candidate to address global food security.
    • A huge “carbon sink” that continuously cleans up carbon dioxide (CO₂); from the atmosphere; thus helps mitigate global warming.
    • Highly versatile in uses including its waste, which can be converted to clean energy.
    • Sustainably and responsibly managed; posing minimal risks to the environment, biodiversity and wildlife.
    • Provides affordable, quality and nutritious food to more than three billion people worldwide.

The Beginning

It all began in 1917 when the foundation for the palm oil industry in Malaysia was created.


The oil palm is indigenous to West Africa. In the 1870s, it was introduced to Malaya (now Malaysia) as an ornamental plant. At that time, little was known about the value of this crop.

It was until 1917 that this crop was firstly planted for commercial purposes. Henri Fauconnier, a French entrepreneur, travelled to Malaya in 1905 to make a fortune by planting coffee and rubber. A few years later, he began planting the oil palm (Deli Dura species) to complement his business.

Convinced that his new venture was viable, Fauconnier replaced his coffee with the oil palm at Tennamaram Estate in Selangor in 1917; becoming the first person to commercialize the crop in the country and effectively laying the foundation for the development of the palm oil industry in Malaysia.


Malaysia’s large scale planting of the oil palm has been recognized as a successful model for poverty eradication program in developing countries.


After Independence in 1957, the Malaya Government tasked the Federal Land Development Authority (FELDA) to tackle rural poverty by providing “land for the landless, jobs for the jobless”. With this policy, the poor were recruited as settlers in FELDA’s rural land development schemes by planting mainly rubber. However, progress was slow.

The breakthrough came when the oil palm was introduced at FELDA Taib Andak scheme in 1961. Thanks to its higher productivity and shorter maturity period, the oil palm quickly replaced rubber and became FELDA’s main crop by 1967. When the recruitment stopped in 1990, a total of 112,635 rural poor, of whom 80% were dependent on the oil palm, had found permanent employment in the FELDA schemes across the country.

Today, there are about 650,000 small farmers in Malaysia including those under FELDA and other agencies of the federal & state governments who rely on the oil palm for a living. They account for 40% of oil palm’s planted area in the country and have played a critical role in the development of rural areas and communities.

650,000 small farmers in Malaysia rely on the oil palm for a living.


The sustainable income from the oil palm business has enabled these smallholders to improve their standard of living. The truth is the oil palm has provided an opportunity for them to escape the poverty trap, which poses a major challenge in many developing countries around the world.



Excellence in R&D transforms Malaysia as a global center on oil palm research

Research has been an integral part of Malaysia’s oil palm industry from the beginning.  In the 1920s, priorities were given to palm breeding and this was expanded to genetics and crop physiology following the establishment of the Oil Palm Genetics Laboratory consortium in 1962.
The research work was further intensified when the government established the Malaysian Agricultural Research & Development Institute, Universiti Putra Malaysia, the Palm Oil Registration & Licensing Authority (PORLA), and the Palm Oil Palm Oil Research Institute of Malaysia (PORIM). At the same time, the private plantations continued to develop their research facilities.

 Efforts in these fields have led to the introduction of Tenera, a cross of Dura and Pisifera species, as a preferred planting material in oil palm plantations today.  Tenera palm is chosen because it is capable of providing up to 30% more vegetable oil compared to Dura palm.


 Another remarkable achievement is development of palm oil’s downstream products for use in the food industry. As palm oil is naturally semi-solid, it can be physically fractionated into liquid portion and solid portion of different solid fat contents and melting points. The liquid portion (olein) can be further fractionated to give more downstream products.

Hence, fractionation gives palm oil versatility for use in almost any food applications; from cooking oil to frying fats, shortening, margarine, specialty fats, confectionery fats and others.  Also, foods made from mainly palm oil enjoy extended shelf life while maintaining their natural tastes. These are hardly found in foods prepared with other vegetable oils.

Thanks to its versatility and competitive prices, palm oil now is a preferred vegetable oil among food manufacturers around the world.


In recognition of its achievements, Malaysia today is known as the global center on oil palm research.


Intensive research on palm oil nutrition proves palm oil is nutritious and healthy

In the 1980s, the palm oil industry came under attack when a campaign was initiated; linking tropical oils to increased risk of heart diseases. This forced food manufacturers to reformulate their products by replacing tropical oils including palm oil with hydrogenated vegetable oils.

The Malaysian government and PORIM intensified research to investigate the association between palm oil and heart diseases. Their studies have concluded that palm oil, despite its relatively higher degree of saturation as compared to that of polyunsaturated oils, is nutritious and exhibits several health attributes

This was supported by newer studies carried out independently such as a meta-analysis by Tarino et al, which concluded that there is no significant evidence to link intake of dietary saturated fats with an increased risk of coronary heart disease  or cardiovascular disease.

Like other oils of plant origins, palm oil is cholesterol-free. It is readily digested, absorbed and utilized as a source of energy. It contains equal amounts of saturated and unsaturated fats and is the only vegetable oil that has a balanced fatty acid composition.

Palm oil is also one of nature’s richest sources of anti-oxidant Pro-Vitamin A carotenoids and Vitamin E. Ongoing research has shown that Vitamin E tocotrienols, which is particularly abundant in palm oil, is more potent than its sibling, Vitamin E tocopherols, as an anti-oxidant. Tocotrienols have been shown by research to exhibit, among others, the following properties:

    • Stroke prevention and protection
    • Cholesterol-lowering effect
    • Anti-carcinogenic
    • Management of fatty liver, and
    • Anti-ageing

Palm oil is one of Nature’s richest sources of Vitamin E tocotrienols


Moreover, palm oil does not require partial hydrogenation for use in most food applications and thus; is trans fat-free. This is because partial hydrogenation of vegetable oil not only ’hardens’ the oil but also produces trans fat. New research has shown that trans fat is more harmful to health than saturated fats.

Presently, palm oil is touted as a suitable replacement for hydrogenated vegetable oils; while being recognized by the WHO/FAO as wholesome, nutritious and suitable for human consumption



Malaysia is one of the biggest producers and exporters of palm–based oleochemicals


Other than food, palm oil and its sibling palm kernel oil are also important raw materials for non-food applications particularly the production of oleochemicals. Oleochemicals are renewable and environment-friendly chemicals derived from oils of plant, animal or marine origins and are direct substitutes to petrochemicals. They are used extensively in a wide range of household and industrial products such as personal care, cosmetics, soaps, detergents, surfactants, inks & coatings, etc.


Benefitting from an uninterrupted supply of palm oil and palm kernel oil, Malaysia started to develop its oleochemical industry in the 1980s by producing basic oleochemicals such as fatty acids, fatty alcohols, methyl esters and glycerin. With improvements in new technologies and increased global demand over the years, it started to produce oleo-derivatives and consumer or industrial end-products.

Today, Malaysia is a world leader in the oleochemical industry. With 19 active oleochemical plants capable of producing up to 2.77 mil tonnes of oleochemicals annually, Malaysia accounts for at least 20% of global production.

Leader in Sustainability

The Malaysian palm oil industry is the world’s leader in palm oil sustainability


Palm oil is the world’s leading vegetable oil and each year millions of tonnes of this commodity are traded to satisfy the world’s demands. Naturally, this leads to a steady expansion of oil palm areas and concerns on its sustainability practices and impact on the environment.

In 2004, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was set up to promote the production and use of sustainable palm oil through credible global standards and engagement with multiple stakeholders. After years of consultation, the RSPO’s Principles & Criteria for sustainable production of palm oil were implemented in November 2007 with issuance of its certification took place months later.

Malaysia became the first country in the world to produce and export certified sustainable palm oil when one of its palm oil entities received the inaugural RSPO certification in August 2008. Following this milestone, more Malaysian oil palm companies have started to receive the RSPO certification and the total certified areas have increased to about 1.04 mil ha or 18% of total planted area.

Today, Malaysia is the world’s leading producer of sustainable palm oil; accounting for 32% of global production of RSPO-certified palm oil.

Malaysia is also committed to keeping its 1992 Rio Earth Summit pledge to maintain at least 50% of its total land area under permanent forest cover at all times. This promise is still intact.




Malaysia takes sustainability and transparency to a next level with the release of the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) standards and certification scheme.


The Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) standard was initiated in 2013 to bring the industry to a higher level of sustainability and transparency. While the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) scheme is important, its standard was challenging for most small farmers. The MSPO addresses this challenge by providing opportunity for all groups of producers to meet a broad range of standards that provide an assurance of sustainability and traceability.

Following a pilot program in 2014, about 283 estates belonging to big plantation companies, 56 clusters belonging to small farmers and 78 oil palm mills  in Malaysia have received the MSPO certification by March 2018; covering a total planted area of about  0.8 mil hectares and  4,320 tonnes per hour milling capacity. This certified area is expected to increase to about 1.8 mil ha or 31% of the country’s total planted area by end of 2018.

Take a look at the MSPO Standards :  

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From August 1ˢᵗ 2018  – October 31ˢᵗ 2018, join our online contest & stand a chance to win fantastic Apple Iphones and Ipads !

This contest is currently open to anyone residing in The Philippines.

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Contact Us

Malaysian Palm Oil Council

2nd. Floor, Wisma Sawit
Lot 6, SS6, Jalan Perbandaran
47301 Kelana Jaya
Selangor Darul Ehsan

Tel : (+60)3 – 7806 4097
Fax : (+60)3 – 7806 2272
E-Mail : info@mpo100years.org

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