The Price of Palm Oil

Varsha Vijay
Duke University
Open Minds Teen Science Cafe, Raleigh, North Carolina

Description

About Palm Oil

Palm oil is an industrial vegetable oil used in many of the processed foods and cosmetics we have in our homes. This Café introduced the question: What are the effects of this industry on the world’s tropical ecosystems? Varsha Vijay, a Ph.D. student from Duke University  and Stuart Primm’s conservation biology lab discussed the impacts of harvesting palm oil – including deforestation, habitat degradation and biodiversity loss – and the efforts being made to produce a more sustainable product.Participants were given a handout with images of several household products like peanut butter, shampoo, cosmetics and other food items and were asked to guess which contained palm oil. They all did!

 

We have included the video of the entire Palm Oil café.

 

About Varsha Vijay

Varsha Vijay began her Ph.D. studies with Dr. Pimm in January 2013. Her current work focuses on examining the patterns of deforestation in the Peruvian Amazon, with a special focus on extractive industries. In the past, she has worked in Madagascar and the Ecuadorian Amazon. In 2010, she received a Brower Youth Award for her work in Ecuador. Varsha is profiled in the book The Environment and You by Norm Christensen and she is currently funded by an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship.

 

Hands on Activity

Activity One: Participants were given a handout with images of several household products like peanut butter, shampoo, cosmetics and other food items and were asked to guess which contained palm oil. They all did! Activity Two: Using Google Earth images of tropical forests before and after the planting of oil palms, participants were asked to calculate the rate of deforestation due to palm oil cultivation.