Cargill to Launch Drones in War on Illegal Palm Oil

By Dave Fusaro, Editor in Chief

Apr 20, 2015

Drones, very much in the news lately, are being employed in a new cold war – the war on deforestation and non-sustainable palm oil.

Cargill Inc., in an April update to its palm oil sustainability report, notes it is prepared to launch drone aircraft in Malaysia, the world's second-biggest grower of oil palms. "Our project with unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) is moving into the operational phase. A Cargill team is set to start flight training in Malaysia. They will soon graduate as certified UAV pilots.

"With the UAVs, we are pushing the envelope in sustainability," the report continues. "They will help us map and monitor valuable pieces of forest land that need to be protected, and improve land and water use, so that we can grow more on the same amount of land and manage our environmental footprint better."

Want to hear more about this? If Cargill speakers don't bring it up, we promise to, at NEXT WEEK'S Food Leaders Summit. Cargill will be among the speakers in a panel discussion on sustainable sourcing. More information and to register for the conference, April 27-29 in downtown Chicago, is available at

Palm oil is a widely used and very practical form of food oil and shortening. But its plantations are under fire for their effects on the environment and the indigenous people and animals. Plantations were taking over tropical forest land, often illegally, and displacing local populations at alarming rates. Wikipedia cites a 2007 report from the United Nations Environment Programme that estimated 98 percent of Indonesian forest would be destroyed by 2022 due to legal and illegal logging, forest fires and the development of palm oil plantations.

Back to the drones story: Probably the more important point, at least from Cargill's perspective, is that the company is on track to make its goal of a 100 percent sustainable palm oil supply chain by 2020.

"A growing volume of palm oil and palm kernel oil is traceable back to the mill level," the Cargill report continues. "On the ground, our outreach to suppliers is expanding. We are using road shows and visits to mills and plantations to work with our partners on sustainable practices and help them make improvements.

"In late 2014, we acquired a new plantation, Poliplant Group, in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. PPG will help us satisfy the growing demand for traceable, sustainable palm oil. With the help of the environmental consultancy firm Daemeter, work is under way to bring the new plantation in line with Cargill’s high sustainability standards. The goal is to achieve certification by the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil as soon as possible," the Cargill report concludes.

Since 2004, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has been working to put the palm oil industry on a sustainable path. RSPO includes oil palm producers, processors or traders, consumer goods manufacturers, retailers, banks/investors, and environmental and social non-governmental organizations.

Together, they've developed a set of environmental and social criteria that companies must comply with in order to produce Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO). "When they are properly applied, these criteria can help to minimize the negative impact of palm oil cultivation on the environment and communities in palm oil-producing regions," the group says.

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  • <p>Interesting and enlightening article. Several items in the article caught my attention: it appears Cargill will be having their UAV pilots trained in Malaysia? Who will eb conducting the training and where? Which company is supplying the UAVs or did Cargill purchase them? If so, what type are they? Since the effort is to review agriculture, map and monitor forest land, and understand and improve land and water use are analysts educated in these areas also being employed? If so, have then been trained on analyzing full motion video (or are the UAVs to be used only taking still imagery)? Finally, how is the video going to be stored, how long will it be stored, and how will it be archived/referenced for retrieval?</p> <p>All of these must be considered as well as the supporting equipment requirements and concepts of operations; simply putting a UAV in the air is jus the tip of the iceberg so to speak. I'm very familiar with all these attributes and the second and third order effects of both considering and not considering these aspects.</p> <p>Lastly, has the cultural and potential responses against UAV use been considered (related to what happens if someone takes the UAV down, who recovers it, will security be required to support the retrievers, etc)?</p>


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