Palm fruit oil is a very versatile ingredient, found in more than half of the products we consume on a daily basis. Palm fruit oil is sourced from fresh fruits, growing on oil palm trees that can be found in most regions along the equator. But, how do we go from a fresh fruit bunch to a consumer product? And how can we trace the oil back to is origins? This brings us to the concept of traceability. What is it and what does it mean in practice?
After harvesting, the fresh fruit bunches are delivered to an oil palm mill, where the fruit is processed into crude palm oil. An oil mill can receive fresh fruit bunches from several plantations, smallholders and/or collectors. Since fresh fruit bunches have to be processed within 48 hours after harvest, most of the mill’s supply base is located within a radius of about 50 kilometres. The oil from these at different locations grown fruits, is mixed in the mill. From there, the crude oil can be transported directly to a refinery in the country of origin or to a load port for shipment to a refinery overseas in for example Europe, India or China. On its way, the transporting vessel could even take in oil from other regions. Therefore, a refinery in Europe or China for example, can be supplied by numerous mills, from several countries. In this European refinery, crude palm oil is further processed into the desired palm oil products that are used in various applications such as food, feed, home and personal care products or biofuels.
Since refining is a continuous process, a constant input of crude palm oil is required. As we have seen, the crude palm oil was supplied from different origins. So, when we speak about traceability in the palm oil supply chain, it means we can identify all the palm oil mills that could have been supplying the oil in your product. Knowing that most of the mill’s supply base is located within a radius of 50 kilometres, traceability provides you with a list of potential mills of origin. Any verification of sustainable practices on the oil supplied by a certain mill, should happen in this area.
Therefore, traceability is a tool to help companies along the palm oil supply chain to identify the origin of the oil sourced. Knowing the potential mills and their locations make it possible to identify and monitor if sustainable practices are adopted at origination.