The area of the world’s four largest vegetable oil producing plants (palm oil, soybean, sunflower and rapeseed) reached about 200.5 million hectares in 2016. Of this area, 61 percent (121 million hectares) comprises soybean plantations. While the area of oil palm plantations is only 10 percent (Figure 1).
But in terms of oil production, with 121 million hectares, soybean plantations produce only 53 million tons of oil or only 33 percent of the world’s top four vegetable oil production. On the contrary, oil palm plantations with an area of 20 million hectares, can produce 65 million tons of oil or 40 percent of the world’s top four vegetable oils. This is due to the high productivity of palm oil plantation, which is far higher than the productivity of other vegetable oil producing plants (Table 1).
The productivity of palm oil per hectare of land is much higher (eight-10 times) than the productivity of other vegetable oils. Thus, with less land, oil palm plantations can produce more vegetable oil. The vegetable oil productivity data also reveal that oil palm plantations are the most efficient crops in converting solar energy into vegetable oils. Because of this difference in oil productivity per hectare, there has been a major change in the share of palm oil and soybean oil production in the world vegetable oil market (Figure 2).
The share of palm oil increased from 22 percent (1965) to 40 percent (2016), while the share of soybean oil fell from 59 percent to 33 percent in the same period. Thus, it is quite clear that the large share of palm oil in the world’s vegetable oil production is not due to the large size of oil palm plantations but due to higher palm oil productivity than other vegetable oil-producing plants.