GENEVA, June 20 (Xinhua) -- A study by Lausanne's EPFL university (Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne) and the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research warned Tuesday that intensively farming palm oil detrimentally impacts global rainforests and is also associated with a large carbon footprint.
The study focused on the environmental impact of palm oil cultivation in Indonesia.
Along with Malaysia, the region accounts for almost 85 percent of global palm oil production, which is frequently used in processed foods, cosmetics, and biofuels.
"While it is inexpensive, its environmental and social costs are high," wrote the scientists in a press release.
Every year, thousands of hectares of rainforest are destroyed to meet the ever-increasing global demand for the cheap product, said the report.
The scientists were led by EPFL postdoctoral researcher Thomas Guillaume who analyzed the carbon emissions of palm oil farming based on two years' worth of data on the soil and vegetation in central Sumatra.
The data was collected by Sweden's University of Göttingen and showed that turning rainforests into oil palm plantations produces staggering levels of CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions.
"The quantity of carbon released when just one hectare of forest is cleared to grow oil palms is roughly equivalent to the amount of carbon produced by 530 people flying from Geneva to New York," wrote Guillaume.
The monocrop plantations are also constantly cleared and treated with pesticides to facilitate farming, which leads to a significant loss of fertility and biodiversity in the soil.
In plantations, the amount of biomass which returns to the soil to feed living microorganism is up to 90 percent less than what is available in the rainforest.
All these factors "shed real doubt on the sustainability of this form of farming," the study found.
To diminish the negative impact of the monocultures now, the research suggests that deforestation should only be done if the felled wood could be used for other purposes, rather than burning it.
In the long-term, the study recommends that plantations should be set up only in grassland plains or in the savanna, to reduce deforestation.