Where oil grows on trees

Malaysia's government is hoping the palm oil industry will help to propel its economy into the high-income bracket by 2020.

Travellers flying into Kuala Lumpur could be forgiven for thinking the country is nothing more than a giant palm plantation. All around the city, neat rows of palms stretch to the horizon and beyond, covering an area bigger than Denmark in total.

These vast plantations produce one of the world's biggest supplies of palm oil, which has rapidly become one of Malaysia's most important export earners. Since 2005, overseas sales have been growing at a rate of 13.8% a year and in 2009 the country's exporters earned $11.8 billion from a total domestic crop of 17.7 million tonnes.

The growing demand for biodiesel during the past 20 years has, in turn, led to surging...

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