Tigers, markets and palm oil: market potential for conservation

Ian J. Batemana1, Brendan Fishera1 c1, Emily Fitzherberta1, David Glewa1 and Robin Naidooa2

a1 Centre for Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment, University of East Anglia, Norwich, NR4 7TJ, UK

a2 Conservation Science Program, World Wildlife Fund, Washington, DC, USA


Increasing demand for cooking oil and biofuels has made palm oil, > 80% of which is grown in South-east Asia, the dominant globally traded vegetable oil. However, this region is host to some of the world’s most biodiverse and threatened tropical forests. Strategic engagement with commercial operations is increasingly recognized to be an essential part of the solution for raising funds for conservation initiatives, raising consumer consciousness and potentially stemming environmental degradation. Linking market incentives towards conservation is also of critical importance because it is becoming widely recognized that conservation needs to begin to address the wider countryside (outside protected areas) where human–wildlife interactions are frequent and impacts are large. Using the Sumatran tiger Panthera tigris sumatrae as both a threatened species in its own right and emblematic for wider species diversity, we show that western consumers are willing to pay a significant premium for products using palm oil grown in a manner that reduces impacts on such species. Results suggest that the price premium associated with a ‘tiger-friendly’ accreditation may provide a useful additional tool to raise conservation funds and, within the right institutional context, serve as an inducement to address the problem of habitat and species loss.

(Received January 16 2009)

(Reviewed March 16 2009)

(Accepted April 20 2009)