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Contributed by Wanda Wang. She  is currently in the NYC Data Science Academy 12 week full time Data Science Bootcamp program taking place between April 11th to July 1st, 2016. This post is based on her first class project - R visualization (due on the 2nd week of the program).


Rainforest deforestation is accelerating at an alarming rate around the world as a result of Palm oil production. In order to satisfy growing global demand for Palm oil, an ingredient commonly found in cosmetics to processed consumer foods - clearing the way for lucrative oil plantations by forest fires is negatively impacting our environment. Environmental and social concerns include the loss of rainforest habitat for endangered species, harmful carbon dioxide emissions, coupled with the displacement of local indigenous communities.

The UN Food and Agriculture organization provides information on global Palm oil production and area harvested. The Global Forest Watch also has Palm oil Mill location data and fire alert data available for our review.

Exploratory Questions

What countries are the top producers of Palm oil?

Where are the palm oil mills located? Where are the forest-fire hotspots?

Industry Overview

To navigate to where Palm Oil production is at its highest volume, we first approach the UN Food and Agriculture dataset:

The top five producers in the world include Indonesia and Malaysia. Indonesia accounts for over 55% or worldwide production. Malaysia accounts for around 37%. The combined 92% allocation in this region should be noted.

Industry Map

As a visual confirmation on the map - looking at SouthEast Asia vs Africa or South America, there are more acres harvested within Indonesia.


The rise in Area Harvested over time is alarming over time. The drastic percent change from 2000 to 2014 rose from a value of 2,014,000 to 7,407,090 hectares impacted or 2.7 times.

Mill Distribution & Forest Fires (Indonesia)

  • Orange dots represent mill locations (Illegal mills are not captured)
  • Circle markers represent clusters of fire reports (As of Jan 01, 2015)


There is a strong presence of fire hotspots within the last year where the majority of Mills are located. Indonesia possesses the most Palm Oil Mills as currently reported in available data.

Future questions: Are there any geographic overlaps with existing nature reservations- what is the tree cover loss over time in those areas? How much has the Air Quality Index been impacted? Is there a trend between species extinction and habitat location in Palm Oil producing nations?

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