De-linking NGOs Concerns Over Deforestation and Palm Oil
1. A few years ago when oils and fats were cheaper than petroleum, the EU and USA rushed to promote the use of biofuels for various reasons. One not-so-frankly-revealed reason was that oilseed farmers will benefit from the new market outlets and the increase in prices. The governments also benefited from this strategy because agricultural subsidies would be reduced if prices of soyabean and rapeseed were high and price support subsidies would not be needed. In addition, it makes good political statements to say that biodiesel will help reduce global warming through reduced green house gas emissions, and also enable the countries to be less dependent on imported petroleum fuels.
2. Diverting a major portion of rapeseed and soya oil supply and stocks for biodiesel did result in increasing prices which benefited the EU and US farmers tremendously between 2004 and the middle of 2008. During this time, it became obvious that palm oil was a potentially good raw material to participate in the biodiesel industries in both the EU and USA as it is generally cheaper than soyabean or rapeseed oil. This resulted in increasing concern amongst the EU biodiesel lobbies who are integrated with the rapeseed industry over the potential competion from palm oil and they tried to prevent it from being imported for biodiesel production and use in the EU. This was also to ensure that biodiesel subsidies are not shared with competing imported oils.
3. Various trade barriers were set up by the goverments. For example, biodiesel standards were developed in the EU to disqualify palm oil biodiesel from being accepted. The cold flow plug point(CFPP) standard was introduced to ensure palm oil did not meet the required test and the anti palm oil lobby was relieved at the new arrangement. However, the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) announced that palm oil biodiesel methyl esters can be processed with a new technology that would overcome the CFPP problem. Furthermore, if the blending of biodiesel is only at 5%, the CFPP value of palm oil biodiesel methyl esters becomes irrelevant as the 5 parts of palm biodiesel is totally dissolved by the 95 parts of petroleum diesel giving an acceptable blend. However, unknown to many, tallow produced in the EU and used for biodiesel would also fail the CFPP test and this would not go well with the local tallow lobbies.
4. EU farmers continue to question the reason for an imported commodity such as palm oil biodiesel to be accorded biofuel subsidy which is meant for local oilseed farmers. The outcries became louder as some power plants began to use palm oil as biofuel and enjoyed the subsidies and the cheaper prices. The rapeseed lobbies were worried that by allowing cheaper palm oil for use as biofuel in vehicles and power plants, it will eventually affect the demand for local oils, and create a substantial outflow of subsidies.(This narrow view ignores the fact that Malaysia imports large amount of EU and US goods and needs market access for its exports in order to remain a valued trading partner)
5. A new import barrier for palm oil was subsequently introduced arising from the view of the former Dutch Environmental Minister who argued that if palm oil is encouraged for use as biofuel it would stimulate an increase in production leading to the opening of forest land. This apparently will affect the environment, animal habitats and biodiversity. He was able to introduce the fear factor of what could happen in the future if palm oil demand undergoes a rapid increase.
6. The environmental NGOs were quick to sieze on the opportunity to harp on the fear of potential deforestation, and started to report on orang utan habitat loss and global warming effects of oil palm cultivation on peat. The change in focus from deforestation due to logging to now oil palm plantation became a refreshing rallying point for NGOs perpetual campaigns. Afterall palm oil has more money to offer than the logging industry which has over the years witnessed a decline.
7. Once the issues of deforestation and palm oil fell into the hands of NGOs like FOE and Green Peace who use unscrupulus methods to attack their target victims, the whole issue of biodiesel development and protection of subsidies was totally forgotten. The farmers in the EU and USA who are worried by palm oil invasion for the new found application of their oils and fats as biodiesel are totally served by the NGOs who gladly run the anti-palm oil campaign while pocketing huge amount of funds. The collusion to get the NGOs to campaign against palm oil was cleverly disguised. It was reported for example, that the Dutch Lottery money of a staggering US$2 million was instrumental in financing Green Peace to carry out a blockade of a ship carrying palm oil from leaving an Indonesian port to sail to Europe in 2007.
8. It is clear that the fear factor used is based on the assumption that if demand for biofuel is increased, more oil palm cultivation will occur thus causing deforestation. Fortunately, Malaysia has consistently proven the assumption as baseless and wrong.
9. Let me debunk the various fallacies that are often cited to paint a bleak picture of the ever popular oil palm.
Fallacy 1: Oil palm plantations are claimed to be the cause of deforestation.
Palm oil producing countries such as Malaysia have permanent forest reserves which take up to 55% of the country’s total land area. Laws are in place to disallow these permanent forest areas to be converted to other uses including for agriculture or growing of oil palm. The remaining forest areas are meant for conversion into other uses, including agriculture. Some of these conversion forest areas are already alienated to individuals or organisations although the land may still not yet be converted and remain under forest cover. NGOs like Green Peace argue that these unconverted areas should be declared as forest through a moratorium on deforestation which essentially means a stop to a developing country like Malaysia from using its potential agricultural land to improve the life of its farmers. It is equivalent to asking the EU farmers to reforest back some 50 % of their agricultural land to help prevent global warming and preserve biodiversity. In all fairness, Greenpeace should agressively campaign for reforesting 50 % of agricultural land of the UK and EU and if successful, Malaysia should have no problem following the standard set by the EU in terms of land use ratio for agriculture.
There are also calls by NGOs for the Prince Chales Conservation fund to compensate developing countries for conserving more forests. Logically, these funds would be better used to reforest the over extended and over deforested agricultural areas in the UK. Most agricultural land can be easily reforested if so desired. The slogan “Plant Thy Own Forest” and “Stop Envying Thy Poor Neighbours Green Backyard” can be adopted. Otherwise Green Peace is cunningly introducing double standards where the EU can deforest and develop these areas into agricultural land, while the developing countries farmers are comdemmed to perpetual poverty by preventing them from exercising their sovereign rights to develop their agricultural land.
Fallacy 2 –It is often claimed that the expansion of oil palm cultivation will affect the habitats of the orang utans in Sabah and Sarawak.
A recent study revealed that orang utan population is Sabah has not declined because the permanent forest area ( the favourite habitat of the orang utans that was surveyed five years ago)has not changed over the last five years. The study further revealed that the orang utan population in the non-permanent forest areas is increasing based on the survey of nesting sites. More surprisingly, orang utans living near oil palm plantations were observed to regularly visit the plantations to feed on loose oil palm fruitlets and benefit from an all year round availability of a healthy food source which is naturally rich in vitamin A and E, giving the orang utans a healthy shining coat. This suggests that development of the oil palm as a crop and conservation can successfully operate side by side.
Fallacy 3 The third fallacy is linking oil palm to deforestation and attributing this to global warming.
The oil palm planted area of 4.3 million hectares in Malaysia represents a mere 0.09% of the world agriculture land. Assuming these areas were originally forests, Malaysia’s share of deforestation for world food production is 0.09 %. I wait to see the NGO global warming scientists’ prediction on the rise in global temperature caused by oil palm cultivation in Malaysia that resulted in 0.09 % of total deforestion via agricultural development. Even doubling the oil palm area may not add substantially to the world deforestation total. However, expanding oil palm may save deforestation by curtailing the rapid expansion of other inefficient land-use oil seed crops which need to be grown otherwise to overcome world shortages.
Cultivated Area of Oil Seeds in the World | Click here to view the full resolution
Fallacy 4 Potraying palm oil as inferior to soyabean or rapeseed oil in global warming debate.
Oil palm in Malaysia and Indonesia is an agricultural crop which is grown mainly for the export market. We are the only two major net exporter countries (Argentina is a distant third)for vegetable oils and fats. The rest of the world are mostly net importers. It implies that if palm oil supply is reduced in the future, ten times more forest areas will need to be converted to agriculture to meet the shortages by growing soyabean or other annual oilseed crops compared to the area needed to grow oil palm to produce the targeted quantity of oil.
Mileage per hectare per year – Based on a new VW Polo | Click here to view the full resolution
Recently, it was revealed that new varieties of oil palm are capable of increasing the yield by 3 times more and if further research to stabilise this yield potential is undertaken through international collaboration, palm oil can be a sound candidate to help solve not only future food shortages but also the biofuel need of the world. In simple terms, it has been calculated that a hectare of oil palm will potentially produce oil sufficient to fuel a VW Polo car 400,000 km of travel per year including the use of the methane fuel generated by the oil palm mill effluent, while a hectare of soya bean can fuel only 8,000 km of travel by the same car as a comparison. The irony is that the EU and USA are gladly promoting the most inefficient bio fuel derived from soyabean and rapeseed sources ,which can only mean massive deforestation possibly in Agentina, Brazil or where ever soyabean and rapeseed can be grown. The opportunity for oil palm to serve as an efficient fuel source and to save more forests from being converted into soyabean and rapeseed farms is sadly overlooked and we can only blame this on the manupulative science which is used by NGOs to raise emotions and blur the truth from reaching the attention of decision and policy makers in the EU and USA.