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Pygmy elephant in oil palm plantation

Elephant in oil palm plantation

The Malaysian palm oil industry, together with the Sabah Wildlife Department, is organizing its second orang utan seminar in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah early next week under a broader title of “Sabah Wildlife Conservation Colloquium 2012″. NGOs are expected to send their representatives to attend the event. Some like Nature Alert are already lobbying to get their ‘NO KILL’ policy to be adopted by the meeting. We are looking forward to hearing many more ‘suggestions’ from well meaning organizations to further improve the wildlife conservation initiatives which have long been put into place here in Malaysia.

Senator Nick Xenophon, the introducer of the Truth in Labeling – Palm Oil Bill 2010 in the Australian Parliament has confirmed his attendance to the Colloquium. The passage of this Bill was last year rejected at both the Upper and lower house whereby the Australian Government gave a clear sign to anti-palm oil activists and protectionists seeking the mandatory labeling of palm oil by agreeing to the recommendation that all vegetable oils be labeled on Australian food packaging . This is a significant rebuttal of the environmental NGO campaign to discriminate against palm oil and single it out for mandatory labeling based on false allegations against the industry.

Senator Xenophon will be having a firsthand look at conservation and sustainable forest management efforts in Sabah and is expected to meet local NGOs to hear their viewpoint. However, Malaysia looks forward to hearing his views as to why Australia, a developed country with a lower population (22 million according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics) as compared to Malaysia ( 28 million) has been deforesting at 3 to 5 times the rate that may have occured in this country over the last 10 years. Why then did he propose in the Australian Parliament to discriminatorily label palm oil as being associated with deforestation while not doing the same for ‘more deserving’ Australian agricultural products. Are these not clear signs of double standards being applied to developing countries?

An international NGO – Nature Alert has recently gone on the offensive by circulating pictures of orang utan in captivity in the Malacca Zoo presumably lamenting on the size of the cages where the orang utans are kept. We should be aware that the concept of zoos were probably popularised by the British during their colonial days as a symbol reflecting wealth and the ability to exhibit exotic animals from their conquered territories. With modern digital technology, videos and fast travel, the concept of zoos is probably outdated and should be banned throughout the world.

Zoos exploit animals as a source of funds, and when the funds are insufficient, the animals tend to suffer even more. Is there any zoo in the world where orang utans can roam freely over many square kilometers of warm tropical forest in search of food and mates as they do in the wild? Malaysia has instead kept aside vast track of land as permanent forest to allow the orang utan to roam freely without being kept in captivity for the benefit of visitors. I wonder how acceptable is the small enclosures in the Melbourne Zoo for the orang utans to survive the cold winter months. These enclosures however large, curtail freedom of movement, and are a clear sign of cruelty, and expose the orang utan to un-natural cold temperatures and environment. Why then did Nature Alert choose to remain silent on the fate of orang utans in this developed country zoo and ignore their deplorable condition but instead was quick to ‘attack’ the Malacca Zoo. A clear sign of double standards?

But nothing comes close to the double standards practiced by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in their recent rejection of palm oil as a raw material for biodiesel in the USA. It even beats the double standards on palm oil acceptability for biofuel already formulated in the EU Renewable Energy Directive (RED). Selective science and creative economic modeling have been used effectively in these countries to disqualify palm oil from being able to participate and compete alongside local oils for use in their biodiesel industry. While some say this is green protectionism, to me it smells of green colonialism. In the past, European missionaries were deployed to create colonies; now the green NGOs are being paid by western governments as their agents to impose policies that hinder growth and economic development. The end game is the same: introduce double standards to deny developing countries their right to develop, or to rule their sovereign country and manage their resources (forestry included) and economy without outside interference and threats.

The green ENGOs want developing countries to stop developing their forest land into agriculture even though these countries still have a large proportion of their land area under forest. They expect developing countries to follow examples set by developed countries which claim not to deforest in recent years (but this is not exactly true). On the other hand, for a developing country to be on par as a developed country, it would probably need to deforest to the level (only 33 % or less of land under forest cover) practiced in developed countries, as land kept as forest earns 30 times less revenue compared to land used for agriculture.

The constant threat used by the developed countries to deny market access for palm oil into Australia, the EU and US unless deforestation is stopped in the producer countries serves to reinforce the strong double standard sentiment prevailing presently. Food security and income generation which are critical to the survival of the developing countries are blatantly ignored in these no deforestation demands by various supporters of the anti palm oil campaigners. The fact that the palm oil industry has insignificant carbon footprint compared to total global GHG emission is conveniently ignored in the debate.

The palm oil industry has to find solutions to overcome these challenges. Various proposals and resolutions to be offered by the colloquium may be useful in solving these issues. However, in order for these proposals and solution to be implemented, they must be fair in the interest of developing nations and should not be based on double standards.

Let’s not look too far to previous proposals given by ENGOs which are yet to show any results. There were past promises that certified sustainable palm oil schemes such as RSPO would guarantee better market access for palm oil. So far the market access problem for palm oil has only got worst. It appears that in addition to double standards, the palm oil industry has to grapple with double talks as well.

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