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The Western Environmental NGOs (WENGOs) are well known for their ruthlessness: they are deeply ideological, almost like religious fanatics in some cases. They are also relentless, well funded and cunning. In many instances they have no regard for facts. They shape their arguments on the basis of their effectiveness irrespective of facts, and their war aim is clear, to destroy your industry if you are the intended target.

This is the challenge faced by the oil palm industry which has been targeted by the WENGOs. Their aim is to destroy the oil palm industry starting with a day at a time, followed relentlessly by weeks, months and years of negative campaigns. For example the ruthless campaign by Zoos Victoria against the palm oil industry was based on mere exaggeration rather than on facts. A recent report by the Australian Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) finds that 10 out of 12 facts used by Zoos Victoria in their anti-palm oil campaign are either false or cannot be substantiated.The Zoo campaigner Ms Lowry later admitted working closely with the WWF.

Oil palm happens to be an agricultural crop of developing countries where farmers who were plagued by poverty may now have an opportunity to earn a decent living of up to US$ 20 per day compared to US $2 before they cultivated oil palm trees on their land. These farmers are crying for fair trade to prevail especially in the EU, USA and Australia where WENGOs campaigns have smeared the good image of their agricultural produce leading to new barriers being imposed to imports of palm oil.

In some instances the anti-palm oil campaigns have infiltrated policy makers in formulating regulations which are essentially trade barriers disguised as sustainability issues. The EU Renewable Energy Directives (RED), with their highly controversial system of default figures assigned especially to foreign raw materials like palm oil for use as biofuel is a clear example of a discriminatory trade barrier. No sound minded scientists will be able to justify assigning a pathetic low carbon emission saving figure of 19 % for palm oil, but it can happen in the EU as found in the RED regulations as a result of the influence of the WENGOs in policy making circles.

Similarly, the infiltration of WENGOs ideology in the World Bank has led to a departure of its policy which no longer promotes growth in developing countries when oil palm cultivation is involved. But WENGOs can avoid the path of destruction of developing countries agricultural industry and still contribute to a better world if their campaigns to save forest and mitigate green house gas (GHG) emissions are linked to actual sectors and countries that are truly involved in deforestation or those rampantly contributing to GHG emissions.

One area of potential progress is to focus on deforestation taking place in developed countries. I have pointed out this previously citing Canada as an example and since then some progress was observed. Recently, Canada made peace with the WENGOs by signing a moratorium on logging to reduce deforestation. This is a good example for other developed countries to follow. Deforestation moratorium alone is not sufficient. In order to increase forest cover, reforestation campaigns should be launched especially in the EU where forests have been decimated to less than 20 % of total area in many countries. They should follow the good example of Malaysia where forest cover is more than 50 % of the total country’s area. Such re-establishment of forest cover will help mitigate global warming and provide habitats for animals.

Present focus by the WENGOs to restrict oil palm cultivation expansion in order to conserve forests is likely to stifle an important economic activity of developing countries. Other more feasible options should be considered. For example, deforestation in developing countries and coal mining in developed countries share common characteristics in that both are economic sectors which contribute to emission of CO2. If the WENGOs were to focus solely on no deforestation by preventing expansion of oil palm plantation in developing countries and yet allow the continuation and expansion of coal mining in developed countries, the emission of CO2 will continue undiminished.

Therefore, developed countries will continue to enjoy economic activities with substantial CO2 emission while poor farmers in developing countries are unfairly asked to make sacrifices and denied further access to an economic activity in order to save emission of CO2.

In reality, replanting of degraded forest land with oil palm is the most productive and useful thing to do, as it is the best way to reforest an area (oil palm plantations also qualify as forest plantations), sequester carbon and contribute to economic development. On the other hand, coal mining is a one way process of releasing locked carbon to the atmosphere causing global warming. The developing countries are also the least able to make the sacrifice to reduce their economic activity compared to developed countries.

This is where the WENGOs can re-align their campaigns by focusing on what developed countries could do in order to make a more meaningful contribution to their objective of reducing global CO2 emission and not just focus on stifling the growth of agricultural commodities of developing countries such as palm oil which will harm the income potential of the poor farmers who are only trying to earn a decent living. These oil palm farmers have a right to have a better life just like the WENGOs and they should be given a chance to improve their agricultural practices while facing the harsh realities of poverty which is common in developing countries. They are working with local NGOs to adopt the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) practices which takes time, and they need support in improving their sustainability practices instead of harassment by some WENGOs from far away lands on how best to cultivate their crops.

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