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At a recent forum organized by the Palm Oil Refiners Association of Malaysia (PORAM), it was revealed that there was no moral case for Western Environmental NGOs (WENGOs) campaigns against palm oil. Data indicates that the agricultural land occupied by the world palm oil industry is miniscule as compared to the total land allocated to growing grains and oilseeds. This is shown in Fig 1 below where the segment for oil palm area is only 1.56 % of the total grain and oilseed area (see arrow) and it is hardly visible in the bar chart.
Figure 1 – Oil Palm VS Total Grain & Oilseed Area

Oil Palm VS Total Grain & Oilseed Area

Oil palm is the main agricultural crop of major palm oil producer countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia where it occupies 13% and 5% of their land area respectively. Assuming that developing countries are allowed to use part of their land area for agriculture and plant the most profitable crops to provide employment, produce food and generate income, the above figures show that there is no excessive over exploitation of forests due to planting oil palm as a cash crop. Nationally, both countries retain much higher percentages of forest as compared to developed countries as shown in Fig 2.

Figure 2 – Forest in Developed VS Developing Countries

Forest in Developed VS Developing Countries

If WENGOs claim that global warming is caused by loss of forests due to oil palm cultivation, it would be useful to know that oil palm share of world agricultural land is only 0.22 % as shown in Fig 3. The share of loss of carbon stock (deforestation) caused by oil palm compared to total global agriculture is thus assumed to be 0.22 %. This does not include the positive carbon sequestering effect of the oil palm trees. It is therefore morally unacceptable for WENGOs to discourage palm oil producing countries from practicing their share of agriculture which accounts for merely 0.22 % of world agricultural area.

Figure 3 – World Cultivated Area of Oilseeds

World Cultivated Area of Oilseeds

Even the total GHG emission of global agriculture of 17 % is considered small compared to that from the burning of fossil fuel which contributes to a high 57% of GHG emission as shown in Fig 4. The carbon foot print of the oil palm cultivation globally is therefore 0.22% x 17% of the total or 0.0374 % of global GHG emissions. This has no bearing on global warming hence making it immoral to blame oil palm as a significant contributor of global warming while facts prove otherwise.

Figure 4 – Largest Contributor to Climate Change is Fossil Fuel Usage

Largest Contributor to Climate Change is Fossil Fuel Usage

Many other economic activities are responsible for the vast amount of GHG emission. These activities are accepted as part of the economic growth processes needed to sustain the world economy. Efforts to reduce GHG emissions should be directed at these economic activities as they are the main cause of GHG emission. Curtailing the expansion of oil palm on the basis of its impact on global warming is therefore scientifically unjustified as the contribution is only 0.0374 % of global GHG emission.

If the loss of biodiversity is used as an argument to discourage oil palm cultivation, there is ample forest being conserved as shown in Fig 2 above. The UN Convention only requires 10 % of the country land area to be kept as forest for conserving biodiversity and Malaysia has far exceeded this by committing 50%.

Despite the lack of convincing evidence to pin down the palm oil industry against global warming or biodiversity loss, both producer countries have given full cooperation to comply with the needs of stakeholders and WENGOs to produce palm oil sustainably. They have fully embraced the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to enable palm oil to be certified to meet sustainability principles and criteria. The Indonesians have signed an agreement with Norway to have a moratorium on deforestation while the Malaysian government has repeatedly announced its assurance of maintaining at least 50% of its land area as permanent forest. Deforestation thus appears as a non issue.

To ensure a level playing field, it is timely that a similar certification for sustainability be required for other oils produced by various countries worldwide. Otherwise, it will be a clear reflection of the oil palm industry being victimised by being asked to comply to certification needs for sustainability when no scientific justification exist to allow the world to benefit from global warming mitigation or improved biodiversity. Without premiums given to RSPO certified palm oil it becomes a big burden for oil palm farmers to bear the added cost of certification when their counterpart farmers producing soyabean or rapeseed do not have to be certified for sustainability.

Certifying the other (low yielding and land inefficient) oilseed crops for sustainability would at least contribute to a greater amount of carbon emission reduction compared to oil palm, even though the quantum of saving is still small compared to the carbon footprint of fossil fuel and other agricultural activities.

All evidence clearly shows that there is no moral ground for the WENGOs to campaign against palm oil. Unless the WENGOs can quantify and show that there are clear benefits relating to global warming or biodiversity improvements, or economic premiums for sustainable certified palm oil, then it is only a matter of time when the palm oil producers realise that they have been hoodwink by the NGOs who only impose the no deforestation condition on palm oil but don’t bother to do likewise on other low yielding crops which occupy vast area of land.

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