Palm Oil as a Model for Sustainable Growth
The Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) leads a host of initiatives to ensure a sustainable and balanced future for the industry, for growers reliant upon the crop, and for the environment itself. While the ecological effects of palm oil production have been the subject of debate for several years, Malaysia has much to be proud of in this regard, with 56% of its area under strict protection and set aside for conservation.
In addition, environmentalists claiming the previous loss of the natural habitat of animals such as the orang-utan and Borneo pygmy elephant, can now be assured that the MPOC is heading up various programs through its Malaysian Palm Oil Wildlife Conservation Fund (MPOWCF). For example, the fund is operating the country’s first ever Wildlife Rescue Center. The MPOWCF also carries out projects and studies on wildlife, biodiversity and environmental conservation and the palm oil industry’s effect on these.
The palm oil industry is the country’s biggest cash crop, employing 560,000 workers directly, including 40% who are small farmers, while contributing 7.5% to Malaysia’s gross domestic product.
Furthermore, palm oil production spins off into various other industries, thereby employing an even greater number of people. “Palm oil in Malaysia has been a true success story for societal advancement and poverty alleviation, ensuring that Malaysians are now able to build better, stronger and wealthier communities,” explains Tan Sri Datuk Dr. Yusof Basiron, CEO of MPOC.
He believes international organizations would do right by focusing on both the positive impact the commodity has had on thousands of people and the potential it holds for contributing to a greener planet.
Meanwhile, conflicting studies certainly haven’t helped palm oil’s cause: while the U.S. EPA alleges that palm oil provides greenhouse gas reductions of just 17% compared to traditional diesel fuel (20% is the lower limit to qualify under the EPA’s Renewable Fuel Standard), a Finland-based study by Neste Oil found that the reductions were in fact 52%.
“It is clear that the EPA decision represents an opinion, driven by domestic interests and the environmental lobby. This will deny the U.S. of a highly efficient and cost-effective source of renewable energy,” laments Dr. Basiron.
What the CEO is referring to is palm oil’s “unparalleled efficiency and productivity” as a biofuel. “Palm oil uses less land, energy, and fertilizer, and produces more energy per hectare than any other vegetable oil crop. Palm oil generates nearly 10 times the energy it consumes whereas soybeans found in the U.S. and South America generate only three times the amount, and European rapeseed only 2.5 times,” he says.
With organizations like the MPOC looking out for the industry and the environment alike, Malaysia is in an excellent position to grow its economy sustainably.