Question of Sustainability
Image source: Malaysian Palm Oil Council
We receive many requests for information on sustainability of the palm oil industry. Those involved in the palm oil industry like to have information to counter negative allegations linking oil palm cultivation to potential deforestation. Those in the middle of the debate want to know more of the true situation in order to form their own opinion. Those NGOs and their followers bent on opposing the growth of the oil palm industry simply want to demonise the palm oil industry whenever they could without regard to the facts or supporting statistics.
For example, statements are made accusing the oil palm plantations as the cause of deforestation in Malaysia. These statements are never supported by statistics or verified evidence. Isolated cases of bad practices in other countries are used to generalise for the whole of the oil palm industry including those in Malaysia.
The most important point to note is that oil palm is our agricultural crop, planted on legitimate agricultural land which the country has zoned for agricultural use. Compared to other countries the use of land for agriculture in Malaysia is very conservative, about 20 to 24 % of total land area of 33 million hectares. We choose to plant oil palm and rubber on the majority of the agricultural land of the country; that is the choice of the farmers and land owners. They could have planted soyabean or corn. Would that make soyabean or corn non sustainable?
Some NGOs and their followers even influence legislators to avoid using palm oil as a source of biodiesel. They also support well-known supermarkets or consumer products companies to avoid using palm oil products. This is obviously unfair as legitimately produced palm oil from Malaysia is denied access to their countrys’ markets while their countrys’ products continue to enjoy access to Malaysian markets. As a small developing country, we need to generate foreign exchange revenue from exporting palm oil to import goods from other countries. If our major agricultural produce like palm oil is denied access to certain countries, we will soon be unable to import other countrys’ products for lack of foreign exchange.
A country in economic dificulty will not be able to care or pay for environmental conservation which is the original objective of the environmental NGOs in their campaigns against palm oil.
Malaysia is presently able to have a clear forestry policy to have about 50 to 60% of the country land area to be under permanent forest. Sustainable forest manangement systems are in place and laws are also in place to prevent the permanent forest areas from being converted to agriculture or other uses. We could easily announce a meratorium on deforestion of our permanent forest but this has to come at a time when the least developed state in the country has had the time and opportunity to develop their resources sustainably. For example, the state of Sarawak has lagged behind in agricultural development and less than 8% of the country is under agriculture, compared to the UK, a similar size country which has 70% of its land under agriculture.
As President of Brazil recently said at a meeting with 100 international legislators in Brazilia regarding deforestation and global warming “How can we ask the poor countries to take on the sacrifices the others didn’t take on?”, alluding also to the fact that industrialised countries are to blame after polluting the planet for centuries.
The Malaysian oil palm industry is working towards the need to produce certified sustainable palm oil by supporting the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) initiative. Other efforts are made to ensure the protection of wildlife habitats and biodiversity. Such efforts will take time, and need financial support. The Malaysia Palm Oil Wildlife Fund (MPOWF) is being used to help in this initiative. It is a matching fund that the MPOC will honour to match if donors come forward to contribute to finance a specified wildlife or biodiversity conservation project. Please contact us for more details and share the burden of maintaining a sustainable planet.