A Wake-Up Call to EU28 Parliamentarians: Reforest EU28 First, Before You Impose Legislations and Accuse Us of Deforestation
The print, electronic and social media has been awash with palm oil associated Europe centric news. First in April 2017, it was the EU Parliament’s “Resolution on Deforestation and Palm Oil”, and then its follow up vote mid-January, to exclude the inclusion of palm biodiesel in the EU renewable energy mandate from 2021 onwards. These are spine chilling challenges for the palm oil producing nations especially when the livelihood of smallholders are impacted adversely.
The Malaysian oil palm smallholder community is been placed at risk of a reduced nett income resulting from this ban. Obviously they showed their frustration by marching on the EU delegation in Kuala Lumpur, but their cries are falling on deaf ears among the EU MEPs. The Malaysian government has reacted strongly through a series of statements and actions from YB Datuk Seri Mah Siew Keong, the Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister.
Fully supporting these actions are other cabinet members including the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, our Ministers of Defence and Trade, collectively voicing their preparedness to take the horse by its noose and re-examine our trade with the EU28. We simply wish to ensure continued sustainable income for the smallholders and indeed the nation as a whole.
The root analysis shows that the EU Parliamentarians have assumed, based on erroneous facts and figures and supported by their Green movements, palm oil must be halted in its tracks – otherwise the rainforests are lost. All this, even as the EU’s “foxy” administrators cannot clean their own mess. Forests are a big deal and a great selling point for the Greens in Europe. After all, most EU28 members have a poor record of forest cover in their own home countries. Did you know that average forest cover in the EU28 is a mere 33.7% of their total land acreage? This is a far cry from the very respectable figure of 55% forest cover that Malaysia lays claims to (and verified by the FAO and other forest authorities).
So what has the EU done with its forests and why is this not spoken out loud? A quick examination of the statistics shows a whopping 64.2 Million hectares are devoted permanently as pasturelands and in any year an additional 12 million hectares can be added as temporary pastureland to support their cattle and dairy industries. Animal husbandry as practised in the EU has very high pollution and greenhouse gases emissions potentials, (mostly methane from farm animals, >20X more polluting than carbon dioxide), possibly impacting climate change in more ways than the entire 5.8 million ha under oil palm cultivation in Malaysia.
The EU vote to ban palm oil has conveniently not accounted for the by-product animal fats from these 76 million ha pastureland that may also find applications in their renewable energy mandate in the form of tallow and lard (EU produced 1.1 million MT and 2.02 million MT respectively, in 2016). Should the EU not count these even while conveniently also forgetting the greenhouse gas emissions associated with 2.03 million MT of butter production annually?
If you think these statistics are mind boggling, the EU28 devotes additional 11 million hectares of its land towards cultivation of oil bearing rapeseed, sunflower and soybean crops. Of these, rapeseed oil is a major component (>60%) of their renewable energy, biodiesel mix. Problem is that rapeseed cultivation is about 5X less efficient in its oil output compared to our perineal oil palms. Should the palm oil ban be realized, then EU28 must find additional rapeseed oil sources within Europe and this could mean devoting up to an additional 5 million ha for oilseed cultivation. Agriculture and environmental experts are already frowning upon this since European oilseed cultivation has also been recorded to adversely impact their wetlands and waterways. We do not hear of these challenges, do we?
Okay let us choose then to offer the EU28 a way out of their own devilish scheme. As world citizens, let us start demanding that they REFOREST Europe and reduce their acreage of pasturelands to start with. We should propose to use Malaysian forest cover commitment of 50% at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit as a benchmark. A mere 5 million ha of reforestation in Europe will get them to about 40% forest cover; still way below the Malaysian 50% commitment.
But will the EU parliamentarians take a fresh “Resolution” vote on this reforestation? We could take wagers that they will not. Two probable reasons. It is estimated that the cost of reforestation in Europe is about Euros 2,500 per hectare. These costs could thus sum up to a neat Euros 12.5 Billion (RM 60 Billion). Additionally, powerful lobby groups within the cattle and dairy industries as well as rapeseed, sunflower and other oilseed cultivators would not wish to give up their access to nearly 5 million hectares of precious arable land. But Europe is awash with a lot of green agenda and it would be fun to prescribe to their wish list, to green the whole world!
As a developing nation Malaysia could do with more funding to further enhance its forest management and better protect its precious wildlife. There is the well-tested concept of BIOBANKING – you compensate by conserving equivalent high conservation land masses for areas you have exploited. Since EU28 has already exploited nearly 76 million hectares of pastureland and 11 million hectares under its oilseeds cultivation, with an additional potential expansion of 5 million ha to fit its Renewable Energy Directive II, not a bad idea to consider Biobanking in Malaysia.
In consideration, our expansion of our oil palm cultivated acreage which has already reached its near maximum could be capped. Instead of expanding the total cultivated area we could vigorously commit towards increasing yields per hectare, say increasing yields from current averages of 3.8 MT to 6.0 MT per hectare. A rather win-win consideration. But bets are on that the EU has no intention of Reforesting its own backyard. After all it simply takes an EU Parliament vote to force the hands of the developing nations. But for how long?
Last but not least, if you like the idea of EU reforestation and compensation through biobanking in the developing world send your message:
#EU Reforest #Biobank.
Datuk Dr. Kalyana Sundram
Chief Executive Officer, MPOC
- The views expressed in this article are the personal views of the author and does not reflect any officially sanctioned policies