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The government is treating sustainability as a must-do. In October last year, Primary Industries Minister said it would put a stop to oil palm plantation expansion to ensure that Malaysia’s forest cover remains above 50 per cent. - FILE PIC

THE world of palm oil, for some strange reason, lends itself easily to agenda-pushers. Consider one example.

In December, Greenpeace — it does some good, we have no doubt — did a naughty thing. It recruited Emma Thompson of Sense and Sensibility fame as narrator of an ad campaign depicting the plight of the orangutan losing its habitat to oil palm plantations.

Even the United Kingdom-approving authority found it too political to be screened on television.

On closer look, the Greenpeace campaign — Rang-Tan — is a petition to garner support against palm oil. The storyline of the cartoon — yes, there are no pictures depicting burnt forests — is: humans are burning the forest for palm oil and they must be stopped.

The video claims that 25 orangutan are lost every day in forest burning. A quick calculation shows that, at such an attrition rate, an estimated 120,000 orangutan will be gone in 12 years. Is fact being bent for effect?

Even WWF-Malaysia objects to such a boycott. In a Dec 7 posting, WWF-Malaysia conservation director Dr Henry Chan wrote: “Boycotting palm oil is neither an answer nor a solution.” His argument is simple: it is not palm oil that harms orangutan, nor other agricultural crops that damage the environment.

“It is unsustainable agricultural production that impacts the environment, affecting natural ecosystems, reducing wildlife habitats, emitting greenhouse gases and polluting freshwater.” Chan vouches, when cultivated properly and planted in the right places, production of palm oil would not negatively impact the environment.

Banning palm oil means substituting it with other plant-based crops, such as soybean, rapeseed and sunflower. The thing is this: palm oil is the highest-yielding vegetable oil requiring less land to produce the same volume. And WWF has a September 2016 report to back its claim.

The study, conducted in Germany, says other crops would require more land, resulting in larger expanses of forest conversion.

The best way forward, as the WWF suggests, is to move palm oil producers towards sustainability, both in terms of production and their supply chain, as well as consumption.

Malaysia is doing it through two sustainability certifications: Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) and the international Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). By the end of this year, MSPO will be mandatory.

According to Ainun Jaabi, a researcher at the Technology, Innovation, Environment and Sustainability, Institute of Strategic and International Studies Malaysia, 1.2 million hectares are RSPO-certified while two million hectares are MSPO-certified.

This leaves the rest of the 5.85 million hectares rushing to meet the December deadline, including those that had been registered under RSPO.

The government is treating sustainability as a must-do. In October last year, Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok said it would put a stop to oil palm plantation expansion to ensure that Malaysia’s forest cover remains above 50 per cent.

Reforestation helps. We are used to planting trees along the highways and byways, anyway. We can plant millions more.

Oh, do not use cartoons to show deforestation. Come visit Malaysia, instead. With apologies to Neil Diamond, here the palm trees grow and rents are low. You will grow to like it.

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