Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Look out for the Malaysian Palm Oil Brand

As we approach the year end, thousands of oil palm farmers and smallholders are relieved at the prospect of palm oil prices being maintained at more than RM 2400 per tonne for December 2009. Although the lucrative prices for 2008, which were partly influenced by high prices of petroleum, could not be repeated, the present year end daily prices of above RM 2400 per tonne signal many positive trends that await the industry in 2010.

Buyers too were happy that palm oil continues to provide them with an abundant supply of affordable raw material for various end-uses. Palm oil is still sold at a discount to soya, rapeseed and sunflowerseed oils. Malaysian palm oil suppliers are able to comply with the needs of the buyers, by adhering to the wisdom that customers are always right. In Europe, even power plant operators are able to use certified sustainable Malaysian palm oil viably to produce electricity and heat. Such power plant operators have limited choice as using locally available rapeseed oil will cause their engines to malfunction because of polymerization problems of the rapeseed oil in the engines during operations.

The EU is beginning to recognize the role of the RSPO in supplying certified sustainable palm oil for its biodiesel requirements. The EU politicians are worried of their green NGOs who would otherwise campaign on banning the use of palm oil for fuel and food. Such campaigns have recently spread to New Zealand and Australia through their Zoo authorities and ''experts' who claim to be concerned over the orang utans and allegations of deforestation. Sustainably produced palm oil seems to be the solution to resolve the NGOs' concerns as banning the imports of palm oil is not a real option because it would be against WTO provisions.

Buying certified sustainable palm oil seems a viable option for the EU politicians to recommend in order to avoid being harassed by the green NGOs. For this reason, the RSPO scheme should continue to be improved to meet the needs of the EU importers.

The rest of the world continues to focus on getting enough oils and fats to meet their annual needs. Most countries are net importers of oils and fats. Only Malaysia, Indonesia and Argentina are major or significant net exporters of this commodity, and for countries which are not self-sufficient they have to buy from the three net exporter countries. The EU net imports of oils and fats amount to over 8 million tonnes per year ( equivalent to half the total export of palm oil by Malaysia ), but it is also one of the most 'demanding' net importers, insisting that palm oil must be certified sustainable when used for biodiesel. The EU biodiesel standards have some 26 parameters which palm biodiesel exporters must comply with. These pose a daunting challenge for biodiesel producers to do business with EU importers.

Moving forward into 2010, a few issues remain unresolved. I am puzzled at the misinformation still in the minds of many important people in the EU when we recently met them during our visit to Europe.

During a private consultation in London, HRH. Prince Charles in talking to the MPOC Chairman, complained that oil palm is a mono-culture industry and lacks biodiversity. Obviously many people forget that oil palm is an agricultural crop planted on legitimate agricultural land just like soyabean or olive plantations which are also mono-cultures, and it should not be compared to biodiversity in the forests. Why must the green NGOs in the UK and their followers be opposed to the growth of agricultural crops of developing countries such as Malaysia when these crops have been grown responsibly for generations and subjected to various national regulations and laws. For Malaysia, our land use policy is based on the pledge made at the Rio Earth Summit more than 15 years ago to conserve at least 50% of the country under permanent forests (to provide for biodiversity and habitat requirements), while 25% is zoned for agriculture and another 25 % for other industrial uses. With oil palm occupying 13% of the total land area, it means that for every hectare of oil palm, the country conserves 4 hectares of permanent forests. Because land for agriculture is already limited, and the permanent forests are off-limits to agricultural conversions, oil palm plantings have been much reduced. Certainly oil palm cannot be associated with deforestation in Malaysia as it should not happen except in the distant past when the current agricultural land (making up 25% of the country) was first cleared. This was needed for the country to develop, just like other countries. In comparison the UK developed 72 % of its land for agriculture and only has 11 % retained under forest.

During another dialogue in Kuala Lumpur hosted by the Minister of Trade of the UK, he suggested that the RSPO is the right platform for the oil palm industry to engage the environmental NGOs to ensure sustainable certified palm oil can be exported to the EU. He was surprised when I told him that many of the aggressive UK NGOs refused to be members of the RSPO. In fact the palm oil producers were disappointed by RSPO promoters who promised to have the NGOs as members and stakeholders to negotiate a susccessful RSPO certification scheme. Right now the NGOs outside the RSPO are more influential and they campaign against the RSPO to make those NGOs who are members of the RSPO to appear ineffective.

During a meeting with the Economic Minister of the Netherlands we were told to supply sustainable palm oil as this is what the EU wants. We did inform her in reality that there are more than 1 million tonnes of sustainable certified RSPO palm oil potentially available from Malaysia right now, but only 10 % was imported by the EU. It is interesting to note that the EU talked of putting up US$ 2 billion to compensate developing countries to maintain their forests. In reality, RSPO is a scheme that promotes the conservation of forests, but the EU is shying from paying even the US$ 50 per tonne premium for RSPO certified palm oil. At least EU importers should pay the producers to cover the cost of certifying the oil which involves employing auditors some of whom have to fly in from the EU to conduct the auditing process. In other words, the buyers must help pay for the cost of employing the EU auditors and not ask poor farmers and oil palm workers of developing countries to fork out for the extra cost of producing certified sustainable palm oil to meet the European needs.

Many other issues relating to the habitat needs of the orang utans and global warming will continue to be associated with the oil palm industry by some misinformed people and other uninformed followers of the debate. As far as Malaysia is concerned, specialized conferences on orang utans and Green House Gases (GHG) emission and mitigation have been organized during 2009. Experts attending these conferences have no major issues to raise with the Malaysian palm oil industry during the deliberations. In fact no one raised major issues that are not already addressed by the industry. Many of the environmental allegations are not relevant to Malaysia. There were almost no real issues to debate on. On the other hand, some level of satisfaction was expressed by international experts on orang utans and GHG issues in relation to efforts undertaken by Malaysia.

It is time to brand Malaysian palm oil for better public and consumer perception. Some of the brand claims could be that Malaysia is ready to supply sustainable certified RSPO palm oil to the EU market, especially for its biodiesel requirement. The RSPO's intention to incorporate on a voluntary basis carbon emission saving parameter in its certification criteria would be much anticipated as an important improvement to the RSPO scheme.

In preparing for the climate change meeting in Copenhagen, it was found that oil palm together with other plantation tree crops such as rubber, cocoa and coconut enable Malaysia, in addition to its 56% permanent forest cover, to classify itself as a net carbon sink country despite having industrialized for the last 52 years since achieving independent. Obviously it is the tree crops such as oil palm that have partly contributed to make Malaysia a net carbon sink country, effectively contributing to remove carbon dioxide from the globe when other countries are still haggling especially at the Copenhagen Climate Change meeting on who should be making the first move to reduce emissions given that most of these countries are net co2 emitters.

Getting the facts right has been the theme of this blog. Some readers may continue to question the facts as presented, and some even resort to claiming that these are lies. There must be a way forward where doubters can be assured of an authentic and fair source of information. One other way is for them to visit Malaysia and meet the producers and see the oil palm plantations. We have many plantation resorts where tourists can enjoy their visits to Malaysia. Another approach is to continue commenting and submitting your queries to this blog to exchange views. Malaysian palm oil is already a brand name that is sought after by discerning buyers and consumers. Improvements will continue to be introduced in 2010 and thereafter. Let us know how we can help.

Monday, November 2, 2009

What Deforestation?

Many critics of the Malaysian oil palm industry do not know that Malaysia agreed to generously keep aside its pristine natural tropical forests 15 years ago when the country pledged at the Rio Earth Summit to maintain a minimum of 50% of its land area under permanent forests. The policy behind the pledge remains intact as Malaysia today still has 56% of its area under permanent natural forests. Such a large percentage of forests is maintained mainly for conservation purposes and to support the forest industry which enables Malaysia to be a world major exporter of tropical timber. Besides providing more than adequate area for biodiversity and habitat needs including home for the orang utans and global warming mitigation purposes, the timber industry allows Malaysia to earn some RM 22.56 billion in 2008 or 3.4% of the country’s export earnings.

Timber production has gone through its own cycle of environmental attacks by NGOs and remedial measures have been put in place to ensure only sustainably managed timber and legal timber products are exported. The process of adopting an internationally recognised certification scheme for sustainable and legal timber has taken a long time to evolve as not all producer countries and importers are committed to adopt a common sustainability scheme. Malaysia has progressed much in these efforts as more and more of its timber are exported under some forms of certified timber scheme depending on the demand and agreement with the regional importers.

If Malaysia’s forests are already recognised to be sustainably managed, and not be allowed for conversion to other uses in order to stabilise the area, how then can the allegations still be made by NGOs linking oil palm cultivation with deforestation? Ignorance and wrong assumptions are to be blamed. Land developed for agriculture lies outside the permanent forest areas under the country’s land use policy. This means up to 50% of the country’s land area can be developed into various land uses for national development. As a developing country, Malaysia needs to develop its land to build cities and towns, villages and industrial parks, recreational grounds and water bodies, roads and highways and of course create agricultural areas to plant food and commodity crops for its people. Based on the guidance of the national land use policy, about 25% of the country is allocated to agriculture and the remaining 25 % is for the other uses keeping in mind that a minimum of 50 % of the country is already locked in for conservation purposes such as permanent natural forests.

Malaysia aspires to be a developed country by the year 2020 and like most developed countries, conversion of forests into agriculture took place decades or centuries ago. In Malaysia deforestion for agriculture was pioneered by the British in the early part of the 20th Century when forest areas zoned for agriculture were cleared to plant initially coffee, then rubber and later oil palm as dictated by the feasibility of producing such crops during that time. Even after Malaysia achieved independence in 1957, the development of agriculture continued, as until then the benefits of plantation agriculture were mainly enjoyed by the British who owned most of the large plantation companies. To allow the locals to enjoy the same benefits, FELDA was created. It was mandated to develop around 2 million acres of mostly forested land to resettle landless farmers. Professional surveyors from New Zealand were recommended by the World Bank to survey the forests to identify areas suitable for agriculture for FELDA to open up its land development schemes beginning in the 1950s with funds from the World Bank .

Like the developed countries, Malaysia too can give the excuses that the main deforestation of its land for conversion to agriculture has occured in the distant past, but unlike the situation in the developed countries, development was made under the supervision of international professional land surveyors and officially funded by the World Bank. For NGOs and their followers to come back years later to make allegations linking oil palm cultivation with deforestion in Malaysia is not proper, and probably decades too late. It is akin to barking up the wrong tree. The NGOs seem to suggest that deforestation in the developed countries was something that occured in the past beyond the control of their present governments. For example, the Romans were blamed for removing most of the forests of Britain. British NGOs should also admit that Malaysia’s pristine forests were mostly deforested by the British when they established their rubber and oil palm plantations during the first half of 20 th century. However, they did it in a civilised way by leaving a sizeable area of forests to be reserved as protected forests. That legacy led to the current policy of maintaining at least 50% of Malaysia as permanent natural forests.

The current land use policy as described above, brings many benefits to Malaysia especially when confronted with the challenges of the global warming debate. Firstly, with at least 50% of its forest intact, and up to 90 % of its agricultural land planted with tree crops, thus providing another 22% equivalent of the country’s land with tree cover, Malaysia can still claim to be a net carbon sink country based on currently available data. We are reminded recently that President Obama proudly announced that the USA is providing incentives to encourage reforesting of abandoned agricultural lands to promote more tree cover and mitigate global warming. It would not be too difficult to recognise that most of the agricultural lands in Malaysia have been planted with forest tree species, oil palm and rubber all along (without any incentives given!). That is why Malaysia is still a net carbon sink country despite having industrialised for the last 50 years.

The second benefit of our land use policy is our ability to face up to any allegations of deforestation especially when these are linked to the development of our agricultural sector. Malaysia’s forest to total land ratio is superior to that of most other countries, and so too is our agricultural land to total land area ratio. No one can accuse Malaysia of not providing enough forests to provide habitats to sustain the orang utans population as Sabah has almost 50% of its area under natural permanent forests and Sarawak has much higher. These are the two States of Malaysia where orang utans exist in the natural forests. The recently organised orang utan colloquium did recognise the need to reconnect the fragmented forests outside the main permanent forest using the concept of forest corridors to provide extra flexibility for the orang utans to travel back to the main forest after visiting the fragmented forests and nearby oil palm plantations where more food is available.

Thirdly we should be reminded that biodiversity is not supposed to be found in our agricultural land as is the case with all other countries. Our policy of conserving more than 50% of our land as permanent natural forests which include natural parks, wildlife sancturies and totally protected forest will provide for the need to conserve biodiversity. I can not help thinking how illogical some of the debates that are going on in the internet (some even by Professors) who grossly exaggerate that our agricultural lands, including oil palm and rubber plantations do not have as much biodiversity as the natural forests: why must our agricultural land including oil palm and rubber plantations have high biodiversity like the tropical forests? Are agricultural lands in the West having as high biodiversity as the temperate forests? I hope these groups will understand once and for all that when 50% of our land is locked in as permanent protected forests, preservation of biodiversity and wildlife habitats is assured. If not tell us how much more land, percentage wise, should be under forest and do the countries where these critiques come from provide their share of natural forests or plantation forests to protect the biodiversity and wildlife habitat requirements to the same high standards as adopted by Malaysia. Show us figures for comparison.

In a world where the EU and the USA would not agree to clean up their emitted CO2 unless developing countries do the same, Malaysia can claim to have already contributed its share by being a net carbon sink country. More than 80 % of the accumulated CO2 leading to the accelerated increase in global CO2 concentration was from years of industrial development taking place in the developed countries. Now the EU is proposing that developing countries must commit to reduce their emissions, or else there will be no agreement at the coming Copenhagen Climate Change meeting, meaning that the EU and USA would not clean up the accumulated emissions that they have caused in the past which are contributing to the present global warming tendency. I am sure the developing countries at the Climate Change meeting in Copenhagen in December will insist on equitable responsibility for the developed countries to first clean up their massive past emissions before commitments for future emission reduction can be shared by all countries.

The same argument is made in the deforestation debate by the western NGOs who are asking developing countries to preserve their forests while developed countries need not have to do anything because they have already deforested most of their forests. Is Malaysia supposed to help clean up the emission of the developed countries (due to their past overdeforestation) by keeping a maximum area of forests even though the country is already a net carbon sink country,( ie has taken care of its own CO2 emissions by keeping enough forests)? Some developed countries like Canada is still deforesting for agricultural development , where up to 10 million hectares are planned to be deforested in the near future. Why do the NGOs remain silent on such deforestation. How many times have the NGOs cited Canada for continuing to deforest up to 100,000 hectares per year for agricultural developments (and another 10 million hectares are still planned to be deforested), compared to accusations levelled at Malaysia where deforestation has essentially stopped 15 years ago and the total area developed for oil palm in the last 100 years is only 4.5 million hectares or less than 0.09 % of total agricultural land area of the world.

If Malaysia is already a net cabon sink country it should be appreciated for its contribution to mitigate global warming. It also means that its land use policy is working optimally to benefit the planet, the people and the national development objectives. The NGOs should not ask Malaysia to do more than its equitable share in mitigating global warming, or providing biodiversity and wildlife habitat conservation. We have already sacrificed greatly in maintaining a large percentage of our land as forest. Revenue generated from natural forests is 33 times lower than the revenue if the land is used for agriculture for oil palm or rubber cultivation. At present, our sacrifice for keeping an above average percentage of forests is not being compensated by the rich net CO2 emitter countries of the world; our role as a carbon sink country in helping to clean up the CO2 emitted by developed countries remains unappreciated; our palm oil, a produce of our agricultural industry continues to be smeared. It is hard to make sense of these illogical situations unless we agree that the ulterior motives by the EU and their NGOs are to block the import trade of a competitive product like palm oil, or allow the NGOs to collect toll money by introducing unnecessary certification schemes or shall we agree that greed and double standards have overtaken fairplay in order for some to survive in this modern world.

(Note: Follow this Blog in a future article to learn of the manupulations and professional act of omissions used to limit the import of palm oil into the EU and USA which will result in both set of countries promoting the worst biofuels on earth using locally produced oils and fats).

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Misquoted in The Star Newspaper

Ms Hillary Chew is a respected environmental campaigner for the Star and should not write words as though they were from my statements. I never said that oil palm plantations are good habitats for orang utans. Additionally, I have never seen statements by the oil palm industry insisting that the oil palm plantations have no less biological diversity than the natural forests. These are Ms Chew's own words.

Those attending the recent orang utan colloquium are free to report in any way they like. In my view, the most important finding is the report by Dr Acrenaz that the orang utans do indeed feed on the loose fruits of the oil palm. Previously, the other orang utan "experts" insisted that orang utans do not eat the oil palm fruits.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Environment Comment

Mr Sean Whyte complained in the media as an NGO that the NGOs are doing a good job telling the truth about the manner that the oil palm industry is run. This is a good start and the role played by the NGO is most appreciated. As far as Malaysian oil palm industry is concerned, there are numerous laws in this country to protect the industry, environment and the people. NGOs are encouraged to report to the authorities of any wrong-doings, and culprits would be punished. If no report of wrong-doings can be submitted, then NGOs are simply acting as critiques spreading erroneous assumptions and "it was reported" type "facts" again and again. Let us have the complaints in the form of an official report, and the industry through its enforcement body such as the MPOB can response to the complaints. Thank you for your good intention.

Yusof Basiron CEO MPOC

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Perverted Views of Anti-Developing Country(ADC) Environmentalists

Fanned by media support, the anti-developing country environmentalists are desperately competing for the limelight by making outrageous statements hoping to impart maximum damage to the image of products exported from developing countries. The Friends of the Earth (FOE) was recently quoted as saying that “palm oil helps nobody” in their eagerness to campaign against the use of palm oil in Cadbury chocolates in New Zealand. Palm oil, exported mainly from Malaysia and Indonesia, is produced from legitimate agricultural lands just like competing soyabean or rapeseed oils. FOE is well aware that palm oil has helped farmers in Malaysia and Indonesia climb out of the poverty trap which has long been afflicting developing countries. With oil palm as their main crop, farmers in Malaysia and Indonesia are earning US $20 per day presently as compared to US$ 2 per day 30 years ago when oil palm was not a major crop. Campaigning against the produce of developing country farmers by some developed country NGOs is considered plain unethical as these farmers and plantation workers want to have a better life just like their counterparts in developed nations.

In a related event, Greenpeace, an EU based NGO, recently campaigned for New Zealand farmers against the use of palm kernel meal as animal feed for the dairy industry. Greenpeace “attacked” the famous milk brand of New Zealand (Fonterra) by alleging that demand for palm kernel meal by milk farmers will help cause deforestation.

Getting the facts wrong can be counterproductive. The natural forests of New Zealand were mostly wiped out within a generation of white settlements in the 19th and 20th centuries. These natural forests were replaced with grazing land, to produce milk, meat, and wool which are the main exports of New Zealand. One wonders why an agricultural product produced out of deforested land in New Zealand is acceptable to Greenpeace while an agricultural product from Malaysia is often demonised. Both countries cleared land for agricultural purposes long ago, and the extent of deforestation was much more extensively carried out in New Zealand compared to Malaysia. Yet no questions are raised on this matter? Why are NGOs selectively picking developing countries for their campaigns when the actual land clearance is much more obvious in countries like New Zealand and others?

It puzzles me when NGOs ask Cadbury to use cocoa butter rather than oil palm fat in their chocolate formulation. This surely does not solve the problem of alleged deforestation since cocoa is also planted on the same tropical land of Malaysia where oil palms are grown. Are these so called greenies aware that more land needs to be allocated to planting cocoa (more deforestation possibility?) since the fat yield of cocoa is very low as compared to oil palm.

Discouraging New Zealand farmers from using palm kernel meal as part of feed material for dairy cattle will damage the milk industry as yield of milk will surely decline. (Palm kernel meal helps increase milk yield in dairy cattle significantly). Without palm kernel meal, farmers have to supplement the feed shortage and overcome yield decline, by having larger grazing areas which mean a much larger area needed to be deforested in New Zealand.

In the 1950s to 1990s,when Malaysia opened up its jungle land to resettle landless farmers , surveyors from New Zealand were employed to identify land areas suitable for agriculture to plant oil palm and rubber. Are these knowledgeable surveyors not recognised for their contributions to help develop the Malaysian economy?

To me forests, whether temperate or tropical, are valuable to sequester carbon dioxide to prevent global warming. Why then are forests in tropical countries the only target for preservation? This would give developed country farmers a big advantage in exporting their agricultural products unimpeded compared to us in the developing countries. Thus the “ruling by the ADC NGOs” can only apply to those with perverted view points or those naturally opposed to developing countries trying to develop their economy and export agricultural products to earn a decent income. By practicing double standards these perverted NGOs will conveniently ignore the over-deforestation that has taken place in the developed countries which continues till today. If the intention is to reduce carbon emission, let focus on the real culprit: the use of fossil fuel contributes up to 80% of global CO2 emission which mainly occurs in developed countries, but guess who gets the eventual blame - again China and India - .. another popular perverted viewpoint of some NGOs and even western governments.

While writing this piece, the Hon. EU Ambassador to Malaysia came to my office to discuss progress in the palm oil industry in relation to the EU proposed legislation for renewable fuels. He confirmed the concern of the EU for Malaysia not to repeat the mistakes of the developed countries which have over-deforested and have lost biodiversity due to extensive agricultural development. I wonder if the EU automatically assumed that Malaysia will make the mistake of developed countries. When asked why the EU cannot correct their own mistakes by replanting the lost forests, he replied that it was difficult (I couldn’t help thinking that they can spend billions sending people to the moon!), but did say that some countries are beginning to reforest. I also pointed out that on a per capita basis, our forests are currently providing a free service by cleaning up (sequestering) the CO2 emitted by developed countries because of their high per capita consumption of fossil fuel, and our countries should be compensated. There are no freebies in this world. In response, the Hon. Ambassador was keen to explore Malaysia’s proposal as he believes that Malaysia has some possible solutions to offer which the EU may be keen to pursue.

Malaysia should therefore be able to offer its oil palm production model that is linked to the EU concept of sustainable development if the EU in return offers to compensate for sacrifices made to maximise our forest cover. Currently Malaysia’s reforestation programme is funded by the government to the tune of RM 2 billion under the 9th Malaysia’s Five Year plan. In the coming 10th Malaysia’s Five Year Plan, the timely availability of a compensation scheme from the EU could further extend the reforestation programme. Such win-win proposal will allow the EU and their NGOs the opportunity to pay for the extra forests that they desire while our agricultural products such as palm oil are not haressed through the threat of legislations and other trade barriers which could undermine the income of developing country farmers.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Blame Game on Carbon Emission, Sustainability & Rainforest Conservation

The proposed Copenhagen Climate Change Summit in December 2009 has generated intense interests from the EU and USA to advance their initiatives on reducing carbon emission to fight global warming and climate change. The EU which is hosting the summit is expected to aim for a successful adoption of an international emission mitigation agreement. However, as there are still many issues to be resolved in order to agree to a common position, the NGOs are expected to intensify their lobbying efforts on policy-makers to keep up the pace of negotiations.

In the run-up to the December event, stakeholders should watch closely the arguments that will dominate the debate. The focus will be on the position of individual countries regarding the amount of green house gas(GHG) that they emit to the atmosphere. If a country is a net emitter of GHG, it will be labeled as a “carbon source”. If it is a net sequester of GHG it will be regarded as a “carbon sink” . The largest source of GHG responsible for the increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere over the last 100 years is mainly attributed to fossil fuel, which is reported to be responsible for up to 80 % of total increase in global emissions. Global warming, when linked to carbon dioxide emission should be attributed to this fossil source. The developed countries, which emit a high per capita CO2, will likely point fingers at countries with large population base like China and India, therefore denying their role in increasing global emissions.

To further divert world attention, issues of minor relevance such as rainforests conservation will be brought into mainstream discussions. Many EU and US NGOs are already seen to be forming or aligning themselves with their favourite rainforest and orang utan conservation movements by preparing reports to champion this cause in the tropics. Agricultural crops of tropical countries are often blamed by these NGOs for deforestation and used as a disguise for causing global warming. Of course, the web pages of these NGO also call for donations from the public to join them in pursuing the rainforest conservation initiatives, where apparently a lot of money can be raised through the rainforest and orang utan conservation debate. After all, the cuddly orang utan easily moves the emotions of uninformed consumers.

Some of the absurd arguments already proposed by global warming scientists and NGOs are as follows:-

The USA and the EU which previously were a “carbon source” because of deforestation for agricultural development many decades ago are now labeled as a net “carbon sink” because some agricultural land areas abandoned by farmers have reverted to become forests again. The catch in this argument is that although the original CO2 released during the first deforestation is still in the atmosphere, the global warming scientists are now ignoring this fact and are assuming that if agricultural land is reforested, the land will automatically become a new carbon sink. Logically, the reforested land can only sequester a fraction ( generally less than 100% ) of the CO2 originally released to the atmosphere during the first deforestation. It would be impossible for the same land to revert to a 100% carbon sink status again unless the new forest exceeds the carbon capture capacity of the original forest. It is ironic that the global CO2 emission map of some climate change scientists only focuses on emission effect of deforestation over recent times in order to show favourable carbon sink effect of developed countries. Developing countries which still need to clear land to develop for agriculture will show poorly as an increasing carbon source. The fact that developed countries need to reforest because they have little forest left and the need of developing countries to develop their agricultural industries because they have not been developed yet will likely to be ignored in the debate. Furthermore, the emission effect of fossil fuel use is likely to be ignored in order to have a convincing map for the USA and Europe to avoid carbon emission and global warming blame and therefore conveniently shifting it to deforestation in developing countries.

Based on the above scheming, South East Asian countries will be depicted in a global map as a “carbon source” because agricultural lands are created through so called recent deforestation. The global warming scientists argue that for the developed countries, where deforestation was carried out decades ago, past CO2 emissions would be treated as “sunk costs” in their creative accounting, and if farmers voluntarily reforest, the land is regarded as a new carbon sink. In this way they believe that even if the agricultural land is not reforested, the land is no longer regarded as a carbon source because the CO2 from the original deforestation is already in the atmosphere. Fortunately, this simplistic argument of indirect land use effect (ILUC) was questioned in the recent US House of Representatives debate last week, and they rightly decided not to allow, in the next 5 years pending a further study, the use of such ILUC calculations in arriving at sustainable biofuel criteria, because if proper evaluation is carried out, corn biofuel cannot pass as a carbon sink when the past deforestation effect of the land is taken into consideration.

Many versions of this “creative accounting” of carbon emissions are likely to surface as we approach the Copenhagen meeting. Arbitrary cut-off dates for deforestation to develop agricultural land have already been proposed in the RSPO criteria and the EU renewable energy directives. Emission capping, emission saving limits and reduced emission from deforestation and degradation (REDD) initiatives are being proposed by some circles in the EU to help prevent deforestation. Unsubstantiated NGO reports are regularly surfacing to justify some of these arguments to push the global warming blame to deforestation of rain forests in South East Asia. For these obvious reasons, the palm oil industry is dragged in and used as a camouflage to devert attention from the actual problem. With all these proposed initiatives to prevent deforestation of tropical forests, numerous possibilities for creative accounting will be available and many potential regulations will follow which essentially will become trade barriers to products exported from developing countries. Logically, if 80 % of global CO2 emission is from fossil fuel, 80 % of the debate should be dedicated to finding solutions to mitigate the contribution of fossil fuel emission mainly by the developed countries.

If only 20% of global emissions is attributed to deforestation, we must also logically look at where agricultural land areas are residing and attribute the loss of forests to these lands. These agricultural lands carry with them carbon emission debts due to deforestation irrespective of whether the forests were cleared decades ago or recently because the CO2 remains in the atmosphere and acts as a GHG to raise global temperature. The rainforests and temperate forests may vary in their carbon emission capacity when deforested but the variation is less than 20 % and the global warming blame should also apply equitably to deforestation that has occurred in the developed countries.

If we revisit the data that world agricultural land area is over 4967 million hectares, and assume that these areas make up most of the other 20% emission due to past deforestation, the proportion of total oil palm area for both Indonesia and Malaysia of slightly over 10 million hectares would not constitute much compared to world agricultural area. Therefore, it follows that deforestation due to the development of agricultural land to plant oil palm is equally small. If the 4.5 million hectares of oil palm area of Malaysia, being part of our agricultural land, constitute only 0.09 % of global agricultural areas and therefore assumed to account for only 0.09 % of global deforestation due to the country’s oil palm agricultural development, it does not deserve to be smeared as a cause of deforestation as propagated by some overzealous NGOs. Further, if deforestation as opposed to fossil fuel is only contributing 20 % towards global warming effects, Malaysian palm oil’s contribution of 0.09 % of global deforestation will only have 20% of 0.09% fifth or 0.018% of global warming effect. If the temperature rise, as projected by global warming scientists, is to increase by 2 degrees centigrade in the tropics in the next few decades, the effect of 0.018% contribution from deforestation due to Malaysian oil palm plantations is mind-bogglingly small - 0.00018 x 2 or 0.00036 degrees centigrade! I must admit that as an engineer, my arithmetic calculation is often reduced to approximation to the nearest 1 or 2 decimal points and the above figure should just be read as zero.

I have not even added the carbon sequestration effect of the oil palm as forest species when planted on agricultural land in the calculations. If global warming scientists insist on painting a rosy picture of the US becoming a carbon sink because some farmers allow trees to re-grow on their abandon farm land, it must similarly be recognised that the oil palm farmers have been doing just that all along i.e. planting trees on their agricultural land; therefore oil palm cultivation should be equally regarded as a carbon sink. However, unlike the reforested abandoned farm land of the USA which has minimal output, oil palm plantations also allow the world to be supplied with a vital food source globally while locally, the crop keeps poverty away from ravishing the rural community of developing countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Columbia, Nigeria and many others. But the many proposals for “creative carbon accounting” (or in short cheating) being suggested by vested interest groups in the developed countries will not recognise the advantageous carbon sink attributes of the oil palm to mitigate global warming unless the developing countries have a real say in the negotiations in the Copenhagen Climate Change Meeting in December this year.

(As a footnote, I need to inform that the global warming scientists do not know where a significant 33 % of total disappearance of CO2 is attributed to. The oceans absorb a significant amount of CO2. Increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere also facilitate more photosynthesis by plants leading to greater utilisation of CO2. Tropical and temperate forests absorb a lot of CO2. These still could not account for the remaining 33% disappearance of CO2. In the absence of reliable scientific explanation, global warming scientists resort to modeling climate change using assumptions and scenario buildings. Under such situations, any likelyhood of global warming scenario can be generated by the models depending on the assumptions used. Non scientists and lawmakers should not rush into any conclusions regarding global warming as all that the scientists can do at present is to develop models and simulate outcomes based on their favorite assumptions.)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Palm Oil Exploited to Fuel Culture of Lies

The UK Independent newspaper has recently published a report to reveal the presence of the ever popular palm oil in food products in the country. The report does not reveal anything new. It has always been known that palm oil is widely used in numerous food products that we use or consume everyday . In fact, credit should be given to the UK for promoting the use of palm oil in food products since the beginning of the 20th century because the British were among the early pioneers to cultivate oil palm in the Far East and import palm oil to supplement the chronic shortages of oils and fats in the country.

What is new in the report is the vengeance with which the Independent took it upon itself to demonise palm oil with the accusation that this ever popular palm oil causes "catastrophic impact on the wild life of Malaysia ...",... " whose rainforests are being cleared to grow the crop". Many other unfounded statements taken without close scrutiny for accuracy from NGOs environmental campaign reports are used by the Independent to justify its call on the food industry to stop using palm oil.

I actually analyse every sentence on the front page of the lead article:"An oil shock we cannot ignore" by the Independent on 1st May. Almost every sentence on the page is not true and therefore a lie. How is it that newspapers like the Independent are resorting to telling lies to make a sale nowadays. Is it that bad in the UK? True, these dramatic sentences were already mentioned by NGOs in their past reports, but that does not qualify them to be taken as truths.

We all know that the culture of lying was developed into a fine art by President Bush and PM Blair when they tried to make a case for invading Iraq. Look at where they are now after their own people rejected their brand of leadership. Unfortunately, the Independent sees it fit to propagate this new culture of lies, under the guise of going green. I can therefore predict that the Independent newspaper will soon loose credibility and go out of print for propagating lies. How long can one lie to the public even if they are vulnerable during these difficult times of gloom and doom.

Attacking the agricultural produce of developing countries using fabricated lies manufactured by the Greenpeace and other UK led environmental NGOs is uncalled for as our farmers have been growing oil palm on their legitimate agricultural land long before the Independent was established. Why it it that all of a sudden our palm oil that feeds billion of people round the world is projected as undesirable. Palm oil was not denied its role in the food industry when the British owned most of the oil palm plantations in Malaysia in the 1960s and 70s. Malaysia has not deforested its land in the way portrayed by the Independent. Our permanent forests are intact and protected by law and cannot simply be converted for oil palm cultivation. This is why we still maintain more than 55% of Malaysia under permanent forest cover compared to just 11 % of forest left in the UK. World deforestation is occuring at the rate of 10 million hectares per year. Oil palm is not to be blamed as the deforestation rate is totally uncorrelated to the combined oil palm area of Indonesia and Malaysia of only slightly over 10 million hectares created after being in existence for about 100 years.

We live in a world that is littered with half truths, many of which are propagated by intelligent people. Have they ever wondered on the implications of their actions which may affect the livelihood and families of oil palm farmers in distant countries. Many of these farmers are probably living from hand to mouth on a daily basis and struggling to feed their families with a sustainable source of decent income. Terrorizing the oil palm industry by publishing blatant lies can be likened to the Somalian pirates who live on immoral earnings by attacking defenseless ships passing their waters.

The writers responsible for the Independent controversial articles are either very ignorant about deforestation in Malaysia or they are simply cashing in on the readers appetite for dramatic stories even if they betray the public trust on them to report factual truth. We have often opened our doors by inviting the UK media and NGOs to dialogue but they resort to using the printed media to tell blatant lies on palm oil sustainability. For example, a palm oil sustainability seminar was held in London in March 2009, but the media and some relevant NGOs failed to show up despite many of them having registered to attend. I would encourage these misguided writers to be brave enough to visit a real oil palm plantation in Malaysia and tell our oil palm farmers why the palm oil that they produce is not as acceptable as the olive oil produced by the EU farmers.

In my assessment, oil palm plantations in Malaysia are anytime better farm models than olive plantations in Europe, or any large scale farm operations in the UK. Why must the Independent newspaper "attack" our well managed agricultural oil palm farms and not "attack" the inferior and subsidised farms operated in Europe. For example, olive plantation farms in the EU (I saw some in Spain and Portugal while on holidays) use too much water or need irrigation; they are proned to desertification and soil erosion by wind; they have almost no biodiversity, and contribute minimally in combating global warming. The olive plantations are so inferior in environmental sustainability compared to oil palm plantations in Malaysia that it is a shame that the NGOs and Independent newspaper decided to pick to denigrate palm oil and not olive oil.

If the argument is against deforestation that took place long ago to create these olive and other farms around the world including oil palm cultivation, let it be known that the land used for oil palm cultivation in Malaysia is only 0.09% of total world agricultural area. Surely 0.09 % of world agricultural land is not responsible for world deforestation or global warming; it is more logical to focus the blame on the rest of the 99.91 % of the world agricultural areas which reside mostly in the developed countries. What the Independent is doing is like blaming the Malaysians for global warming because we use a few cars when in fact the developed countries are the ones using cars more intensively and should be blamed for global warming.

The Independent article still talks of raising money in the West to give to Malaysia to help save rainforests and such a move apparently will be proposed at the coming climate change meeting in Copenhagen in December. It is a good idea if the West can "bail out" the rainforests (in addition to their banks and car firms in financial trouble) from being decimated especially for areas in the tropics where forests are truely being removed. But focusing on Malaysia as a location of deforestation is the wrong target and attributing the blame to palm oil is truely cruel as contrary to the allegations, palm oil is likely to help save forests by indirectly preventing clearing of forests for planting soyabean and rapeseed to overcome world shortages in oils and fats. This is termed the "deforestation avoidance" effect of high yielding oil palm when palm oil from Malaysia is imported to meet world shortages (see previous blog article).

It would be even better if the Independent proposes to promote reforestation to combat climate change by allowing more trees to sequester green house gases (GHG),and the UK is the best place to start the initiative as it is also the one with the least percentage of forest left and so far no effort to reforest is announced yet. I was also informed that the UK had only two species of frog left and yet the Prince Charles Rainforest Initiative is using the frog (toad) as an icon in the hope of saving frogs in the tropics. Could this be another wrong target of focus due to misinformation? (I will talk of the 'frog trap' set in Brazil in my next article in this blog).

Yet another relative (sister-in-law) of the present Prime Minister is reported in the Financial Times (May 6, 2009) to be secretely filming the Penans of Sarawak to raise Western sympathy to save rainforests from the logging industry. This apparently is setting the stage for supporting the Prince Charles Rainforest Initiative which was launched the previous day. Actually, the Penans have chosen to cultivate their land with oil palm (being the most viable agricultural crop as an alternative to rubber)and some are already becoming millionaires; why is it that Ms Rewcastle (The PM's sister in law) is not keen to interview these progressive Penans and learn of their plans and aspirations. She should ask the Penans as to who among them do not wish to be wealthy like the successful (wellknown Penan millionaire) oil palm plantation owner.

I hope the Prince Charles Rainforest Initiative will stumble onto my Blog and discover that the rainforest destruction report submitted by unscrupulous NGOs are false generalizations, especially for Malaysia. The Independent newspaper may not want to publish counter viewpoints from Malaysia as they have editorial control over what can be published in their own papers and seem to monopolise the media. But with the Internet nowadays, one cannot stop other people from telling the truth, or pointing out the inferior standards of olive farms in the EU when compared to oil palm farms in Malaysia.

Friday, April 24, 2009

De-linking NGOs Concerns over Deforestation and Palm Oil

1. A few years ago when oils and fats were cheaper than petroleum, the EU and USA rushed to promote the use of biofuels for various reasons. One not-so-frankly-revealed reason was that oilseed farmers will benefit from the new market outlets and the increase in prices. The governments also benefited from this strategy because agricultural subsidies would be reduced if prices of soyabean and rapeseed were high and price support subsidies would not be needed. In addition, it makes good political statements to say that biodiesel will help reduce global warming through reduced green house gas emissions, and also enable the countries to be less dependent on imported petroleum fuels.

2. Diverting a major portion of rapeseed and soya oil supply and stocks for biodiesel did result in increasing prices which benefited the EU and US farmers tremendously between 2004 and the middle of 2008. During this time, it became obvious that palm oil was a potentially good raw material to participate in the biodiesel industries in both the EU and USA as it is generally cheaper than soyabean or rapeseed oil. This resulted in increasing concern amongst the EU biodiesel lobbies who are integrated with the rapeseed industry over the potential competion from palm oil and they tried to prevent it from being imported for biodiesel production and use in the EU. This was also to ensure that biodiesel subsidies are not shared with competing imported oils.

3. Various trade barriers were set up by the goverments. For example, biodiesel standards were developed in the EU to disqualify palm oil biodiesel from being accepted. The cold flow plug point(CFPP) standard was introduced to ensure palm oil did not meet the required test and the anti palm oil lobby was relieved at the new arrangement. However, the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) announced that palm oil biodiesel methyl esters can be processed with a new technology that would overcome the CFPP problem. Furthermore, if the blending of biodiesel is only at 5%, the CFPP value of palm oil biodiesel methyl esters becomes irrelevant as the 5 parts of palm biodiesel is totally dissolved by the 95 parts of petroleum diesel giving an acceptable blend. However, unknown to many, tallow produced in the EU and used for biodiesel would also fail the CFPP test and this would not go well with the local tallow lobbies.

4. EU farmers continue to question the reason for an imported commodity such as palm oil biodiesel to be accorded biofuel subsidy which is meant for local oilseed farmers. The outcries became louder as some power plants began to use palm oil as biofuel and enjoyed the subsidies and the cheaper prices. The rapeseed lobbies were worried that by allowing cheaper palm oil for use as biofuel in vehicles and power plants, it will eventually affect the demand for local oils, and create a substantial outflow of subsidies.(This narrow view ignores the fact that Malaysia imports large amount of EU and US goods and needs market access for its exports in order to remain a valued trading partner.)

5. A new import barrier for palm oil was subsequently introduced arising from the view of the former Dutch Environmental Minister who argued that if palm oil is encouraged for use as biofuel it would stimulate an increase in production leading to the opening of forest land. This apparently will affect the environment, animal habitats and biodiversity. He was able to introduce the fear factor of what could happen in the future if palm oil demand undergoes a rapid increase.

6. The environmental NGOs were quick to sieze on the opportunity to harp on the fear of potential deforestation, and started to report on orang utan habitat loss and global warming effects of oil palm cultivation on peat. The change in focus from deforestation due to logging to now oil palm plantation became a refreshing rallying point for NGOs perpetual campaigns. Afterall palm oil has more money to offer than the logging industry which has over the years witnessed a decline.

7. Once the issues of deforestation and palm oil fell into the hands of NGOs like FOE and Green Peace who use unscrupulus methods to attack their target victims, the whole issue of biodiesel development and protection of subsidies was totally forgotten. The farmers in the EU and USA who are worried by palm oil invasion for the new found application of their oils and fats as biodiesel are totally served by the NGOs who gladly run the anti-palm oil campaign while pocketing huge amount of funds. The collusion to get the NGOs to campaign against palm oil was cleverly disguised. It was reported for example, that the Dutch Lottery money of a staggering US$2 million was instrumental in financing Green Peace to carry out a blockade of a ship carrying palm oil from leaving an Indonesian port to sail to Europe in 2007.

8. It is clear that the fear factor used is based on the assumption that if demand for biofuel is increased, more oil palm cultivation will occur thus causing deforestation. Fortunately, Malaysia has consistently proven the assumption as baseless and wrong.

9. Let me debunk the various fallacies that are often cited to paint a bleak picture of the ever popular oil palm.

Fallacy 1 Oil palm plantations are claimed to be the cause of deforestation. Palm oil producing countries such as Malaysia have permanent forest reserves which take up to 55% of the country's total land area. Laws are in place to disallow these permanent forest areas to be converted to other uses including for agriculture or growing of oil palm. The remaining forest areas are meant for conversion into other uses, including agriculture. Some of these conversion forest areas are already alienated to individuals or organisations although the land may still not yet be converted and remain under forest cover. NGOs like Green Peace argue that these unconverted areas should be declared as forest through a moratorium on deforestation which essentially means a stop to a developing country like Malaysia from using its potential agricultural land to improve the life of its farmers. It is equivalent to asking the EU farmers to reforest back some 50 % of their agricultural land to help prevent global warming and preserve biodiversity. In all fairness, Greenpeace should agressively campaign for reforesting 50 % of agricultural land of the UK and EU and if successful, Malaysia should have no problem following the standard set by the EU in terms of land use ratio for agriculture.

There are also calls by NGOs for the Prince Chales Conservation fund to compensate developing countries for conserving more forests. Logically, these funds would be better used to reforest the over extended and over deforested agricultural areas in the UK. Most agricultural land can be easily reforested if so desired. The slogan "Plant Thy Own Forest" and "Stop Envying Thy Poor Neighbours Green Backyard" can be adopted. Otherwise Green Peace is cunningly introducing double standards where the EU can deforest and develop these areas into agricultural land, while the developing countries farmers are comdemmed to perpetual poverty by preventing them from exercising their sovereign rights to develop their agricultural land.

Fallacy 2 -It is often claimed that the expansion of oil palm cultivation will affect the habitats of the orang utans in Sabah and Sarawak. A recent study revealed that orang utan population is Sabah has not declined because the permanent forest area ( the favourite habitat of the orang utans that was surveyed five years ago)has not changed over the last five years. The study further revealed that the orang utan population in the non-permanent forest areas is increasing based on the survey of nesting sites. More surprisingly, orang utans living near oil palm plantations were observed to regularly visit the plantations to feed on loose oil palm fruitlets and benefit from an all year round availability of a healthy food source which is naturally rich in vitamin A and E, giving the orang utans a healthy shining coat. This suggests that development of the oil palm as a crop and conservation can successfully operate side by side.

Fallacy 3 The third fallacy is linking oil palm to deforestation and attributing this to global warming. The oil palm planted area of 4.3 million hectares in Malaysia represents a mere 0.09% of the world agriculture land. Assuming these areas were originally forests, Malaysia's share of deforestation for world food production is 0.09 %. I wait to see the NGO global warming scientists' prediction on the rise in global temperature caused by oil palm cultivation in Malaysia that resulted in 0.09 % of total deforestion via agricultural development. Even doubling the oil palm area may not add substantially to the world deforestation total. However, expanding oil palm may save deforestation by curtailing the rapid expansion of other inefficient land-use oil seed crops which need to be grown otherwise to overcome world shortages.

Cultivated Area of Oil Seeds in the World
Cultivated Area of Oil Seeds in the World | Click here to view the full resolution

Fallacy 4Potraying palm oil as inferior to soyabean or rapeseed oil in global warming debate. Oil palm in Malaysia and Indonesia is an agricultural crop which is grown mainly for the export market. We are the only two major net exporter countries (Argentina is a distant third)for vegetable oils and fats. The rest of the world are mostly net importers. It implies that if palm oil supply is reduced in the future, ten times more forest areas will need to be converted to agriculture to meet the shortages by growing soyabean or other annual oilseed crops compared to the area needed to grow oil palm to produce the targeted quantity of oil.

Mileage per hectare per year
Mileage per hectare per year - Based on a new VW Polo | Click here to view the full resolution

Recently, it was revealed that new varieties of oil palm are capable of increasing the yield by 3 times more and if further research to stabilise this yield potential is undertaken through international collaboration, palm oil can be a sound candidate to help solve not only future food shortages but also the biofuel need of the world. In simple terms, it has been calculated that a hectare of oil palm will potentially produce oil sufficient to fuel a VW Polo car 400,000 km of travel per year including the use of the methane fuel generated by the oil palm mill effluent, while a hectare of soya bean can fuel only 8,000 km of travel by the same car as a comparison. The irony is that the EU and USA are gladly promoting the most inefficient bio fuel derived from soyabean and rapeseed sources ,which can only mean massive deforestation possibly in Agentina, Brazil or where ever soyabean and rapeseed can be grown. The opportunity for oil palm to serve as an efficient fuel source and to save more forests from being converted into soyabean and rapeseed farms is sadly overlooked and we can only blame this on the manupulative science which is used by NGOs to raise emotions and blur the truth from reaching the attention of decision and policy makers in the EU and USA.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Revisiting Sustainable Palm Oil Production

I constantly receive invitations to speak at various seminars to explain the sustainability of palm oil production from Malaysia. Maybe it is confusing for the layman and industry players who receive conflicting claims from agencies like the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) and Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), as opposed to counter-claims by NGOs some of whom are totally anti-business and anti-developing countries in their stance.

Some of the NGOs are habitually harassing members of the RSPO, an international organization formed to help improve sustainability practices in the production of palm oil around the world. Like any new set-up, results will be forth-coming in a matter of time. But, these NGOs keep changing the goal-post, even though other prominent NGOs are members of the RSPO and are responsible for crafting the principles and criteria upon which the certification of palm oil is carried out.

Even without the RSPO, palm oil production in Malaysia is governed by laws and regulations aimed at making the industry "viable". This "viability" provision was incorporated in the Malaysian Palm Oil Board’s (MPOB) act although at that time it was not fashionable to use the word sustainable . The dictionary states that viability and sustainability roughly have similar meanings.

The palm oil industry is among the first to consciously apply R&D, licensing and registration activities to ensure the viability and sustainability of the industry. These are the functions entrusted and carried out by MPOB as it is a legally established body set up to see an orderly development of the palm oil industry. None of the other oilseed crops in the developed or developing countries has such a supervisory body to ensure the viability or sustainability of the targeted commodity.

Under the country's many laws impacting the operations of the palm oil industry, it is possible to claim that palm oil is produced more viably than any other oilseed crop and through the close similarities in meaning between viability and sustainability, palm oil is much more sustainably produced as compared to other oilseed crops produced worldwide.

One can still pose the theoretical question, "Is Malaysian palm oil sustainably produced?”. Given the laws and regulations long put in place and the agencies created to supervise the palm oil industry, it is unfair to claim that palm oil is 'not sustainable'. After all, there is no certifying body to prove that it is 'not sustainable'.

If "not sustainable" is not the answer, the lawyers' yes or no approach will tell us that palm oil production is "sustainable" even though some moderate NGOs often advise me to use the term "more sustainable".

To prove palm oil’s sustainability, the producers willingly volunteered to agree to form the RSPO so that through its vetting process, sustainable palm oil can be certified. It is rather obvious that instead of applauding the companies who pass the stringent test of once again proving sustainability, NGOs who are not members of RSPO pick successful RSPO members as targets and prepare extensive and inaccurate reports to inform the world that the certificates awarded to the successful RSPO members are defective. The NGOs who are members of the RSPO seem contented that their counterparts outside the RSPO are insulting them by not recognising the good efforts that they have put in to bring RSPO thus far in introducing sustainable certification for palm oil. Ironically, those who are not successful in getting the RSPO certification are not targeted.

Other competing oilseed crops planted in the EU or the USA, the motherland countries of some of these 'anti-developing countries' NGOs, are similarly not targeted to prove certification for sustainability.

Certification is costly and time consuming. In the auditing process for RSPO, the oil palm farmers have to verify each boundary stone to prove that the land is legitimately theirs. They have to account for all the weedicide empty bottles to ensure safety procedures are followed. How many thousands of boundary stones will the palm oil farmers need to show to the auditors (who fly all the way from Europe) to fulfill the certification criteria to qualify them to obtain the RSPO certification whereas their counterparts in rest of the world need not face such a hassle.

Fishing in Oil Palm Plantation

We have 150,000 small farmers and about 3,000 estates covering 4.5 million hectares of oil palm plantations. These oil palm farmers have been farming their land for generations, and their legitimate agricultural land that they own have nothing to do with deforestation. These are indeed agricultural land.

Some of the EU NGOs however are not happy with the situation, and have offered to teach and train the oil palm farmers how to grow their oil palm sustainably as advertised in their websites. (I bet that some of the EU NGOs sitting in their posh London or Amsterdam offices would not recognise the three types of palm trees popularly planted in Malaysia, let alone teach the Malaysian farmers a course on sustainable planting of oil palm). How do you teach and train when you have no sound knowledge on a tropical crop ? It takes years for planters to learn all the parameters before they can claim to be experts.

By organising threatening demonstrations and anti palm oil campaigns in the EU, the NGOs have put considerable fear in politicians who then to try to find ways to comply with sustainability certification if palm oil were to be used as biofuel in the EU, for e.g. as recently seen in Germany. Why discriminate and require certification on the agricultural products of our farmers when the products of their farmers do not require such certification. Oil palm was cultivated in Malaysia long before soyabean was planted in Europe.

Others too are escaping the scrutiny of the anti palm oil NGOs whether by intention or otherwise. By focusing on palm oil biofuel these NGOs allow the petroleum companies to continue to pollute and emit green house gases by promoting the continued use of fossil fuel. Last year, petroleum companies made huge profits (in the billions of dollars) but none seemed to be invested in reforesting Europe or USA where deforestation had occurred, and the GHG which has been released from past over-deforestation remains in the atmosphere. The only way to remove the released GHG is to reforest the EU which has over developed its land; up to 70 % of the total land area is used for agriculture.

Let’s face it, the real culprits are the fossil fuels. Maybe the NGOs are doing the fossil fuel industry a great service by diverting attention towards deforestation. Every 15 cars in their lifetime emit GHG equivalent to the deforestation of one hectare of forest. The EU introduces 15 million new cars every year and this will emit GHG equivalent to 1.5 million hectares of deforestation. In ten years the deforestation equivalent of EU’s new car population is estimated at 15 million hectares.

Both the oil palm planted areas of Malaysia and Indonesia which have been in business for almost 100 years are only about 11 million hectares and these are part of their agriculture land. Even then, oil palm occupies less than 5% of Indonesia’s land area. The oil palm industry allows the country to be self sufficient in food oil and to export the surplus to other countries to earn some US$17 billion which helps overcome poverty in the country.

Let’s get the facts right. Indonesia still maintains more than 50% of its land area under permanent forest. Malaysia allocates 12% of its land area for growing oil palm which takes up 66 % of its agricultural area and maintains more than 50% of its land area under permanent forest.

The NGOs often call for developing countries to stop developing our agriculture and preserve our forests. They do not care whether we have enough food produced for the country, or generate sufficient revenue to attain a decent standard of living. They want a moratorium on deforestation which means a stop to agriculture because in the tropics, whatever is not allocated as agricultural land for now will look like forest when viewed from a satellite picture which will be the key tool used for monitoring deforestation.

Because of the potential contention of what constitutes degraded land that can be rehabilitated by planting suitable crops such as oil palm or rubber, many developing countries would be reluctant to agree on a blanket deforestation policy. They will probably agree if forests that are classified as permanent and sustainably managed forests, national parks, and animal sanctuaries are declared off limits to agricultural development. In Malaysia such forests are already gazetted as permanent forests . Even if it has to be used for some other purposes, the law requires an equivalent area of replacement to be provided.

Some NGOs like to quote me as making an over claim on the sustainability issue. As a former head of the MPOB, my job was to prosecute lawbreakers in the oil palm industry by issuing them compounds or taking them to court so that their offences are dealt with appropriately.

In any community, industry or country, there are always lawbreakers who do not follow the rules. I am sure it happens also in the countries where the NGOs reside. If the public or NGOs provide evidence of the lawbreakers misdeeds, authorities like MPOB will immediately take action.

In an industry that is governed by laws, it is a welcome move if the NGOs are willing and able to submit evidence of wrong doing committed in the oil palm industry. A report by an NGO on actions taken by the Sabah Forestry Department forest land encroachment is proof that the law is being enforced. If the forest land is encroached upon by illegal immigrant workers who think that shifting cultivation is still tolerated, the relevant authorities will act to enforce the law, and such plantation will be non sustainable. That will imply that the legitimate oil palm plantations on agricultural land are sustainable.