New game plan in Malaysia to overcome challenges on palm oil

Kok says if we don’t educate our people, how are we going to educate the world?


MALAYSIA is banking on its people as part of the government’s new game plan to combat the issue of perception on palm oil.

Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok (picture) said Malaysia has to raise the ante of the country’s advocacy on the commodity as non-profit organisations in the West have been reaching out to school children in their anti-palm oil campaigns.

“The ‘Love My Palm Oil’ campaign is made to educate Malaysians on palm oil. If we don’t educate them, how are we going to educate the world?

“For example, the animation made by Greenpeace International…the anti-palm oil campaign includes pledges by small children asking for big firms to stop destroying the environment.

“We need to have that type of passion to fight this perception warfare and stand up to defend ourselves. We want this battle to be fought by the people,” she said in a special interview with a local media recently.

Last month, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad launched the campaign to instil national pride and greater appreciation for Malaysian palm oil, focusing on socio-economic importance, health, nutrition, and food and non-food applications.

Despite all the efforts being put forward by Malaysia to alter the western perception on palm oil, chances are looking slim for the European Union (EU) to review its sustainable directive on the commodity.

The European Commission recently adopted the Delegated Act proposal to implement the EU Renewable Energy Directive or EU RED II for 2021-2030, which will slowly limit and phase out biofuel imports into the union until 2030.

The delegated regulation also suggested that oil palm cultivation has contributed to deforestation, greenhouse gas emission and indirect land use change.

Kok said according to the feedback from members of a Malaysian delegation who went on a mission to counter the EU’s decision, it may be difficult to change the resolution as the Act is likely to be passed.

“Two weeks ago, the ministry’s secretary general and our counterparts from Indonesia went to meet EU commissioners and political leaders in Brussels, Belgium.

“From the impression, it looks like the dedicated regulation will likely be passed and adopted by the Europeans,” she said.

While the European Parliament elections are set to take place next month, Kok said the climate change and environmental issues are going to be further scrutinised and will be on the agenda of the politicians running for the seats.

“In May, the EU Parliament is going to have its election, and climate change and environmental issues are going to be the subjects of political mileage for all candidates.

“It may be very difficult for us to turn the tide or to defer the proposal,” she added.

Representatives from Malaysia and Indonesia, which supply a combined 85% of the world’s palm oil, had visited EU’s headquarters in Brussels in a joint mission to present their objection of the Delegated Act.

Subsequently, Indonesia President Joko Widodo and Dr Mahathir signed a joint letter of objection to the union.

In addition to focusing on the retaliatory moves, Kok said her ministry is expanding Malaysia’s trading opportunity for the palm oil and palm-related products as countries such as Russia, Saudi Arabia and Japan have expressed their interest in purchasing the commodity.

“I was told that during our visit to Saudi Arabia recently, they showed interest in our palm oil.

“(In fact,) the Malaysian Palm Oil Council is engaging with Russia as they are willing to buy palm oil from Malaysia, while Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu went to Russia and Iran to bring this matter in their negotiations,” she added.

While the Western perception on palm oil is deemed baseless and scientifically loose, Kok admits that the local producers need to improve on their production in order to address the issues that prevent palm oil from being a premium product such as the presence of 3MCPDE (3-Monochloropropane-1, 2-diol esters).

“The industry itself needs to examine the way we handle the plantations and palm oil mills before they start thinking about the bigger picture such as deforestation and the killing of the wildlife diversity.

“First, we need to address the 3MCPDE contaminants that we have with palm oil mills as we need to produce pure and high-grade products…to ensure that all palm oils coming out of Malaysia are a premium product,” she said.

As the country hopes to increase the crude palm oil’s domestic annual demand to 1.3 million tonnes by 2020, Kok said the government is deliberating to include the biodiesel programmes for a higher blend of palm oil in the revised National Automotive Policy (NAP).

“My ministry is currently negotiating with the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) to include the vehicle specification for the B20 and B30 biodiesel in the NAP.

“We are discussing with MITI to develop a directive for all imported vehicles that use diesel to be at least a minimum of B20 compliance,” she said.

Malaysia aims to trace Indonesia’s footsteps as the latter introduced the B20 — a blend of 20% palm oil and 80% fossil fuel — biodiesel programme for the transport sector back in 2016 to stabilise its domestic demand and reduce the stock.

Last December, Dr Mahathir said that Malaysia should start gearing up in adopting a B20 biodiesel programme by 2020.