More nuances needed on palm oil sustainability, says Sultan Nazrin

by SHAHEERA AZNAM SHAH / pic by RAZAK GHAZALI

LOCAL planters should demonstrate a different perspective of the palm oil’s sustainability to counter Western critics on the commodity’s cultivation, said Perak Ruler Sultan Dr Nazrin Muizzuddin Shah.

He said the representatives and supporters of the oil palm sector should reach out and provide much more nuanced accounts of its sustainability, record and practices rather than responding defensively to the critics.

“This should emphasise the progress that has already been made by the sector towards limiting the negative impacts and its continuous efforts,” he said at the ninth International Planters Conference in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.

Sultan Nazrin said technological advances, for example, can be used to improve sustainability and at the same time, boost efficiency.

“The potential contribution of technological advances to the aspects of sustainability is amply illustrated by the example of remote-sensing technologies, which strengthen the environmental monitoring and boost efficiency.

“Other new technologies will prove the transformative innovation equally. The sector should be encouraged as much as possible to exploit the full potential of the technological advances,” he said.

Despite the criticism on the country’s cultivation of oil palms, Sultan Nazrin said the commodity has been the economic backbone of Malaysia, contributing to export earnings and improving the standard of living.

“Palm oil is by far the most valuable to the country in economic term, contributing significantly in taxes, export earnings and employment.

“The sector has been subject to considerable criticism over the negative environmental impact of the large-scale forest conversion that is associated with its expansion through carbon emissions and biodiversity loss for some time.

“However, commendable progress on sustainability has been made as a result of this attention, but it was not welcomed by others,” he said.

Sultan Nazrin explained that further efforts are still required in order to limit the potential contribution of negative impacts to the global environment, such as deforestation and biodiversity loss.

“Over the past few decades, oil palm has become a major crop and a key element of the global food system.

“This system already contributes disproportionately to the global environmental crisis and the predicted population growth will only make it worse,” he said.

While the growing population presents an opportunity to exploit the natural resources to serve the demand, the ruler added that it has to be done in a more sustainable manner.

“In order to feed the ever-rising population, which is expected to reach around 9.8 billion by 2050, mass production of proteins, staple grains and vegetable oil will be required.

“From an economic perspective, this growth demand may seem to present an exciting opportunity. However, without significant changes to the current system, the environment will have dire consequences.

“This will entail a more intensive and less damaging use of existing resources, as well as greater efficiency in all areas of production, distribution and consumption,” he added.