Palm oil is not cause of deforestation, says PM

Latest figures show that about 55% of the country’s 33m ha land areas are under forest cover


PRIME Minister (PM) Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad (picture) maintains that oil palm plantation is not a major cause of deforestation, as the plantation accounts for only 0.4% of the total global agricultural area.

“In Malaysia, oil palm is mainly planted in designated agricultural land, and the opening of new plantation has plateaued in recent years and will remain as such,” he said during his keynote address at the Malaysian Palm Oil Board International Palm Oil Congress and Exhibition 2019.

“Malaysia’s palm oil plantations have embraced the sustainability practices proactively and positively, despite criticisms from global environmentalists, pressure groups, green consumerists, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the increasingly stringent sustainability criteria of importing countries.

“Despite all the sustainable efforts undertaken by the palm oil industry, at the international front, the industry is continuously linked to deforestation and loss of biodiversity. The negative publicity campaigns against palm oil are mainly due to reasons intertwined with political and economic agenda in attacking the palm oil industry by anti-palm oil campaigners and Western NGOs,” he added.

Dr Mahathir said Malaysia’s commitment towards sustainability can be traced way back to 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit, where he pledged to maintain at least 50% of the country’s landmass under forest cover.

“Today in 2019, after almost three decades, I am proud to say that we have not reneged on that pledge,” he said.

According to Dr Mahathir, latest figures showed that about 55% of Malaysia’s 33 million hectares (ha) land areas are under forest cover, exceeding the country’s initial pledge at the Rio Earth Summit.

He further said the delegated regulation, which has been found to be lacking in transparency, scientific credibility and accurate assumptions to reflect the actual sustainable practices in the industry, has misled the European Parliament to phase out the use of palm-based biofuel in the transportation sector by 2030.

“Furthermore, it is biased against palm oil biofuels compared to other crop-based biofuels,” the PM said.

In reality, producing palm oil is more efficient compared to other oils and seeds as it requires the least land area, but yet produces the highest yield.

Oil palm’s average yield of four tonnes of oil per ha per year is four times higher than rapeseed, 5.4 times higher than sunflower and eight times higher than soya bean.

“Therefore, a ban on palm oil would not stop deforestation, instead, will lead to more opening of land intensive oilseed crops to keep up with the rising demand,” Dr Mahathir said.

The PM also stressed that Malaysia and other palm oil producing nations would “take countermeasures” and not stay “silent” if importing countries choose to impose discriminatory trade barriers.

“Despite our best efforts, if certain importing countries choose to impose discriminatory trade barriers against palm oil producing countries, we not must not keep silent nor hesitate to take countermeasures.

“If there is any evidence that such discriminatory trade practices are in violation of any international laws, Malaysia and other producing countries under the Council of Palm Oil Producing Countries must seek intervention from the World Trade Organisation,” he said.

On the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification, Dr Mahathir said a government-linked company was mandated to work closely with smallholders in an effort to increase the adoption of MSPO certification as part of the company’s sustainable supply chain.

“Once successful, I would also like to encourage other major industry players to assume their corporate responsibility by assis- ting the smallholders to achieve MSPO certification,” he said.