Total Malaysian exports of oil palm products in 2018 amounted to 24.88 million tonnes, with a total export revenue of RM67.49 billion, and palm oil export earnings alone contributed RM38.63 billion to our economy. Those were the key highlights of the 2018 Malaysian Palm Oil Industry Overview Report by the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB).
Malaysia, the world’s second largest producer behind Indonesia, is pitting this enormous economic driver against environmental issues. On the one hand, oil palm is the most important crop for Malaysia, contributing about 39% to the worldwide supply. On the other hand, the irresponsible palm oil development around the globe is wreaking environmental havoc, according to Greenpeace International and European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union.
Quoting from the European Commission report published in February 2018, it claims that “Indonesia and Malaysia alone have increased the area cultivated for oil palm from 2.6 million hectares in 1990 to over 15 million hectares in 2014 (with Indonesia counting for just over 10 million hectares). This expansion has resulted in oil palm being considered a major contributor to tropical deforestation.”
The same report cautions that Borneo (including Sabah and Sarawak), Indonesian Papua, Papua New Guinea, parts of Central America and large swathes of West Africa and South America are under the oil palm induced deforestation threat.
It draws a conclusion that while there are other drivers of deforestation in producer regions, there is a high degree of confidence that the expansion of oil palm cultivation has resulted in significant deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia in particular. And global trade, including EU imports, appears to drive a significant proportion of this deforestation, however.
In the face of such adversities, Minister of Primary Industries Teresa Kok is wooing the west with a reinforced commitment to reforestation, pledging to plant a million forest trees in Sabah within the next ten years. Sabah Forestry Department has identified 6,500 hectares of degraded forest in the Lower Kawag, Ulu Segama Forests Reserve, Lahad Datu as the site for reforestation.
“We need to protect our forests and show we are doing good agricultural practices. We want to show to the world Malaysia can produce sustainable products, including sustainable palm oil. This is why we are so serious about this. We want to plant a million trees,” remarked Kok, revealing that the reforestation drive would be primarily sponsored by the oil palm industry players.
Reiterating this, Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Shafie Apdal said: “The State Government is fully committed to giving its support, at all levels, to ensure that we (Sabah) would be able to continuously protect our wildlife species such as our Pygmy elephants and Orang Utan.”
“We know that Sabah is one of the largest palm oil producing states in Malaysia and this campaign is very important to ensure smallholders involved in the palm oil industry can be safeguarded as best as they can,” he continued.
Sarawak Report highlights that the eventual ambition of such commitments entails a massive reforestation of no less than 61,000 hectares of degraded forest in the state, a target that could save countless species of currently threatened plants and animals in Borneo.
Echoing the same tune, the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) had also donated RM1.5 million to Sabah Wildlife Department for wildlife conservation and protection in Sabah.
Kok reassures all the stakeholders that her ministry would continue to work closely with the Sabah State Government on the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) Certification, targeting especially the smallholders.
The timeline for independent and organised smallholders to be fully certified under the MSPO certification scheme is by 31 Dec 2019.