Oil palm may take 3.5 years to start bearing fruit after field planting. It generally stays productive for an economic lifespan of 25 years with a 10-day harvest cycle all year round. The fresh fruit bunches may weigh from 10 to 25 kg each, bearing 1,000 to 3,000 fruits per bunch. The fruit turns from dark purple to orange-red when it is ripe.
Malaysia’s 2018 export earnings of palm oil and its derivatives were valued at RM67.5 billion with 19.5 million tonnes of crude palm oil dominating the scales. Palm oil was the largest agricultural contributor at RM44.8 billion or 3.8% of Malaysia’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2017.
Unquestionably, palm oil industry has been the driving force of the Malaysian economy for decades, sustaining the livelihoods of many different stakeholders, including some 650,000 smallholders.
Yet, educating the importance of palm oil industry and how it impacts our socioeconomic well-being, and why Malaysians must take pride in this crucial commodity - is best started from an early age.
The more we know about our product, the easier it is for us to quash misinformation that has been plaguing the industry. The nationwide Edupalm programme initiated by the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) is a good start.
Edupalm (formerly known as the Palm Oil School Education Programme) aims to raise awareness of the palm oil industry among Malaysian high school students through both online and offline channels since 2003, within and off school compound (e.g. field visits).
The dedicated Edupalm website serves as a one-stop info source to enrich students’ knowledge of oil palm tree and the oils and derivatives (palm oil, palm kernel oil, palm olein, palm stearin, etc.) it produces, its nutrients and health benefits, plus its industrial applications and career prospects.
In addition to the downloadable Edupalm booklet and other relevant info available online, the trademarked Edupalm encourages interactive student participation through quizzes with prizes. Altogether, it is like a journey of discovery for students who are hungry for knowledge.
As Edupalm expanded its educational outreach, the programme took centre stage on ASTRO's "Oh My English", a popular youth programme, along with a multi-channel publicity through television, social media and ground activities.
Things to be told
There is so much that can be told about the industry - from how the commercial farming started to how the tree is grown and the fruit is harvested, how it goes through the refinery, how the oils (edible and inedible) are extracted and used as intermediaries and made into useful products, research and development, challenges and opportunities, and of course sustainable practices.
For palm oil education programmes targeting students or the general public, whether by the government or private sector, they tell the facts about a number of things especially the functionality of palm oil and its derivatives and how versatile they can be; and how they support the food and non-food industries while feeding the growing world population and caring for the socioeconomic well-being of producing nations and millions of smallholding families around the globe.
Palm Oil Wall at KDU
The ‘Palm Oil Wall’ project at KDU University College took the education drive to the next level with a common goal in mind - nurturing future ‘palm oil ambassadors’ who are equipped with the key basic knowledge of the industry, which they can put to good use whenever a misperception surfaces.
Presented by School of Hospitality, Tourism and Culinary Arts and supported by MPOC, the project featured six components: Introduction (the history of palm oil), Understanding Palm Oil (facts about the oil palm fruit and palm oil’s health benefits), Processing of Palm Oil (production), Attributes and Uses of Palm Oil (its advantages), Sustainability of the Malaysian Palm Oil Industry (integrated management, zero waste management, social responsibility, biodiversity, zero burning and quality assurance), and Growth Stages of the Oil Palm (up to 30 years).
Youth Edupalm Forum 2018
The Youth Edupalm Forum 2018, a collaboration between HELP University and MPOC as part of the latter’s Student Palm Oil Ambassador and Corporate Social Responsibility programme, enlightened varsity students on different aspects of the industry, including its economic and health value.
Held at Wisma IBI adjacent to HELP Damansara Heights campus, the forum helped mold a new generation of knowledgeable ‘palm oil envoys’ who can shout out about the socioeconomic benefits of this crucial commodity.
The knowledge sharing discourse featured Primary Industries minister Teresa Kok, MPOC deputy CEO and Promotions and Branding director Belvinder Kaur Sron, The Incorporated Society of Planters chairman Datuk Daud Amatzin, dietitian Khor Ban Hock, Amir Asyrani Hanapi from Planters United, and HELP University vice-chancellor and president Prof. Datuk Dr. Paul Chan.
Both the KDU and HELP events have also managed to reach out to a campus community consisting of lecturers and students, both local and international, with the aforesaid intended message.
Monash-Industry Palm Oil Education and Research (MIPO)
The participation of higher learning institutions can also come in a multipronged way. Monash University Malaysia has even set up the Monash-Industry Palm Oil Education and Research (MIPO) chapter for university-industry-government cooperation, aimed at improving the competitiveness and sustainability of the palm oil industry in the country and beyond. It provides specialist services such as collaborative research, training, analytical services and consultancy involving four clusters - Food Innovation and Security, Social and Environmental Sustainability, Waste to Wealth, and Palm Oil Production and Derivatives.
Such educational programmes are strongly supported by many industry associations including the Malaysian Estate Owners’ Association (MEOA).
Palm Chocolate Factory at KidZania
Singing the same tune, the Palm Chocolate Factory workshop that took place at KidZania Kuala Lumpur was another significant educational outreach. In partnership with MPOC and targeting primary school kids instead, the workshop was conducted by two Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) final-year culinary arts students, Anees Enrina Hazman and Muhammad Ridzuan Sanat, who delighted the curious kids with a demo of chocolate brownie baking topped with chocolate ganache.
Also, children and their parents had a hands-on experience in making palm oil-based mayonnaise for tuna-egg sandwiches at the career role-play, indoor children’s theme park. Sometimes even whipping up a mixture of palm oil and egg yolk would leave a long-lasting impression in the mind of the children - that palm oil is indeed a vital ingredient in cooking or baking, at home or at the bakery.
Steering young minds into the future with the right foundation
Investing in young children and adults through a series of mission-critical awareness programmes is definitely the right thing to do. After all, the industry needs an army of well informed champions to stand up to endless disinformation campaigns launched from the different corners of the world, crushing myths with hard facts. By establishing the right foundation at an early age, it may suggest half the battle won. Actions speak louder than words when comes to educational push. So, be part of it!