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We need a more creative oil palm industry

As vast areas of forests in Sarawak are being hurriedly cleared to make way for oil palm plantations, there is an urgent need for Malaysia to evaluate the proposed mechanism known as Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation or ‘Redd’.

Redd compensates countries for keeping forests intact that would otherwise be cleared for mono-culture such as oil palm. The compensation is based on the avoided emissions of carbon dioxide that deforestation or land degradation would have caused.

Carbon dioxide contributes to global warming, a crisis well underway with the melting of glaciers and polar ice caps contributing to sea-level rise.

It is therefore especially urgent for Sarawak to immediately halt the clearing of peatland forests for oil palm which triggers an immense release of carbon dioxide. This will help conserve the forests’ rich biodiversity. Further, coastal forests act as natural breakwater against tsunami .

Redd payment is, in effect, recognition of one ecosystem service that a forest provides, a service which benefits all mankind. Soon, a forest’s other ecosystem services may also be recognised, valued and compensated by the world or a region.

Conserving forests and biodiversity under a Redd scheme could be more beneficial socio- economically than growing oil palm. As the Redd compensation is in proportion to avoided release of carbon, leaving carbon rich peatlands undisturbed could prove a very desirable means of income.

Emboldened by close ties with decision-makers, oil palm companies often strip Mother Nature of her wealth, dispossess indigenous people of their ancestral lands and pay low wages to plantation workers to generate profits which go largely to a minority – wealthy shareholders and elite employees.

Instead, a creative oil palm industry would develop new and salutary business models.

Emerging opportunities such as Redd can help build a prosperous Malaysia that is also just, equitable and naturally beautiful with the remaining biodiversity secure.

Meanwhile, our state and federal governments must show farsighted leadership to declare a moratorium on the conversion of forests to oil palm or other types of plantation.

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