Malaysiakini Letter

Correcting several misconceptions on certified sustainable palm oil

Sen Tanp  |  Published:

LETTER | I refer to 'Malaysia’s palm oil plantations are environmentally sustainable' and would like to point out several misconceptions.

First, the author claimed that it is untrue that the practice of oil palm plantation in Malaysia is against internationally accepted standards. The statistics available online, however, reveal that a huge portion of oil palm planted area in Malaysia is not certified for sustainability.

Undoubtedly, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certification is the internationally recognised golden standard for palm oil sustainability. Being the world’s second largest palm oil producer, Malaysia has a total of 5.81 million hectares of oil palm planted area. Only 1.19 million hectares of oil palm area is RSPO certified, which means about 80 percent of the oil palm area in Malaysia is not RSPO certified.

Since the government is pushing for 100 percent Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification by end of 2019, it is perhaps unfair to focus solely on RSPO, so we should look at the statistics of MSPO certification as well. As of Oct 31, 2018, only 1.26 million hectares of palm oil area in Malaysia was MSPO certified. It means 78.3 percent of palm oil area in Malaysia was yet to be nationally certificated.

Mind you, the requirements for MSPO are less stricter than that of RSPO. I must also point out that it is debatable if MSPO is an internationally accepted standard for palm oil sustainability, due to its controversial “planting on peat lands” policy.

It is clear that the statistics available do not support the author’s claim that the country’s plantations are committed to environmentally sustainable practices.

Second, the author mentioned that Malaysia has maintained a good track record for protecting the environment and implementing measures to protect its biodiversity.

I would like to invite the author to visit the Global Forest Watch website and see for himself how much forested area Malaysia has lost over the past 10 years. If the author is sceptical of the remote-sensing techniques used by the World Resources Institute, I suggest the author to contact senior officers from the Ministry of Water, Land and Natural Resources and find out how many critical wildlife corridors identified in the Central Forest Spine (CFS) Master Plan remain intact today.

It is not an official secret that Peninsular Malaysia currently has a broken “forest spine”. The fact that Malaysia has a higher forest retention rate than most European countries does not mean that Malaysia is doing a good job of protecting the environment.

The Sumatran Rhinoceros was declared extinct in the wild in Malaysia in 2015. In Sabah, 26 Borneo Elephants were killed in the first eight months of 2018. In Peninsular Malaysia, over 560 wire snares were removed from our forests in the first five months of 2018. Is the author still confident to say that Malaysia is doing a good job of protecting its biodiversity?

The “Rang-tan” video by Greenpeace is the latest salvo fired by anti-palm oil lobbyists. Surely, they are eyeing another opportunity to attack the palm oil industry. Painting a rosy picture of Malaysian palm oil will not help the palm oil industry, especially if the reality on the ground suggests that there is significant room for improvement. 

Instead, we need to put the money where the mouth is and start improving the sustainability of Malaysian palm oil more aggressively.

On Sept 4, Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok announced that there will be no more oil palm expansion in the country, and that Malaysia is committed to maintaining at least 50 percent forest cover. 

On Nov 15, RSPO members voted in favour of a new standard to halt deforestation, protect peat lands and strengthen human and labour rights during the group’s annual general assembly.

Now, the world is watching how Malaysia will achieve 100 percent certified sustainable palm oil to meet the global demand.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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