COMMENT | Palm oil is one commodity that has truly 'grown' inside all Malaysians, therefore the task to defend it against various discriminatory acts should not rest solely on the government's shoulders, but on all 30 million citizens.
And 2019 perhaps is the right time to demonstrate our love towards the 'tree of life' by supporting the government's various palm oil initiatives, which have enriched the country, powered the economy and elevated millions of people out of poverty.
One of these initiatives is the Primary Industries Ministry's 'Love MY Palm Oil' campaign to be launched on March 24 at the Sime Darby Plantation on Carey Island.
The one-year campaign is aimed at instilling a sense of national pride and a greater appreciation for Malaysian palm oil, focusing on its socioeconomic importance, health, nutrition and food and non-food applications.
A three-minute video clip has also been produced to support the campaign with Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad addressing the significance of the crop to the country and the challenges it faces.
In the video, Mahathir explains how oil palm was brought into the country as a decorative tree over 100 years ago, but people discovered later that it produced a lot of oil in its fruits.
"And for a long long time now people have been consuming Malaysian palm oil, and I do consume palm oil as the preferred oil when my cook prepares food for me," he says in the video.
He points out on how palm oil was accused of having a deleterious effect on consumers, which was refuted by the palm oil industry after the oil was submitted for examination in US laboratories, with no evidence of bad effects found.
"Now, it has been accused of causing a lot of forests to be cleared in order to plant oil palm but in Malaysia, we have been very careful about preserving our forests.
"Fifty percent of the surface is covered by forest and of course, palm trees themselves absorb carbon dioxide," he says.
Towards the end of the video clip, Mahathir emphasises how competitors are trying to manipulate the consumers into believing that palm oil is harmful.
"I'll be very happy to support this campaign and I think it is a good campaign, so Malaysians, in particular, must support this campaign.
"It is good for them and it is good for the economy,” he adds.
The easiest way for the general public to show their support for the campaign is by disseminating the facts and benefits of the product to others, especially those from abroad, on social media.
Malaysians can also show their support by buying palm oil-based products.
For big firms, perhaps they could come up with a campaign to combat Greenpeace's 'Rang-tan' video.
Narrated by actor Emma Thompson, the campaign tells the story of a homeless orangutan which had her habitat destroyed due to the deforestation and hid in a little girl's bedroom.
As part of the campaign, the ministry has also partnered with the Tourism Ministry, whereby guides are tasked with spreading positive information on oil palm plantations and its related products. Tour packages to oil palm plantations will also be offered.
Sime Darby's Carey Island is only less than a two-hour drive from Kuala Lumpur, and is one of the participating planters in the campaign.
Its executive deputy chairperson and managing director Mohd Bakke Salleh said the company welcomes tourists from all over the world to its estates to see how the trees are grown, the processes involved before the products hit the market.
This seems to be the perfect place for tourists, especially those from the European Union, to see for themselves the sustainability of the industry.
“We want to help increase the awareness among tourists, and at the same time educate them about this crop so that they know the goodness of palm oil and maybe they could disseminate the right info to others,” he told Bernama recently.
Bakke also said that the company had been hosting many events at Carey Island for many groups, not just locally but internationally.
Sime Darby has a total planted area of 602,454ha, spanning across Malaysia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Liberia.
Other planters involved in the campaign are Kuala Lumpur Kepong Bhd in Perak, as well as Genting Plantations Bhd in Borneo.
Palm oil repackers have also been requested by the government to include two logos on their packaging as part of the campaign to counter efforts to boycott palm oil products in Europe.
They would be using the 'Love MY Palm Oil' logo and the 'Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil' (MSPO) logo.
Unlike in food and home and personal care products, where palm’s chemical makeup makes it the perfect alternative when it comes to biofuel, palm, soybean, rapeseed and sunflower oils all perform equally well.
But palm has one big advantage over these rival oils: price.
Most importantly, it gives the highest yield per acre of any oilseed crop – almost five times as much oil per acre as rapeseed, almost six times as much as sunflower, and more than eight times as much as soybeans.
Boycotts of palm oil would only lead to its replacement by other crops which need far more farmland and likely to cause more deforestation.
"The cost of production is far less than any comparable vegetable or animal fat,” said Malaysian Palm Oil Council CEO Kalyana Sundram.- Bernama
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.