MALAYSIA can counter anti-palm oil campaigns against it that allege deforestation and in fact leverage on some of them, counsels WWF Malaysia.
Its honorary advisor (plantation agriculture) Teoh Cheng Hai said the anti-palm oil campaigns provided an excellent commercial opportunity for Malaysia to differentiate itself by adhering to higher standards and responding to what consumers want.
He said Malaysia's palm oil industry was far more environmentally conscious compared with other industries and was generally proactive in dealing with waste and energy issues.
“But the thing that is eating away at the argument,” he said referring to the encroachment of plantations into tropical forests, particularly high conservation value forests, “is the forest issue.”
In an interview, Teoh noted that European anti-palm oil campaigns almost exclusively focused on Indonesia and its plantations, which had expanded rapidly.
Northern European countries had reportedly embarked on an anti-tropical and anti-palm oil campaign, alleging that the orang utan were being affected by the industries' push into forests. In April, Primary Industries Minister Datuk Seri Dr Lim Keng Yaik had said he would visit Sweden and Denmark where the campaigns are said to have originated.
Teoh and WWF Malaysia oil palm programme coordinator Andrew Ng said that while they had not seen the anti-palm oil campaigns, Malaysia was in a position to exploit the claims.
Ng noted that the supply chain pressures these days reflected consumers' desire for an assurance that the products that they bought were not party to forest clearing. A number of Dutch banks had apparently also come up with policies that did not support plantation development that converted high conservation value forests.
“If we can demonstrate that we can supply according to the consumers' requirements, we can make a niche market for ourselves,” he said.
European customers were now turning to retailers and environment organisations for solutions on how palm oil and soy could be produced without converting areas of high conservation value.
In this context, WWF is currently working in partnership with companies that are taking on the responsibility of finding economically viable solutions, and committed to producing and purchasing products from well-managed plantations that had not contributed to the loss of valuable tropical forests and that respected the rights of indigenous peoples and forest communities, Ng said.
The goal of WWF's Forest Conversion Initiative - set-up as a response to concerns on deforestation - is to halt the threat of palm oil and soy expansion to High Conservation Value Forests. In Malaysia, the foundation works with the Malaysian Palm Oil Association to jointly develop better practices for palm oil both at the landscape and plantation levels.
In August, WWF and a number of palm oil companies would be holding a roundtable discussion on sustainable palm oil production, with the event likely to be held in Malaysia.
Teoh urged those involved in the palm oil industry to attend the roundtable as it would seek among others, to establish best management practices and to develop criteria and standards for sustainable palm oil production.
“It's not about boycotts, but to support the producers on the ground that they can supply sustainable palm oil.”
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