FORMER Unilever Plantations International group chairman Datuk Leslie Davidson has called on the local palm oil industry to establish an Environment Council in collaboration with several non-governmental organisations (NGOs).
He said the industry needed to set up a committee to examine the strategy on publicity campaigns overseas particularly in Western Europe where anti-globalists had fed consumers with misleading information about the effect of oil palm plantations on the environment through the felling of virgin jungle.
We believe the Malaysian Palm Oil Promotion Council could extend its successful publicity campaigns to the NGOs and the tourism industry with a whole range of hard facts, Davidson said.
He said this when presenting his paper on Agricultural Globalisation and The Impact on Malaysia's Oil Palm Industry at the 4th International Planters Conference organised by the Incorporated Society of Planters (ISP) in Kuala Lumpur yesterday.
Davidson said being one of the largest buyers of oils and fats, Unilever had offered its help in this regard to the Malaysian Palm Oil Association.
He said the company had established a sustainable agriculture advisory board and recruited the services of an agricultural expert from the World Wildlife Fund.
Davidson stressed that it would be unwise for the palm oil industry to continue turning a blind eye to the anti-globalists' criticism as the public and NGOs had inadequate and outdated knowledge about the plantation industry.
He said the palm oil sector should be hammering home at every opportunity that it was one of the most efficient food producers in the Third World countries.
Big food companies in the world such as Nestle, Unilever, Pepsico and Cadbury did not produce food, he added.
These companies merely change it. They buy, freeze, dry, process, package and market it! They do not produce it like the farmers and growers who actually produce it (palm oil).
What also emerges is that few among the anti-globalists and NGOs are aware of the plantation industry's role as a food producer.
Many of their supporters would be dismayed to learn that some of the NGOs have been actively campaigning to curb the expansion of the only group of Third World food producers to have proved themselves able to compete with the heavily subsidised farmers in the West, he said.
He also lamented that such NGOs were indirectly helping to maintain the Third World's dependence on food hand-outs from the West.
Davidson is a well known planter having started with Pamol estate near Kluang, Johor, in 1951.
He is also the former Bertam Holdings Bhd deputy chairman, Britain-based chairman of Tropical Growers Association and first chairman of the International Centre for Plantation Studies.
Yesterday, he was awarded the Fellow of the ISP in acknowledgement of his outstanding contribution to the industry for over half a century.
Davidson also celebrates his 52 years as a member of the ISP this year.
Earlier, Primary Industries Minister Datuk Seri Dr Lim Keng Yaik said major palm oil producers like Malaysia and Indonesia should strive by working closely to capture a bigger market share for palm oil against competitive oils and fats.
Palm oil should not be competing against palm oil, he told reporters after officiating the conference.
Palm oil producing countries should not undercut each other but should cooperate to capture a bigger portion of the market at better price levels, Lim said.
He added that palm oil exporters only produced about 30 million tonnes of edible oil compared with the current world's oils and fats consumption of 125 million tonnes.
On the local front, Lim said: Cost is a crucial factor to compete with other oils.
He said oil palm planters must lower their cost of production by using new clones and improving their agronomic practices.
He noted that the average palm oil production was about 3.8 million tonnes per ha per year.
Even with the existing clones, we should be able to average at five tonnes per ha per year in the short term, added Lim.
He called on government agencies such as Felda, Felcra and Risda to ensure that smallholders strive hard to reach the national average of five tonnes per ha per year.
With the introduction of new clones, I believe that our palm oil sector will be able to contribute about eight tonnes per ha per year in the long term, he said.
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