THE establishment of Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification is a testimony of Malaysia’s long-term commitment towards sustainable production of palm oil.
Hence, the certification standard is an important step forward for the entire domestic palm oil industry, says Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Seri Mah Siew Keong.
“Malaysia hopes to attain international recognition from its MSPO standard. Also, our buyers will know that our palm oil and its related products are sustainably produced. This would mean anti-palm oil lobbyists and Western NGOs alike will have no reason to criticise us further,” says Mah.
According to Mah, the Government will make a final decision on whether MSPO certification will be made mandatory for all oil palm planters including smallholders by this year.
The implementation of the MSPO scheme which started on Jan 1, 2015 is currently on a voluntary basis. To date, MSPO certified areas that comprise both estates and smallholders amount to 211,675ha, while MSPO-certified crude palm oil and crude palm kernel is 660,700 tonnes and 118,100 tonnes respectively.
Mah points out that the main challenge for MSPO certification is the cost of implementing the scheme, such as yearly auditing for the estates and their palm oil mills.
He also expects the process to enable the oil palm holdings of local smallholders to be MSPO-certified will also take a longer time to complete. “If the MSPO is implemented too quickly, it will be a problem. We will make a decision this year on whether to make it mandatory for all planters,” he says.
There are about one million smallholders in Malaysia involved in oil palm cultivation, accounting for up to 40% of total oil palm hectarage here. Currently, many planters especially the large plantation companies in Malaysia are members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), producing mostly RSPO-certified palm oil.
According to Mah, some of the RSPO-certified companies are reluctant to go through another round of MSPO certification because of the substantial costs incurred in the RSPO certification process.
“The ministry is in the midst of working out a smooth transition for these RSPO-certified planters to become MSPO-certified as both schemes complement each other. We are still discussing and collecting input from the different stakeholders in the industry,” says Mah.
Moving forward, the MSPO scheme will be fine-tuned further to mitigate pressure from anti-palm oil lobbyists, he says, adding that Europe is Malaysia’s second biggest palm oil export market.
Mah’s views on improving the scheme is reflective of France’s plan to impose an extra tax of 300 euros per tonne on palm oil and its derivative products this year to curb the expansion of oil palm plantations.
The planned progressive tax on palm oil was expected to increase to 900 euros per tonne in 2020 to safeguard their local oilseed industries such as soybean and sunflower.
However, after protests from several countries including Malaysia and Indonesia, the progressive tax on imported palm oil was discarded in June last year.
During Mah’s meetings in France on the progressive tax, he reminded the French MPs that oil palm cultivation in Malaysia was actually pioneered by a Frenchman, Henri Fauconnier.
“The tax (if imposed) would have been three times higher than now. It was a dangerous move by France as it could influence other European countries to follow suit. Hence, having the MSPO certification I believe will help to boost buyers’ confidence in our palm oil,” explains Mah.
In the advent of such challenges, Malaysia and Indonesia set up the Council of Palm Oil Producing Countries (CPOPC) in November 2015 to jointly fight the anti-palm oil campaigns in the West.
The CPOPC is aimed at promoting, developing and strengthening cooperation in the palm oil industry among its member countries. Membership is open to all oil palm cultivating countries including Thailand, Colombia, Nigeria, Brazil, Papua New Guinea, Cote d’ Ivoire, Honduras, Guatemala and Brazil.
According to Mah, palm oil has been singled out by the NGOs because of its efficient oil producing properties deploying the least land per tonne compared with other major vegetable oils.
“Palm oil is five to 10 times more efficient in its yield than other oilseeds. Because of its efficiency, many competing oils fear palm oil, so the anti-palm oil NGOs have ganged up to demonise palm oil,” he says.
More importantly, Mah says the palm oil industry has contributed towards addressing poverty through land settlements undertaken by Felda to provide a better livelihood to smallholders nationwide.
“Palm oil has taken thousands of smallholders out of poverty. It has helped the economy. As such, the tactics used against palm oil by NGOs and anti-palm oil lobbyists are very unfair,” says Mah.