A look at some of the most important developments in the history of Malaysian palm oil.
Malaya’s first commercial oil palm plantation
In 1917, Henri Fauconnier planted oil palm seeds at Tennamaram Estate in Batang Berjuntai, Selangor, laying the foundation for the development of Malaysia’s palm oil industry.
First Malaya Plan
In 1956, the First Malaya Plan identified oil palm as the best alternative crop to rubber. From 1960 onwards, the Government committed itself to actively encouraging oil palm cultivation, particularly among smallholders.
Federal Land Development Authority’s (Felda) large-scale oil palm planting
Oil palm was introduced to Felda settlers at the Felda Taib Andak scheme in 1961. The pace of land development picked up: by 1990, a total of 112,635 rural poor, of whom 80% were dependent on oil palm, had found employment in Felda schemes.
Formation of the Oil Palm Genetics Laboratory consortium
Plantation groups such as Guthrie, Dunlop’s, Unilever and Harrisons & Crosfield came together in 1962 to carry out joint research into oil palm breeding, genetics and crop physiology. The investment brought about spectacular results in pest management, fertiliser utilisation, improved planting materials, labour productivity, processing efficiency and oil quality.
Foundation of the Palm Oil Research Institute of Malaysia (Porim)
Porim’s aim was to promote and carry out research into all aspects of oil palm and palm oil fruit. Under it, research and development on the crop expanded exponentially. It later merged with the Palm Oil Registration and Licensing Authority to form the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB).
Introduction of weevils to the oil palm pollination process
With research assistance from the Commonwealth Institute of Biological Control, Elaeidobius Kamerunicus was identified as the most efficient insect pollinator of oil palm. Its introduction into plantations raised the yield of oil palm fruit bunches per hectare dramatically.
Malaysia becomes a world leader in the oleochemicals sector
Aided by the uninterrupted supply and competitive prices of palm oil and palm kernel oil, Malaysia became a leader in the world oleochemicals industry. Today, with 19 plants and a joint capacity of 2.7 million tonnes, Malaysia accounts for about 20% of global production of oleochemicals.
Defeat of the anti-tropical oil campaigns
In the 1980s, Malaysia’s palm oil industry came under attack by a concerted campaign communicating that food products containing tropical oils were linked to increased risk of coronary heart disease. This campaign was defeated through intensified research by Porim and independent collaborative studies with foreign institutions.
National BioFuel Policy
The National Biofuel Policy was announced in August 2005, facilitating commercialisation of palm-based biofuel, in particular palm biodiesel. This created a new high-growth industry in the country. A year later, Malaysia’s first commercial-scale biodiesel plant commenced operations in Pasir Gudang, Johor.
Malaysia is the first country to produce and export certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO).
In 2004, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was set up to promote the production and use of sustainable palm oil through a credible global standard derived in consultation with stakeholders. Certification of oil palm plantations began in 2008, and Malaysia became the first country to produce and export CSPO.
Malaysia’s oil palm sector is identified as a National Key Economic Area (NKEA)
The combined oil palm and rubber sector was designated as one of 12 NKEAs in the Economic Transformation Programme, aimed at achieving high-income nation status by 2020.
Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) standards
The MSPO brings on board all levels of Malaysian palm oil producers to meet a broad range of standards that provide an assurance of sustainability and traceability. Following a pilot programme in 2014, a number of plantation companies and small farmers received MSPO certification covering a planted area of more than 0.21 million hectares.
More stories on Malaysian palm oil at www.thestar.com.my/oilpalm