Time for talk is over – it’s time to act

Essential to the economy: A truck carrying oil palm fruits passing through Felda Sahabat plantation in Lahad Datu, Sabah. — Reuters

A lot has been written about the anti-palm oil campaigns that are currently underway in Europe. Two facts are really all you need to know.

Fact#1: Palm oil is a major contributor to Malaysia’s economy, society and prosperity. Over 650,000 small farmers rely on oil palm trees. With children included, that’s 2.3 million of our fellow Malaysians.

Fact #2: The EU has confirmed that it plans to ban palm oil biofuels – a major part of Malaysia’s exports – starting 2021. That is only three years away.

Where does the EU’s proposed ban come from? It is proposed within the Renewable Energy Directive (RED), an EU law that oversees all rules on renewable energy, including palm oil biofuels.

The European Parliament’s Environment Committee voted for the RED in October last year. As part of this vote, the Committee voted to ban palm oil biofuels. This decision was later endorsed by the Parliament’s Industry, Research & Energy Committee in a vote in November.

Two consecutive votes in these two European Parliament Committees have now confirmed the plan to ban palm oil biofuels.

This EU ban, if implemented, would cause significant harm to ordinary Malaysians, by decreasing the quality of life for our small farmers and taking money out of the pockets of communities across Malaysia. We cannot allow this to happen.

Felda is launching a petition to give small farmers a bigger voice in defending the Malaysian palm oil sector. We are also supporting a new campaign – www.FacesofPalmOil.org – to defend Malaysian small farmers against such threats. The simple two facts remain: Palm oil is essential to our nation and to our communities; and the EU is planning to ban this essential crop.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak has led the way forward with a strong defence for our small farmers and our palm oil industry.

The Prime Minister has stated clearly, earlier this year: “We too buy products from them. So whoever boycotts oil palm products, they will face retaliation from us.”

I feel certain that hundreds of thousands of small farmers across Malaysia will be grateful for the Prime Minister’s support. It is important that a strong message is sent to Europe, about the importance of Malaysia’s small farmers, and how we will defend their livelihoods.

The EU lawmaking process on the RED now continues in Brussels. A meeting was held on Dec 16 with EU Energy ministers to discuss the issue. The ministers – collectively known as the Council – have joint decision-making powers with the European Parliament.

Over the coming three to six months, those two EU institutions will have many more meetings, negotiations and votes on the RED. They will decide the future of palm oil biofuels in Europe.

If the EU does ban palm oil biofuels under the RED, the future of Malaysian biofuel exports would be bleak. Billions of ringgit of biofuel exports would simply disappear. That impacts tax revenues, economic growth – and most importantly, it impacts family incomes.

To conclude, the time for talking is over. Now is the time for action, not words.

Felda’s smallholders will mobilise to protect the livelihoods of their families and communities.

About 2.3 million of our fellow Malaysian citizens depend on palm oil. I hope Malaysians will do everything they can to support our campaign.

Tan Sri Shahrir Samad is the chairman of the Federal Land Development Authority (Felda). The views expressed here are entirely his own.

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