Sarawakians should be aware of a looming threat to our essential palm oil exports that will potentially impact the state’s revenues and many of our communities.
In Sarawak, there are many oil palm growers – either they are independent smallholders, organised smallholders under the Sarawak Land Consolidation & Rehabilitation Authority (Salcra) or Felcra or those participating on a joint venture with private sector under Land Custody and Development Authority (LCDA or Pelita).
Salcra manages 19 oil palm estates covering 51,072ha, stretching from Lundu district in the west to Roban in the east, and five palm oil mills.
Our authorities and our small farmer organisations, led by Salcra, are determined to prevent this threat.
The threat is that the European Union is proposing to ban palm oil biofuels as part of the Renewable Energy Directive (RED), an EU law that oversees all rules on renewable energy, including palm oil biofuels.
Two committees in the European parliament have voted to ban palm oil biofuels under RED in the past two months.
Firstly, the European Parliament’s Environment Committee voted in October 2017 to ban palm oil biofuels under RED.
Then in November, this proposed ban on palm oil biofuels was endorsed by the Parliament’s Industry, Research and Energy Committee.
The final decision will be taken after a negotiation between EU governments (known collectively as the council) and the European parliament.
The danger for Malaysia and for Sarawak is that the ban on palm oil biofuels is upheld.
Europe is a big market for Malaysian palm oil biofuels: around 60% of Malaysia’s palm oil exports to the EU are now in the non-food sector and biofuels make up a significant proportion.
Billions of ringgit of palm oil income from Sarawak and other Malaysian states would simply disappear. The impact would be huge, more so for small farmers.
Salcra’s objective is to create employment opportunities in the agriculture sector and to provide a reasonable standard of living to the rural population through a stable and improved level of income on a sustainable basis.
An EU ban on palm oil biofuels would hinder these objectives.
Salcra is helping to improve the social and economic well-being and transformation of the rural people where it operates as it is committed to the sustainability and social responsibility in its mode of operations.
Safety and health as well as good agricultural practices are key engagements of Salcra.
What can we do to prevent this happening? Malaysian small farmers are joining together to oppose the EU’s plans with a firm voice.
I have directed Salcra to join a major new campaign “Faces of Palm Oil”, which will also include Federal Land Development Authority (Felda), Sarawak Dayak Oil Palm Planters Association (Doppa) and National Association of Smallholders Malaysia (Nash).
I urge all Sarawakians to visit the website and provide support: http://www.facesofpalmoil.org
Our Government, diplomats and other senior officials are also acting on behalf of our small farmers.
Communication with European ministers is extremely important to defend the rights of our small farmers.
We can explain Malaysia’s position and the determination of our small farmers and those of us inside the Government to oppose the EU’s ban.
The coming months are the decision-making time. RED will be concluded in Brussels in the early part of this year.
This means that the future of Malaysian palm oil biofuel exports to Europe will be decided – either positively or negatively – within only a couple of months.
We do not have any time to lose, which is why the small farmer campaign is so important and timely.
We must not take any chances – the livelihoods and incomes of tens of thousands of Sarawak small farmers are at stake.
I urge all readers to join us in opposing the EU’s proposed ban on palm oil biofuels, which would undermine Sarawak’s agricultural success story.
Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas is chairman of Salcra and Deputy Chief Minister of Sarawak.