YESTERDAY morning, I watched Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok in Parliament responding to questions from the opposition regarding the fall in the price of palm oil. While agreeing that it is a matter of concern, the minister explained that the price of the commodity is market driven, that is by supply and demand.
Malaysia has gone into palm oil production in such a big way in the plantation sector that it is now the country’s most prominent agricultural commodity, relegating into the background other crops that we were once well known, such as rubber, coconut and cocoa.
I grew up in a coconut/cocoa plantation near Bagan Datoh, Perak. The coconut trees were the tall variety and there was a lot of space between them that allowed for inter-cropping. This was where the cocoa trees were planted. The plantation therefore earned revenue from two sources.
However, with the fall in demand for coconut oil due to the highly negative reports it received especially from the Western soya bean lobbyists, coconut plantations disappeared and with them the cocoa that was inter-cropped. Much to my chagrin, the coconut and cocoa trees gave way to oil palm trees even in the plantation where I grew up.
The bad press that coconut oil received had taken its toll. Where once I enjoyed the fresh and fantastic taste and healthy goodness of coconut water from freshly plucked coconuts, there now stood gloomy rows of palm oil trees.
Today, the coconut which was shunned by the medical community and the commodity market is now being hailed globally as the best oil for cooking. Health authorities both modern and traditional, medical professionals, and manufacturers of cosmetics and hair care products are now waxing lyrical about the myriad of health benefits of coconut oil.
It is truly amazing how the West has now become the most ardent promoter of the wonders and benefits of the humble coconut!
Not surprisingly therefore, the price of coconut oil has increased tremendously in the commodity market. Although it is also seeing a slight decline since the beginning of the year, it is more than twice the price of palm oil which is facing an onslaught from its competitors and detractors. Coconut oil is also the most expensive oil in retail stores now.
Chocolate, especially dark chocolate with a large amount of cocoa, is also receiving rave reviews for its many health benefits.
I would therefore like to ask that the Primary Industries Ministry and the Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Ministry consider the reintroduction of coconut plantations and not focus solely on palm oil.
It must also be noted that the price of cocoa is also much higher compared to palm oil. It is saddening to see the Philippines and Indonesia having the upper hand in the production of coconut oil where Malaysia once reigned supreme.
We must diversify our agricultural produce and not place all our hopes on palm oil. Coconut and cocoa should be given due consideration as viable alternatives that can complement our palm oil initiative.
I also hope I can one day go back to Bagan Datoh and enjoy the taste of fresh coconut water amid the swaying coconut palms just like I did many years ago as a child.
SUSAI ANTHONY MUTHU
Puchong Jaya, Selangor