I AM writing in response to the letter “Benchmark MSPO to global standards” (The Star, Oct 1).
As an industry monitor who has followed the issues of “sustainable palm oil” over the past 10 years, I feel some clarifications are needed to address the questions raised in that letter.
For example, “how confident are we that MSPO (Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil) standards are meeting marketplace standards in importing countries?”
There should be no doubts that the MSPO standards will meet certification standards in importing countries but before getting into the details, the first question that should be asked is “will importing countries be more interested in strong words or strong actions?”
It is obvious that the folks behind MSPO could have come up with policies and standards to match any international standards but it would have been quite meaningless on the ground.
The RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil), which is acknowledged as having one of the strongest policies governing sustainable palm oil, is struggling to convert those words into action. One needs only to look at the withdrawal of Golden Veroleum in Liberia and Wilmar’s suppliers in Kalimantan to see that while their policies are great on paper, they do not translate to ground action necessarily.
As a business-to-business model, they work fine in eliminating problematic issues from palm oil supply chains. So does the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC), but neither of these have the dynamic potential of the MSPO for sustainable palm oil in the true sense of the word.
The key difference between the MSPO and other international certification standards is that the MSPO is a national policy whereas the other standards are voluntary. To put it simply, the RSPO may impact a particular plantation or mill for better operational practices but what is the point when it is surrounded by non-certified palm oil operations? Are these isolated islands of “sustainability” meaningful to the long-term survival of the species? Or will a holistic initiative like the MSPO, which seeks to certify palm oil operations across Malaysia, have greater impact?
As it is, the RSPO already covers the maximum area possible in Malaysia, which is close to a million hectares of the country’s 5.8 million hectares of oil palm operations. It cannot go beyond this level as Malaysia’s biggest buyers in China and India could not care less about sustainable palm oil.
If there is any doubt about this, simply look at the sales of palm oil certified by the RSPO today. Historically, it has never been able to sell more than half of its certified palm oil under certification premiums.
The question of why the Malaysian Palm Oil Board would want to certify all Malaysian production as sustainable is one that has been asked frequently in light of the lack of demand from some of its biggest buyers.
The only answer I can offer is that it’s a matter of national pride as well as compliance with Malaysia’s commitments to fight climate change.
As for peat lands, the state with the biggest coverage of peat lands, Sarawak, has committed to a moratorium on the industrial development of peat lands for oil palm with the exception of development on native customary land to benefit the indigenous farmers. This state policy is in itself a great position to uphold the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, which aim to leave no one behind in development.
It is to the credit of the MSPO that it recognises this right and see sustainability beyond forests.
I hope people like the writer of the letter will accept their rights to development as well and support the MSPO for what it is – a global first in the definition and production of sustainable palm oil.
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