Malaysian investment in Africa’s emerging palm oil sector have reached significant heights in the past several years, presenting a tremendous opportunity for the country’s rural communities, smallholders and consumers. This was the theme of a recent editorial by former US Congresswoman Eva Clayton in the New Straits Times.
Writing at the time of the international climate change debate taking place in Durban, Congresswoman Clayton expressed concern at the marginalization of poverty reduction efforts and food security in favor of climate change mitigation. While supportive of tackling climate change, Congresswoman Clayton believes that poverty reduction, food security and climate change must be addressed in concert.
In her New Straits Times editorial, she notes in particular the needs of African nations as net importers of vegetable oils, such as “bolstering the agriculture sector and accelerating investment in rural development.” African economies like Liberia stand to benefit from improved food security and poverty alleviation with investment in the expansion of palm oil –particularly smallholders. For instance, Liberia has emulated Malaysia’s Federal Land Development Authority (FELDA) with the establishment of the Liberian Palm Oil Outgrowers scheme and is attracting billions of dollars in investment from Malaysia. This was noted by the former President of the Republic of Ghana, who wrote how palm oil can provide higher returns to smallholders in Africa by producing more food to meet domestic demand.
Mrs Clayton echoed a similar theme in another editorial she wrote for the Washington, DC publication Roll Call prior to the start of the climate change conference, calling for the US to respond to the needs of those suffering from famine. But as Ms Clayton notes, seeking urgent solutions today are no replacement for long-term reform of development assistance that gives to the poor and hungry what they need, not what Western policymakers want to give them.
Unfortunately, climate change negotiators in Durban have offered no indication that food security and developments needs will be elevated to the same consideration as climate change. And to date, leading proposals for reducing emissions do little to improve food security. Hopefully the current impasse at the negotiations can give representatives in Durban the opportunity to address the more pressing challenge of improving the lives of the poor and hungry and by doing so create the opportunity for a more meaningful and equitable climate change discussion.