The uphill struggle of the Malaysian palm oil sector against EU-funded NGO campaigns continues to grab headlines. On Sunday, The Star Online spoke of trade wars that are being waged in various forms against an industry that contributes over RM 50 billion to Malaysia’s GNI.
The article cited a newreport by Italian think tank Libertiamo, Taxpayer Funding, NGO Collusion and Manufactured Crises. The authors of the report found that European governments are spending significant sums to fund environmental campaigns that portray developing countries, including Malaysia, as sources of environmental destruction, distorting facts and figures to suit their arguments against economic development and poverty alleviation.
The report highlighted a recent campaign calling for plantations to adopt a ‘no kill policy’ on orangutans to illustrate how little attention is paid by activist NGOS to realities on the ground. The fact is that the Malaysian Wildlife Conservation Act already enshrines the orangutan as a protected species, imposing hefty penalties and prison time for anybody that causes them harm. Moreover, Tan Sri Datuk Dr Yusof Basiron, Chief Executive Officer of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC), has stressed – on numerous occasions – the industry’s support for national laws to protect Malaysia’s wildlife heritage and its continued support for the prosecution of offenders.
Libertiamoalso found that NGO campaigns closely mirror the economic interests of their donors, with their reports used to justify policy actions by donor governments against specific industries in competition with domestic producers, like palm oil.
While environmental NGOs continue to attack palm oil with false allegations, the truth is that it has been a miracle crop for Malaysia’s small farmers, providing incomes that have led to hundreds of thousands being lifted out of poverty. Meanwhile, rather than criticizing the limited amount of land conversion that has taken place in Malaysia, NGOs might consider how many millions of hectares throughout the world were preserved thanks to oil palm plantations, rather than less efficient soy and rapeseed cultivation.
NGOs and EU governments should stop disregarding the evidence and recall that stakeholders must be committed to showcasing the facts and engaging in constructive dialogue if they want to promote conservation and development – erroneous and irresponsible accusations made by critics to advance their own political agendas will accomplish only short term victories, at the expense of small farmers and the environment.