Pierre Bois D’Enghien

Response from Pierre Bois d’Enghien to Upreshpal Singh

From Malaysiakini:

I would like to thank Upreshpal Singh of Friends of the Orang Utans for responding to my article. I am, however, surprised by his lack of constructive debate when it comes to Malaysia’s forests.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) data has been available for more than five months, but he has chosen not to speak on it until now. At the time of the release, even Greenpeace appeared to concede that the global picture on forests is improving; Greenpeace also cited Global Forest Watch data on tree cover and forest cover as a form of confirmation – just as I did.

The Union of Concerned Scientists’ Dr Doug Boucher also reported the data positively and constructively, pointing out its strengths and weaknesses, also drawing on positive data from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The key to all of this is a constructive discussion based on the facts and the research. Unfortunately, Upreshpal appears to have chosen instead to focus on personal insults. Why?

My article focused on the positive news for Malaysian forests from the United Nations report but because I work in partnership with the Malaysian palm oil industry – as I do with many sectors around the world – he has used this as an excuse to criticise me personally.

This is an old tactic. In football it is referred to as ‘playing the man, not the ball’. In public debate, if a fact is unfavourable to your argument, you simply discredit whoever is saying it as ‘biased’. That is what Upreshpal finds himself doing. But Upreshpal’s actual disagreement appears to be with the UN FAO, its review processes, its use of the term ‘forest area’, as well as the credibility of Malaysian officials.

The FAO has a process for reviewing and standardising its data; a process that takes place over a number of years with a range of reviewers as well as an advisory board. His outright dismissal of the term ‘forest area’ as ‘dubious’ is somewhat extraordinary. The UN FAO’s definition of forest has been agreed upon by all nations through a consensus process. His is an objection to the idea that a planted forest or a plantation has any value at all.

Assessing forest area, forest cover and/or tree cover is significant, but methodologies and data vary significantly. The UNFAO definition of forests can be be found here (oil palm plantations have never been considered as forest in the FAO definition).

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By Pierre Bois d'Enghien

Pierre Bois D’Enghien is an agronomist and agricultural expert from Belgium. He has spent his career advising African and international companies about agriculture and sustainability, including SOCFIN in the Cote d’Ivoire, the Feronia group in Congo, and the Belgian companies Condroz Energies. He is an acknowledged expert on plantation agriculture, including palm oil.