Small farmers throughout the developed world, from the United States to France to Australia, have always played an integral role in the identity of their respective countries. After all, the source of one’s sustenance is a stronger reflection of a country’s society than even blood. Food production has historically originated from the small producer, and it is in their homes that culinary traditions and cultural pastimes originate. In the United States, students today enjoy three months of vacation during the summer, a hold-over from the days when small farmers needed their children to assist in the harvests.
Malaysia’s small farmers in the palm oil industry are no exception, as MPOC CEO Tan Sri Datuk Dr Yusof Basiron explained in an editorial in the Malaysia Star. While opponents of the industry point to large palm oil companies to justify their attacks, the real victims are Malaysia’s small farmers, who account for about 40 per cent of land under oil palm cultivation. These farmers, both independent and those organized as part of schemes such as the Federal Land Development Authority (FELDA), make up the backbone of the Malaysian palm oil industry. And it is through these small farmers that Malaysia will achieve high-income status, as outlined under the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP).
The ETP specifically identifies RM 297 million (USD 93.9 million) to encourage small farmers to replant oil palms, thereby increasing yields and incomes. And Malaysia’s investments in harnessing the power of biomass stand to provide billions more to producers by increasing the value of biomass and encouraging investment.
Unfortunately, European and US trade barriers to palm biodiesel imports, and calls by NGOs to impose barriers to all palm oil imports, risk harming Malaysia’s small farmers. And NGO control of the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil has stifled the voice of small farmers who are the least able to meet the organization’s requirements.
NGO activists and supporters of protectionist policies only ever speak of the industry, speaking only of palm oil and their opposition to one of the world’s most efficient and sustainable vegetable oils. But in so doing, they ignore where palm oil comes from – small farmers in Malaysia and throughout the world – and to whom they owe their prosperity and their dinners.