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The Oil Palm

RSPO Scheme Questioned in the Malaysia Star

As Malaysia announces plans to develop a national palm oil certification scheme to ensure continued opportunity for growers, the Malaysia Star published an editorial questioning the ability of the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to deliver these services. This weekend the Star posed the question: Do we need the RSPO? The representation of Malaysian industry and especially growers compared to NGOs and to large Western consumer goods manufacturers is at the heart of the author’s criticism of RSPO.

Usually it is environmental groups, who seek to influence the palm oil market based on their ideological views, criticizing the RSPO for not going far enough in regulating industry members. The source of this latest criticism demonstrates that the concerns expressed by environmental organizations amounts to little more than alarmism, and in fact distracts from the unabashed effort to drown out producers in the decision-making process. As noted in the Malaysia Star editorial, growers account for only 18% of the organization’s membership of 495 members, despite being disproportionately affected by the organization’s decisions. The Malaysia Star points out the inherent, problematic effects that the RSPO poses to growers through its current structure

[Take] composition by category. Oil palm growers have just 87 members, a mere 18% but palm oil processors and traders have 191 members or 39% while consumer goods manufacturers and retailers have 186 members or 38%. Again, growers are swamped.

Perhaps there are executive board provisions for growers, but no. It looks bad, real bad. They have four allocations, the same as for NGOs, with two for environmental ones and two for social ones. Palm oil processors, consumer goods manufacturers, retailers, and bankers and investors have two each, again swamping growers.

That means oil palm growers are overwhelmed three to one by others on the executive board How growers have allowed themselves to be so weakly represented on the RSPO to the extent that they have much less say than others is impossible to understand. At the least, they should have had an equal representation  it’s their product which is being certified.

The RSPO is an evolving body of cooperation between various stakeholders. The disproportionate representation in the favor of environmental NGOs and their private sector patrons helps to explain why standards are evolving in a manner that smallholders feel discriminates against them. Given that 39% of Malaysian palm oil is produced by smallholders this is indeed worrying. Just this year, a US zoo became the newest member of the RSPO, though it is unclear what interest they have in the industry, apart from being ideologically sympathetic to environmental NGOs. For the RSPO to remain credible as a collaborative organization established to address concerns about the industry and work towards a more sustainable future, a better balance needs to be struck, both in terms of membership and approach.

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The Oil Palm

Malaysia Urges Opposition to Anti-Palm Oil Legislation During Visit to Australia

The Minister of Plantation Industries and Commodities, Y.B. Tan Sri Bernard Dompok expressed Malaysia’s deep disappointment by the actions of Senator Nick Xenophon, the Australian Greens Party and the Liberal/National Coalition. Their action in supporting legislation requiring the labelling of palm oil in food products deliberately threatens the palm oil industry in Malaysia, an important pillar in the country.

2. Minster Dompok stated that support for the “Truth in Labelling – Palm Oil Bill” is based on a series of clearly false and misleading statements proposed by environmental non-governmental organisations. This was further supported by Members of the Australian Parliament and Australian State Government Authorities without any substantiation or evidence.

3. Minister Dompok stated Australia and Malaysia have a long history of cordial and mutually advantageous relationship. However, the legislation has not accorded the due attention contributed by the oil palm industry in Malaysia and the sustainable practices adopted. The oil palm industry is currently an important pillar in Malaysia’s economy and has contributed substantively towards addressing rural poverty and generating employment ion the agriculture sector. In addition, this industry has contributed immensely towards meeting global demand for food products and a source of renewable and environmentally friendly energy.

4. The legislation impacts genuine food labelling, a universally accepted scheme designed to improve consumers’ health. It has never been used, until this misguided piece of legislation, to impose questionable social and environmental concepts alien to the philosophy of food labelling. Politics and pandering to the green ‘feel good’ view of the world, along with more than a little condescending and a ‘we know better’ view, shines through in this legislation.

5. Minister Dompok stated it was highly disappointing that, despite the Australian Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee finding that there was no evidence to support the Bill, these parties maintain support despite the extreme ramifications the legislation will have for the future trade relationship between Australia and Malaysia.

6. The Australian New Zealand Food Standards Authority was established to protect the health and safety of the consumer. The Bill is aimed at furthering the global campaigns of environmental non-government organisations, not protecting the Australian consumer. There are no grounds for the mandatory labelling of palm oil given that all saturated fats levels are already listed on Australian goods. Indeed, using food labelling to further the anti-palm oil campaign may actually harm consumers’ health. The scope of the Bill was further amended and to cover labelling requirement for all products containing palm oil and its by-products. This demonstrates that the effort was never intended to protect the health of consumers. Palm oil is trans-fat free and trans-fats have been identified as a greater health threat than other fats and have been banned by many jurisdictions.

7. Minister Dompok emphatically denied the claims that the palm oil industry in Malaysia has contributed to high levels of deforestation or threatened the Orang-utan. Malaysia retains more than 50 percent of its land area under forest cover.

8. Minister Dompok reiterated his disappointment that despite all the evidence provided, the Australian Parliament is continuing to discriminate against a developing nation for their political purposes. He urged the Australian Parliament to reject Senator Xenophon and the Australian Greens wholly political campaign taking into account the important role this industry provides to hundreds of thousands of Malaysians who rely on palm oil for employment and income.

9. Minister Dompok stated that he hopes to be able to have a conversation with Senator Xenophon during his visit to Australia so he can explain directly to me, as an elected representative of the people of Malaysia, why he thinks he must interfere in our national sovereignty and path to high-income status that is rooted in sustainable development. Senator Xenophon should have an opportunity to tell me, directly and simply, how he knows what’s best for my nation than my nation itself.

10. Minister Dompok stated that Malaysia places importance in bilateral trade relations with Australia where bilateral trade in 2010 was valued at USD10.63 billion. Australia is Malaysia’s eleventh largest trading partner. Australia is also Malaysia’s eighth largest export destination and twelfth largest import source. In addition, Australia is also host to 20,493 Malaysian students studying in various institutions of higher learning.

11. Minister Dompok sought to remind the Australian Parliament of the good relationship between the two nations and urged the Government, the Liberal/National Party and the Independent Members of Parliament to place this relationship and the welfare of developing world producers above their own domestic politics.\n

12. The Minister is of view that there are ample opportunities for both countries to strengthen bilateral relationship. This legislation undermines the spirit of our cooperation as neighbours. The Australian Government should demonstrate its commitment to bilateral relations, including ensuring that legislations are supported by facts and figures.

Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities Malaysia
26 July 2011

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The Oil Palm

The Oil Palm’s Q&A Series: Interview with Mr Kurt G. Berger

Mr Kurt G. Berger is a food technology expert based in the United Kingdom. Mr Berger first studied palm oil and its use in food applications in the 1950s, while working in the London research laboratory of a large food manufacturer. Mr Berger has spent 50 years researching the quality, function and practical application of the best food ingredients with the aim of continuously improving food products, positioning himself as a leading expert in the role and function of palm oil in the food market. Over the course of his research, Mr Berger found people to be unduly suspicious of palm oil, an ingredient they were unfamiliar with.

However, once the functional and economic advantages of this ‘more natural product’ were explained to them, people become significantly more confident in the role and benefits of palm oil in their daily diet. In this first Q&A with The Oil Palm, Mr Berger discusses the properties of palm oil, the dangers of partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, the popularity of palm oil in food application and its role in ‘enhancing the nutritional quality of cooked food’, as well as the superior efficiency of the oil palm. Should you wish to find out more about palm oil or receive additional information on any of these questions/answers, please contact: info@theoilpalm.org What properties of palm oil make it so different from other vegetable oil? Palm oil is semi-solid at ambient temperature, melting at about 35 ºC, when all the other major vegetable oils are liquid. This is due to its content of about 50% saturated acids, mainly palmitic and stearic.

Why is palm oil so widely used in food applications in Europe? Historically, the fats available for food preparation in Europe until the end of the 19th century were primarily animal fat products from the farmyard, i.e. butter, beef fat and lard. Traditional methods evolved to use these semi-solid fats to prepare cakes, pastry and biscuits. Liquid oils do not function well in these products. With growth in population, fat supplies became inadequate, leading, for instance, to the invention of margarine to replace butter. Margarine was originally formulated from beef fat. At the beginning of the 20th century, vegetable oils could be imported and technology developed to ‘clean them up’ in the refinery and ‘hydrogenation’ to replace semi-solid animal fat sources.

What is hydrogenation? To function in traditional confectionery products, a solid content is required of fats. Hydrogenation enables some or all of the unsaturated fatty acids in vegetable oils to be converted to saturated fatty acids. Partial hydrogenation limits this conversion to a chosen amount of solids, regulating the consistency of the processed oils/fats. However, the chemical process also produces unnatural trans-fatty acids (trans fats). Trans fats adversely affect blood lipids, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, including increased LDL cholesterol (bad cholesterol) and contributing the hardening of arteries (artherosclerosis). Authorities strongly discourage the use of trans fats, even going to the extent of banning their presence in vegetable oils. Are there alternatives to Hydrogenation?

Instead of partially hydrogenating vegetable oils, the required solid fat content can be easily supplied by blending liquid oils with palm oil, or its high melting point components. In many cases this may also be more economical. These blends are entirely free of trans fats. Today palm oil is coming under attack in France. Has this happened before? During the 1980s a virulent anti-palm oil campaign developed in the USA, promoted in part by soya bean and other interests. Whole page adverts appeared: ‘Palm oil is what kills Americans’, when in fact it formed only about 1% of their fat consumption. Supermarkets had ‘We use no palm oil’ notices in the window.

The use of palm oil in foods plummeted as a result. What happened to palm oil consumption in the US after the late 1980s? Despite the severe consumer and industry backlash against palm oil in the 1980s, regulators dealt a severe blow against the campaigns in 1994. USA’s Food and Drug Administration ruled against the use of ‘no palm oil’ labels. The regulator concluded that while the label did not explicitly criticize palm oil consumption, the implication was sufficient to mislead consumers. While anti-palm oil interests enjoyed tremendous success into the 1990s, recognition of the adverse impact that partially hydrogenated vegetable oils were having on the health of consumers resulted in a renewed appreciation for natural imported vegetable oils.  Most recently, palm oil consumption levels have grown to over 1 million tons in the US alone. Palm oil is a key ingredient for shortening.

Why shortening and why is it so important for baking? Key ingredients of flour confectionery are wheat flour, fat and sugar. Many other components give specific character. Shortenings are usually blends of liquid oil with a ‘hard stock’, be it hydrogenated oil or palm oil or palm stearin. To make bread, an aerated structure is formed, in which the air bubbles are contained by a thin film of gluten (a component of the protein we find in wheat flour). The gluten is toughened through the baking process. In pastry and biscuits we do not want to produce tough gluten strands, we want to finish with a crumbly, soft, melt-in-the-mouth character – a ‘short’ pastry. To obtain this we use a fat which spreads efficiently over the flour during mixing. Different textures are obtained by varying the amount of fat (‘shortening’) and water in the mixing process. To perform, the shortening must be soft for mixing. A liquid oil would tend to stay in drops failing to protect the gluten effectively like palm oil does. Palm oil is also commonly used for frying. Why is this? Frying is a traditional culinary practice worldwide. It contributes to interesting flavours and can enhance the nutritional quality of food. Palm oil and palm olein (the more liquid fraction) are particularly good for frying where re-use of the oil is involved.

They have moderate amounts of sensitive polyunsaturated fatty acids which can otherwise become unstable through prolonged exposure to high heat, while palm oil also contains large amounts of natural antioxidants. As a result they can withstand frying conditions very well and do not breakdown into toxic compounds. Palm oil and its by-products are also used worldwide in the manufacture of instant noodles, doughnuts, frozen fried foods, etc. and for snacks like potato crisps. Why do food manufacturers prefer to use palm oil? Snack foods must have a long shelf life after packaging. In major research sponsored by the European Union a high oleic acid containing sunflower oil was tested for snack food manufacture. Palm olein was used as the reference standard. Both oils performed well. However, the palm olein product had a longer shelf life, and was also significantly less expensive. Why is palm oil more cost effective? For several reasons: a) It is more economical to produce.

Palm oil is produced by simple steaming and pressing, with relatively limited use of expensive solvents for extraction as for other oils. It is also available as a refined oil, requiring at most a mild additional processing before use. It avoids the cost of full refining required for other oils. b) It has a higher yield per hectare than other vegetable oil (see table below) and is a perennial crop that is harvested year-round. This high productivity of the oil palm makes the oil profitable at a price below that of the other oils (which are also subsidised by governments in various ways). The following table shows the approximate oil yield in tons per hectare per year of major oil crops. What about the environmental concerns linked to the cultivation of oil palm? Palm oil is now available with independent certification demonstrating that it has been produced in a sustainable manner without damage to the environment. This addresses the concerns that some consumers have regarding forest conversion and greenhouse gas emissions. What is the role of palm oil in global food security?

There is a great deal of talk about food security – for good reason. We know the world population is growing, with experts predicting at least another 2 billion people by 2050. As the vast populations of China, the Indian subcontinent, Africa and South America become more prosperous, demand for fats will continue to rise. Research undertaken by international organizations like the World Bank and the UN’s FAO have concluded that vegetable oil demand will rise by more than 100 million tonnes. How to satisfy this demand in a world with finite agricultural land, already under pressure? Clearly the most efficient oil crops in land use terms are vital to meeting this demand, as will relying on the most efficient crops available in other food sectors.

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The Oil Palm

Industry Efforts to Promote Palm Oil Stifled; Endangers Job Creation and Poverty Efforts

PETALING JAYA, July 8 The Belgian volunteer advertising arbiter, the Juridique Ethique Publicitaire (JEP), joined in the global campaign against palm oil with their decision against online advertisements by the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC). This decision is yet another unprecedented effort by Europe to ensure Malaysia cannot promote palm oil and stifle speech and debate about the palm oil industry. Siding with Western environmental organizations against smallholders in Malaysia and across the developing world, the Juridique Ethique Publicitaire has undermined efforts to ensure sustainable development, eliminate poverty and guarantee food security for the poor around the world. What’s more, MPOC finds this decision to be extremely hypocritical when organizations like the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which like MPOC, actively support efforts across Europe in the media to demonstrate palm oil’s sustainability. Further, many leaders of the Malaysian palm oil industry are also members of RSPO.

As MPOC argued that sustainability as defined by the JEP directly contradicts the universally recognized definition of sustainable development by the United Nations. As stated in the UN’s Brundtland Report, sustainable development is defined as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Instead, the JEP has elected to assess environmental concerns as more important than the needs of people.

The palm oil industry is both a vital employer in Southeast Asia, as well as an important provider of vegetable oils/fats to the global market, accounting for more than 32.3 per cent of globally traded vegetable oils/fats. In Malaysia, the industry employs more than 570,000 people directly, and another 290,000 people in downstream industries, while 39 per cent of Malaysian palm oil is produced by smallholders. However, despite the significant impact the industry has on employment and meeting demand, oil palms occupy only 5 per cent of global land devoted to oilseeds, making it the most land-efficient vegetable oil source available.

Despite all of these facts on palm oil, the JEP elected to ignore the millions of producers throughout the developing world that have turned to palm oil as a sustainable industry to rise out of poverty. They ignored the social benefits afforded through palm oil development such as schools and health clinics, as well as electricity generation for communities that before had never had power. And they have failed to consider the millions of hectares worldwide that have been protected thanks to palm oil’s superior yields and land efficiency.

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The Oil Palm

Minister Dompok Highlights Benefits of Palm Oil in France

People in France, a country known for its iconic fields of rapeseed, sunflowers and vineyards, heard a lot about palm oil last week. Following an advertising campaign by Systeme U, a French retailer, that misrepresents the sustainability and health benefits of palm oil, palm oil producers from the Cote dIvoire descended on the country’s capital to advance a complaint before a business tribunal for false advertising. At the same time, the Malaysian Minister for Plantation Industries and Commodities Tan Sri Bernard Dompok met with business and government officials to express Malaysia’s concerns with the inaccurate claims being made against the crop.

French Attacks Against Palm Oil

Following a series of attacks by Western Environmental NGOs (WENGOs), retailers like Casino and Supermarche U sought to reduce their sourcing of palm oil. This followed similar trends in other markets where the perceived might of environmental campaigners led to concerns of reputational risk. But with palm oil playing a central role in the formulation of important products for the industry, such as Nutella, a popular spread widely consumed throughout Europe and the US, removing palm oil proved a daunting task.

Furthermore, the cost increases that would be incurred by switching to more costly vegetable oils limited the ability of these companies to carry out their stated commitments to removing palm oil. Meanwhile, companies like French-retailer Carrefour committed instead to the RSPO system, pledging to source RSPO certified palm oil by 2015, echoing similar moves in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Today, these French retailers are beginning to question their initial efforts to remove palm oil as a knee-jerk reaction that would harm their profitability, the nutritional benefits of their products and harm their supply chains. Following an advertising campaign by Supermarche U for their palm oil free products, palm  oil producers in Cote dIvoire, a former French colony, filed an official complaint before a business tribunal declaring the advertising as mischaracterizing palm oil and harming their commercial interests.

Minister Communicates Benefits of Palm Oil
During a visit to Europe, Minister of Plantation Industries and Commodities Tan Sri Bernard Dompok met with business leaders and the French Minister for Agriculture Stanphane Le Foll at a roundtable meeting with media representatives to communicate the important role that palm oil plays in the French diet. Speaking with reporters, Minister Dompok stated that, Some labels even say no palm oil , as if it were a product whose impact on health is uncertain. We believe that this mistrust of Europe vis-à -vis the palm oil is not justified and we are concerned about this situation.
And there is good reason for French consumers to be concerned. Just this year, an independent study by nutrition experts in Europe found that refined palm oil is as healthy as olive oil, while unrefined palm oil is in fact healthier. With high levels of beta-carotenes and tocotrienols (precursors to Vitamin A and E, respectively), palm oil has significant health benefits. And with its equal share of saturated and unsaturated fats, it is an ideal ingredient for products that require a long shelf life. Tan Sri Datuk Dr Yusof Basiron, CEO of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council who was in Paris with the Minister,explained, This is the best oil for cooking available and is convenient for the food industry in terms of stability and frying. Finally, it is not carcinogenic.

The Minister also explained Malaysia’s long-standing commitment to sustainable development, noting that the palm oil industry is a key contributor to reduced pressure on land in the country. With only 5 million hectares of land under palm oil cultivation, Malaysia nevertheless produces more than 18.9 million tonnes of vegetable oil (2011), much of it destined for global markets and contributing to global food security. Meanwhile, Malaysia remains committed to its pledge at the 1992 Rio Summit to conserve 50 percent of the nation’s forest cover, exceeding conservation rates in Europe.

But Malaysia is not sitting back and letting palm oil’s exemplary characteristics go ignored, the Minister noted. Instead, Malaysia and the nation’s palm oil industry are actively participating in the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil, a multi-stakeholder forum to demonstrate to consumers that palm oil is being produced sustainably. We want to increase our exports to France certified oils,the Minister said in Paris.

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The Oil Palm

New initiative to promote Malaysian responsible palm oil

Malaysian Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister, Tan Sri Bernard Dompok, announced a Government-endorsed initiative to brand responsibly produced Malaysian palm oil.

Malaysian palm oil producers are already required under Malaysian law to produce sustainable, environmentally-friendly, and high quality palm oil.

Branding of this by the government will guarantee these attributes to consumers and global manufacturers, differentiating Malaysian palm oil from other palm oil sources.

Palm oil that is branded as compliant will enable producers to provide manufacturers and retailers with a means to demonstrate that their procurement of palm oil from Malaysian complies with strict environmental and social requirements.

In order to bear the Malaysian brand, palm oil will need to be produced in line with all Malaysian Government laws and regulations, as well as complying with overarching principles to respect a triple bottom line that seeks to benefit ‘People, Planet and Profit’.

The new initiative promises Malaysian growers the opportunity to demonstrate that their product is responsibly produced; and a distinct label that will add value to the national product.

Currently certification systems exist for palm oil growers and producers but they are either not applicable, or affordable for the majority of Malaysian growers. Many Malaysian growers are also small farmers who cannot afford the high cost of individual or group certification required by these systems.

Furthermore, existing private certification systems are not receiving recognition from consumers according to a report in The Grocer out of the United Kingdom. It is important that the Malaysian palm oil industry have access to a viable system that allows them to demonstrate it is produced in a responsible manner.

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The Oil Palm

Malaysian Biofuels Sustainable; Good Palm Oil Management Key

The environmental management of a crop is as important as the type of crop when it comes to emissions, according to a new study in Global Change Biology. The new research points out the fallacy of blaming a specific crop (e.g. palm oil) for emissions, when poorly managed alternatives can have greater environmental impacts.
Biofuels – in particular those derived from palm oil as a feedstock – offer a sustainable alternative to conventional fossil fuels associated with large carbon footprints. Despite this, some NGOs and governments support restricting palm oil-derived biofuels through national legislation. New research shows this approach towards specific crops or species is scientifically flawed.
Several environmental groups recently commissioned a report in an effort to lobby the European Union to limit use of palm oil based biofuels through their Renewable Energy Directive (RED). In the US, the EPA is set to decide whether palm-oil based biodiesel will be recognised as sustainable under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). Here too, NGOs have lobbied hard to have palm oil excluded based on inaccurate ‘sustainability’ claims.
According to leading experts published in respected academic journal Global Change Biology – Bioenergy, any robust methodology to assess the ‘sustainability’ of biofuel feedstock should take into account ‘management potential’.  Currently the EPA and EU sustainability criteria are largely based on aggregated data of crop species.
This is a sensible recommendation; poor management of a crop can lead to poor environmental outputs, just as strong management can improve the crop’s overall sustainability. In other words, the environmental outputs from bio-fuel feedstock are dependent on management practices, and should not be based solely on species of crop used. Good management of crops has the potential to “swing” the sustainability rating of the feedstock.
This is the case in Malaysia, where well managed palm oil plantations result in highly sustainable biofuel products. This biofuel can then be blended and used as a conventional fuel. This is a sustainable strategy – unlike fossil fuel, palm oil is a renewable resource. It is one of the most resource efficient feedstock currently technologically viable for biofuel production – far more sustainable then other crops that require much more land to achieve the same yields.
Some campaigners claim that palm oil is not sustainable despite its benefits to fossil fuel consumption.  They argue that CO2 is emitted in instances where forests are converted to plantations.
This argument flawed in the case of palm oil grown in Malaysia – most plantations are established on already degraded land or plantations previously used to grow other crop species. Furthermore, Malaysian industry operates under a strict regulatory system that ensures that over half the country remains forested.
The study found that palm oil grown on existing plantations, “scores high on many environmental indicators. Oil palm requires 7–11 times less land area than soybean, rapeseed, and sunflower to produce the same amount of oil.”
The authors argue that “high-yielding bioenergy crops … can be managed for environmental benefits or losses, suggesting that the bioenergy sector would be better informed by incorporating management-based evaluations into classifications of bioenergy feedstocks.”
The study outlines a number of palm oil management strategies that reduce CO2 emissions: returning organic residues to the soil; the trapping of methane in processing mills; and the use of fertilizer to increase yields. These are technologies and management practices widely employed by world leaders in the Malaysian industry.
Campaigners portray palm oil as ‘bad’, but as emerging research demonstrates, “crop species themselves are neither exclusively positive nor negative, rather it is how they are managed for bioenergy that will determine their impacts.”
Commodities are not ‘inherently’ sustainable or unsustainable; sustainability depends on the processes and management used throughout the commodity’s production. In the case of Malaysia, good palm oil management is enshrined in national regulations and supported by industry.
Policy makers and NGOs should take a broader science-based view by including the management ‘swing potential’ in sustainability assessments. This is necessary if Malaysian palm oil-derived biofuel is to deliver on its great potential in reducing global CO2 emissions.
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The Oil Palm

Misinformation Campaign Against Malaysia Peat Management

Research published in the journal Nature, is being misrepresented by activists to attack Malaysia’s management of peatlands, with the goal of reducing the attractiveness of palm oil in overseas markets. Activists allege that palm oil plantations in Malaysia are responsible for degrading peat swamps and causing CO2 emissions which contribute to climate change.   This is yet another effort by Western governments – the US and Europe – and the NGOs they fund to disparage palm oil in the hopes of keeping our miracle oil out of the marketplace for food and biofuels.

The campaign is spurious and hypocritical. The study assesses the amount of carbon released into waterways when peat forests are degraded. It does not quantify the CO2 emissions from degradation of peat lands. There is currently little science to assess how much carbon in waterways is emitted as CO2. Some evidence indicates that waterways and oceans are considerable carbon sinks and not carbon sources.

Regardless of the processes that convert carbon to CO2 in waterways, the total quantity of carbon that enters waterways from peat lands is relatively small compared to the total carbon stored in peat soils. The researchers calculated the total quantity of carbon that entered South East Asian waterways at around 2.4 Tg over an 18 year period. This probably represents a miniscule fraction of the total amount of carbon stored in South East Asian peat lands, which have been estimated to store around 60 000 Tg.

Respected Malaysian scientist, Dr Lullie Melling, recently highlighted the hypocrisy of foreign NGOs that criticise Malaysian peatlands management commenting that peatlands in the Netherlands had shrunken to around 3 per cent of their original size. Despite being based in the Netherlands, both Greenpeace International and Wetlands International, both of whom are actively campaigning against Malaysian palm oil, focus considerable campaign resources on tropical peatlands such as those in Malaysia.

Despite the fact that most peatlands are located in developed countries in the Northern Hemisphere, many of these peatlands continue to be degraded. It appears that NGOs are interested in restricting agricultural development in South East Asia, over genuine measures to protect global peatlands.

Tropical peatlands do play an important role in the global carbon cycle, and may potentially store greater quantities of carbon due to their significant depth. However, there is no credible evidence to suggest that Malaysian management of peat soils is contributing to climate change.

On the contrary, emerging research indicates that CO2 emissions from oil palm plantations do not vary significantly from secondary forest or peat swamp forests. In fact, Dr Melling – a leading peat researcher – has found that greenhouse gas emissions from peat soil planted with oil palm trees may result in fewer emissions than forested peatlands.  Supplementary research has confirmed that “…palms on deep tropical peat were neither a carbon sink nor source”.

Yet activists continue to make sweeping statements that attack Malaysian agricultural industries for planting oil palms on peat soils and contributing to climate change, despite lacking scientific evidence.

Ultimately the new data and findings provide little support for the allegations. The research is based on relatively few samples sites located in the Malaysian Peninsula. Attempts to apply these findings – derived from only eight sample sites in a relatively narrow geographical range – to regional or global climate processes, fails to provide statistical certainty.

Peatlands in Malaysia are well managed by government and industry. While much of the palm oil industry’s expansion in Malaysia over the last few decades has occurred on degraded lands, or those previously used for other plantation crops, limited expansion onto peatlands has generally complied with strict management practices. Malaysian industry has embraced practices to improve environmental outputs from plantations located on peat soils; including zero burning policies, good water management and measure to improve palm nutrition.

Malaysian economic development is sustainable and responsible, and the approach to achieving this has been science-based. Campaigns that misrepresent greenhouse gas emissions from peat is disingenuous and hurts efforts to alleviate poverty and market opportunities for small farmers.  The Malaysian experience in palm oil production demonstrates that a vibrant agricultural sector and strong sustainability outputs are not mutually exclusive goals. Through a strict process of land zoning, effective regulation, and leading environmental management techniques, Malaysia is achieving genuine sustainable development and societal advancement.

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The Oil Palm

Campaigners jeopardise investment in African development

Malaysian investment in African palm oil has been widely welcomed by African governments who regulate and enforce national environmental standards; and the rural communities that embrace development opportunities associated with local palm oil industries. But despite the clear benefits from this investment for sustainably reducing poverty, NGOs have mounted aggressive campaigns to cease this development and mire communities throughout Africa in poverty.

NGOs such as WWF, Greenpeace and the Rainforest Foundation have attacked Malaysian investment to Africa, claiming that development from this investment is causing adverse environmental and economic impacts. These allegations – are simply part of an underlying campaign against industrial agriculture that is denying developing world communities the means to rise out of poverty and millions of people throughout the world food they need to survive.

Palm oil production is widely regarded as one of the best opportunities for African small farmers to produce and trade value-added agricultural goods – witness Malaysia’s robust poverty alleviation thanks to responsible and sustainable growth of the palm oil industry. Malaysian partnerships between smallholders and private sector operators lead the world in palm oil production, and are recognised as an effective tool for poverty alleviation. Likewise, Malaysian smallholder cooperatives such as FELDA have been recognised by the World Bank for their potential to alleviate poverty andcreate economic opportunities for rural populations.

Malaysia’s investment in African growers and local palm oil projects promote the development of national agricultural sectors and is one of the best ways for developing economies of scale necessary to achieve food security. Agriculture investment – such as investment in oil palm projects – stimulates agricultural growth, increases food supplies, and most importantly generates jobs and income for those most vulnerable to food prices increases.

Infrastructure development and partnerships between estates and smallholder also open up new economic opportunities for rural communities. Those communities gain access to needed education and medical infrastructure, as well as public roads by which locals can access new markets to trade their goods and services.

This model has proved to be a success in Malaysia whereby over 40 per cent of palm oil is produced by smallholders, and important organizations like FELDA have been instrumental in alleiating poverty and increasing the living standards for Malaysians.

More investment from the foreign private sector, not less, is required. African governments have welcomed overseas investment recognizing its potential to assist small farmers through improved yields and vital access to market. According to the FAO, agricultural investment in low-income countries comes mostly from private domestic investors, the majority of whom are farmers. But with population growth on the increase and breadbaskets like Malaysia running out of land for agriculture due to aggressive conservation commitments, greater foreign investment will be required in under-developed regions such as Africa.

International development institutions such as the FAO and the World Bank recognise that investing in agriculture is one of the most effective strategies for reducing poverty and hunger and promoting sustainability. Environmental activists are jeopardising this investment by irresponsibly trying to cut off Western markets from these small farmers – whether in Malaysia or Africa. In many developing countries, investors already face investment challenges and risk. Halting industrial agricultural in Africa may suit Western campaign groups, but does little to address food insecurity and poverty throughout the continent.

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The Oil Palm

Malaysia 2013 Palm-Oil Output May Reach 18.9 Mln Tons -MPOB Official

New research by the world’s leading researchers in orang-utans just published in Plus One, have shown that Borneo’s current orang-utan population size is affected by events that occurred thousands of years ago. The research “suggests that in some sites at least, orang-utan populations were affected by demographic events that started before the recent anthropogenic effects that
Environmental activists have attacked the palm oil industry, claiming that orang-utan populations have decreased as a result of the industry’s alleged environmental impact. However the emerging science indicates that the viability of today’s orang-utan populations has much to do with events that predated palm oil cultivation in Malaysia, perhaps by thousands of years.

The study found that orang-utan populations throughout Borneo probably declined several thousands of years ago. This population decline likely lead to a ‘population bottleneck’ which may have resulted in long-term constraints on the populations’ genetic viability. The findings point to a complex narrative, where today’s orang-utan populations are effected by both ancient and modern events.

The study sampled 126 individuals from a range of populations in order to test four potential hypotheses:

1)      Orang-utan decline is recent and attributable to the commercial forest exploitation occurring in the last 200 years

2)      Orang-utan decline started after the arrival of the first farmers but before the very recent forest exploitation (between 5000 and 200 years ago)

3)      Orang-utan decline began following the arrival of hunter gatherers but before the arrival of the first farmers (around 40 000 and 5000 years ago), and

4)      Orang-utan decline commenced following major climatic changes but before the arrival of hunter gatherers (between 100 000 and 40 000 years ago)

The results “provide strong support for orang-utan population decline following the arrival of the first farmers”. Under this scenario, it is most likely that the bottleneck occurred sometime between 5000 and 200 years ago. However, there is also evidence in some sites that the bottleneck significantly predated this period.

The first palm oil plantation was established in Malaysia only in 1917, but cultivation of the commodity did not become a major industrial activity until the 1970s.

Despite this fact, campaigners continue to claim that the Malaysian palm oil industry is driving orang-utan population decline. Their primary contention is that palm oil is the main driver of forest clearance, and by denying natural habitat, the industry is reducing the wild orang-utan populations.

This is unfounded.  There are two species of orang-utans – Sumatran (Pongo abelii) and Borneo (Pongo pygmaeus). It is estimated that between 45 000 and 69 000 Borneo orang-utans live in the wild throughout the Malaysian States of Sarawak and Sabah, and Indonesian Province of Kalimantan. Sumatran orang-utans are estimated to be considerably rarer and are found only in Indonesia.

Accurate and precise data regarding historical orang-utan population sizes is not available, but there is little reason to believe that orang-utan populations in Malaysia are rapidly declining. Instead there have been several instances where significant orang-utan populations have been recently ‘discovered’. The estimate for Borneo orang-utan population sizes has been revised up from earlier estimates.

In Malaysia, orang-utan populations are protected through national legislation. The country’s strong record in forest management and falling rates of deforestation, state sponsored conservation initiatives, and a robust regime for agricultural land zoning have been attributed with conserving a relatively stable wild orang-utan population. Most new palm oil plantations in Malaysia have been developed on degraded land, or land converted from other crop plantations.

Understanding the real root causes of potential population decline is imperative to developing effective conservation strategies. The Malaysian palm oil industry is working to improve strategies for managing biodiversity and species habitat. For example, in one study site sampled in the research – the lower Kinabatangan in Northern Borneo – the palm oil industry is leading efforts to manage plantations that co-exist with a range of species and high levels of biodiversity, including orang-utan populations. A recent case study and plantation manual published by Wild Asia and supported by the Malaysian Palm Oil Council shows that well-managed palm oil plantations can maintain significant biodiversity.