The Oil Palm The Oil Palm

Radio Télévision Suisse is like Swiss Cheese: Full of Holes

Radio Télévision Suisse (RTS) is spreading lots of Fake News these days about Malaysia and Malaysian Palm Oil.  Their reporting is a lot like their famous cheese: full of holes!

Led by the famous Swiss YouTuber, “Le Grand JD” (we’ve never heard of him) and “journalist” Bernard Genier, they “investigate” alleged risk to tropical forest and indigenous people in Borneo – more precisely in Sarawak, Malaysia – from oil palm plantations.

It is part of a campaign to see the European Union ban palm oil biofuels under the revision of the Renewable Energy Directive currently being debated in Brussels.  Six Swiss Cantons – Geneva, Vaud, Thurgau, Bern, Jura and Fribourg – oppose Palm Oil because they are strongholds for rapeseed farmers.  RTS has fallen for their protectionist trap.

Despite making wild claims that ‘forests are disappearing’, the Swiss seem to spend most of their time trekking through vast, dense jungle in Sarawak providing clear evidence that, well, there is lots of forest in Sarawak!

The errors in this film are so egregious, that they require a point-by-point correction.


Error #1: ‘Borneo is the worst case of deforestation on the planet, leading to the disappearance of pristine forest’ (01m14).

Fact: In 2012, the EU published comprehensive research that showed that Palm Oil is a very small contributor to global deforestation. Beef and livestock are around ten times larger; soy is more than double; and maize is also larger. Any claim that palm oil is somehow a major cause of deforestation is demonstrably untrue and inaccurate.


Error #2: ‘There is no biodiversity left’ (02m31)

Fact: This is false. Ten per cent of Sarawak’s landmass territory is designated as either under the status of national park or wildlife sanctuaries, broken down as follows:

  • 593,284 hectares of protected areas
  • 25 national parks covering 385,056 hectares
  • 8 nature reserves covering 1,767 hectares
  • 5 wildlife sanctuaries extending over 206,460 hectares

Sarawak boasts a remarkable diversity of wildlife including the hornbill; langurs and monkeys; clouded leopards; crocodiles and one of the world’s largest population of orang-utans. In fact, the total size of Sarawak’s national parks and wildlife sanctuaries is bigger than the total forest area in the U.K.


Error #3: ‘Currently, in Borneo and Sarawak, there is only about 5% of pristine forest left’ (03m58)

Fact: In Sarawak, 6 million ha of forest is considered permanent reserved forest. This forest area is approximately one and a half times the size of Switzerland. Sarawak (and Malaysia as a whole) set strong standards at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro with a commitment that forest area will not fall below 50%. Sarawak, and Malaysia, are meeting that commitment today.

The FAO states that Switzerland’s forest area is around 30 per cent of its total land area. Switzerland’s primary forest – so-called ‘pristine’ forest – is just 3.2 per cent of its total land area. Malaysia’s pristine forest area is 23 per cent. Almost a 20% difference!!


Error #4: ‘The forest is disappearing, piece by piece’ (11m30)

Fact: Malaysia is a strong advocate of the environment and natural habitat. Malaysia continues to maintain 54.9% of its land area under forest cover, which exceeds Malaysia’s commitment of 50% at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. This is far higher than forest cover in Switzerland of only 31.7%.

It should also be noted that at one point Switzerland’s forest cover was as low as 10 per cent. Why? Because Switzerland cuts its forests for log exports to other countries. It was only once the country gained enough wealth that Switzerland began to reverse its forest decline.  Key word: “wealth.”


Error #5: ‘Indigenous lands are at risk from palm oil companies’ (20m00)

Fact: In addition to the recognition of indigenous peoples, Sarawak constitutional law recognizes certain land and resource rights under Native Customary Rights (NCR). These include the rights to native land, which recognizes the rights of indigenous peoples to their traditional land.


Error #6: ‘Many NGOs, including The Bruno Manser foundation, are making campaigns to fight for the rights of the Penan’s land’ (13m11)

Fact: The Bruno Manser campaign are an opportunistic and misleading NGO that seeks to exploit the Penan for their personal agenda.  The establishment of NCR requires the establishment of these rights through evidence of settlement, e.g. cultivation of plants or husbandry of animals. In the view of nomadic Penan, NCR should extend to all lands through which they undertake hunting and gathering activities. This presents a significant administrative problem for Sarawak in terms of determining fixed boundaries for any NCR claims.


Error #7: ‘In the next 10 years, Borneo’s tropical forest would have disappeared’ (21m50)

Fact: This claim has zero credibility. Over the past 20 years, conservation advocates have made a series of extreme claims about rainforests in Borneo. In 2001, it was claimed all lowland forests in Borneo will have disappeared by 2010. Another claim was made in 2007 that the same forests would be gone by 2018. Clearly, neither have happened.


Error #8: ‘Eco-Responsible/Sustainability doesn’t exist when it comes to Palm Oil’ (23m02)

Fact: Malaysia is a world-leader in sustainably produced Palm Oil, and the country’s national standard, Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO), will come into full force in 2019. MSPO is additive to existing Malaysian law, and addresses  environmental, social and economic aspects of Palm Oil production, cultivation and processing methods, as well as forest and wildlife protection.


Error #9: ‘Today, modern Palm Oil means less pristine forest’ (23m12)

Fact: 5.81 million hectares are planted with oil palm in Malaysia, which accounts for 17% of Malaysia’s land area (out of a total of 23.8% of agricultural land area in Malaysia). This equates to only 0.11% of the total global agricultural area. New area planted with oil palm in Malaysia has remained flat in recent years. Meanwhile, Malaysia’s forest area is increasing, confirmed by the latest official United Nations FAO Global Forests Resource Assessment report. The FAO states that Switzerland’s forest area is around 30 per cent of its total land area. Switzerland’s primary forest – so-called ‘pristine’ forest – is just 3.2 per cent of its total land area. Malaysia’s pristine forest area is 23 per cent. Almost a 20% difference!!


Error #10: ‘Orangutans are on the brink of extinction’ (24m01)

Fact: False! A recent report says that conversion of forests to plantations – for pulp and paper, farming and oil palm – plays a very minor role in the decline of orang-utan populations. The report actually states that hunting is the leading and major driver of orang-utan population loss. The Palm Oil connection has been pushed in the media by Green groups.

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) estimates that in 2008 the population of Bornean orang-utans was 104,000.  In 2010, over 59% of Borneo forests were classified by IUCN as “suitable habitat” for orang-utan.

The IUCN provides no data to support any theory of orang-utans going extinct – proving that ‘LeGrandJD’ has no evidence for his wild claims about the orang-utan.

The IUCN states that orang-utans are critically endangered. However, government and the palm oil industry in Malaysia have undertaken considerable efforts to set aside greater conservation areas and put resources into conservation programs.

The IUCN also notes that Switzerland is hardly a model for species conservation – particularly for one of the world’s wealthiest countries.

More than 250 species have become extinct in Switzerland. Sad! The IUCN notes more than 500 critically endangered species in Switzerland. Sad! One NGO estimates there are around 50 of these species that are endemic to Switzerland. Sad!

Swiss ‘journalists’ should consider what is happening in their own back yard before lecturing developing countries on wildlife management.