The Oil Palm

CEO of MPOC: The Added Value of MSPO

Approximately one year ago at a meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysian officials gave an impressive overview of the progress being made on the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) standard.

In 2014, a pilot programme was undertaken, and towards the end of the year, a number of large companies had become certified.

One year on, things have progressed further. Auditors are being trained and awareness sessions are taking place across the country. More plantation areas are being certified.

Why is this significant?

Establishing a standard was an important first step for the Malaysian industry, but now significant steps have been taken to ensure there is the capacity for the standard to be implemented and verified in an efficient manner. This means that MSPO can be adopted by the market in a cost-effective manner, further adding to the growing sense that MSPO will play a major role in the future of palm oil certification.

This development of capacity on the ground is essential. If the capacity doesn’t exist, it’s similar to a government setting safety standards for road vehicles, but not having the budget to let car manufacturers and the public know of the changes, nor to deploy a police force to enforce compliance.

Similarly, if the safety standards implemented are too strict, meaning that the only cars that are compliant are beyond the reach of most consumers, it won’t actually improve safety nor the functioning of the transport system. It will simply mean that most cars on the road won’t meet the safety standards.

This is precisely what gives MSPO a point of difference with the private-sector initiative that is the RSPO.

Simply, it is the ability to have a large number of producers meet a broad range of standards that provide an assurance of sustainability.

RSPO is an important and valuable player in palm oil certification, but at time it has proven to be simply too broad and too expensive for most small farmers to meet. In this regard the pressure that is being placed on the supply chains or palm oil to meet certification standards – and a specific certification standard at that — is unusual. There are few other commodities where this occurs.

Rice, for example, does not have any similar standards. However, rice does have a relatively large greenhouse gas emission footprint because of methane emissions associated with wet rice farming. Consider the outcry around the world if small rice farmers were forced to meet demanding environmental standards around rice that potentially negatively affected their incomes and livelihoods.

Coffee, which unlike rice or vegetable oil is not a food staple, does not have anything like the levels of pressure to meet certain certification standards. Sure, some standards do exist, such as Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance certification, but the uptake for both is relatively small and for the most part confined to Western consumer markets. There is a general acceptance of specialty coffees to meet demands based on taste – and that is the overriding factor in coffee production.

Regardless of the reasons for the pressure being placed upon the palm oil industry for the adoption of standards in production, there is no reason to consider that it will go away. It is effectively the expression of an activist-driven desire in Western markets for assurance that products be produced in a certain way.

But what happens when those standards don’t exist or those standards are too expensive for most producers?

There has to be a level of realism and consensus in the construction of standards. That is why, for example, national standards – such as MSPO – go through a lengthy standard-setting procedure that adheres to international norms in standard setting. This avoids standards heading into a world of ideal benchmarks, standards and procedures that are simply not practical for most market participants.

So MSPO effectively represents two things.

First, it represents the fact that certification for palm oil is maturing and consolidating. RSPO has not been around for particularly long in the grand scheme of things. But it serves a particular market and a particular need, and it does it well.

Other benchmarks – such POIG and GAR’s HCS – are also emerging. POIG suits a certain number of companies that are able to take that leap, and similarly GAR’s HCS suits GAR and other large vertically integrated producers like it. MSPO, on other hand, suits the Malaysian industry and the specific national conditions, which leads to the second point.

Second, MSPO represents the qualitative difference between Malaysian palm oil and palm oil from other countries. Just as there is a level of quality assurance that can be seen in, say, Australian beef, Japanese manufacturing and American innovation, there is a level of assurance in what can only be identified in the brand that is Malaysian palm oil. This assurance extends from the well-recognised ‘Malaysian model’, underpinned by the idea that smallholder producers are benefiting from oil palm cultivation, and that high-quality downstream products and produced, and marketed in markets across the globe.

By Dr Yusof Basiron, CEO of MPOC

The Oil Palm

CEO of MPOC: French Senators Need to Do Their Homework

The campaign against palm oil in some parts of Europe, including France, has been multifaceted. There are the well-known environmental NGOs, many of whom have a long-standing enmity for palm oil, and who have conducted smear campaigns in the past.

Then there is the domestic protectionist European industry, which fears palm oil as a better, cheaper, more efficient alternative: often such companies and organizations will also conduct attacks on palm oil, or work with NGOs and others to spread misinformation through the media.

Thirdly, there are the politicians, who are often in league with either the NGOs or the local industry: these are the individuals who promote laws, amendments, discriminatory criteria, that is targeted at palm oil. Often the politicians know very little about the issue, and are simply doing the bidding of others (and hoping for some easy publicity as well).

An excellent example of this was seen in France recently. Two Green Senators – Aline Archimbaud and Jean Dessesard – tabled two amendments to a French Health Law. Both amendments were targeted at palm oil, and both had been obviously written by green campaigners. To be more precise, they were written by green campaigners who didn’t know the law or the issue.

The first amendment called for all products in France containing palm oil to be labeled as ‘palm oil’ (instead of the more generic term ‘vegetable oil’). The justification given was ‘transparency’.

That might seem sensible and reasonable, except for the fact that this law already exists in France. In fact, it exists throughout the European Union, and has done since December 2014. It was a law knows as the ‘European Food Information to Consumers Regulation’, which the Malaysian Palm Oil industry supported, as it brought transparency, but without being discriminatory (the labeling rules apply to all vegetable oils, not just palm oil).

The Senators were therefore demanding a labeling law which actually already exists. Either they didn’t know this – which is embarrassing for a Senator not to know the law of their own country – or they did know, and they were simply aiming for some cheap publicity. Either way, it shows their level of incompetence, and discriminatory attitude towards the developing world. Their amendment was defeated comfortably, by their more knowledgeable and sensible colleagues.

These brilliant Senators submitted a second amendment, calling for the introduction of a new tax on palm oil imports. How original of them. This has been tried before, known in the past as the proposed ‘Nutella Tax’. The Green Senators’ proposal was misguided for three main reasons –

  1. The Justification – the Senators make the old claim that palm oil is bad for health and therefore must be over-taxed. These old allegations have been found time and again to be false: scientific experts everywhere – including in France – agree that palm oil is a healthy, normal oil as part of a balanced diet. It is unscientific to claim otherwise.
  2. The Logic – The Senators argue that palm oil is taxed less than European oils (such as olive oil) by weight, and so palm oil taxes need to be increased. This is cunning, but unsound, logic. Taxes are not determined by weight (1 kg of olive oil or 1 kg of palm oil); they are determined by price. Olive oil is many times more expensive than palm oil – and so is taxed more in total (but as a price percentage, palm oil actually pays more tax currently).
  3. Repetition – The Nutella Tax has been tried before. It failed then, because of the two arguments above, and many other good arguments. The Senators have resurrected it, and it has failed again, for the same reasons.

To summarise, it is hard to explain why two French Senators are so unaware of the laws in their country – and embarrassing their country at the same time – that they tabled amendments asking for a law that already exists; and it is also hard to understand why they continue to promote a tax that has already been thoroughly discredited.

This latest episode does contain one useful lesson. The Malaysian Palm Oil community must continue to be vigilant in Europe, as such potential harms are ever-present, and could resurface at any moment.

By Dr Yusof Basiron, CEO of MPOC


The Oil Palm

Why MEP Marc Tarabella is Wrong About Palm Oil

Marc Tarabella, a Belgian Member of the European Parliament, has a long and undignified record demonising palm oil, and the 300,000 palm oil small farmers in Malaysia.

In 2013, he made statements that effectively accused palm oil and palm oil production of being environmentally destructive, harmful to human health and violating workers’ rights – despite producing no evidence, and clearly not being in possession of the facts.

In June of this year he was on the attack again, this time accusing the industry of exporting so-called ‘illegal’ products – including palm oil – to Europe.

Tarabella bases this accusation almost entirely a report by European Green NGO FERN – a report that was discredited earlier this year in detail. A rebuttal by FERN did not even attempt to address the substantive points of the critique; it simply re-stated their original propositions, with no attempt to engage in a debate. Making wild accusations and then ducking a debate is classic FERN playbook. It’s just a shame that MEP Tarabella is siding with the wild accusations, and not the facts.

Tarabella made a statement and asked a question to the European Commission and clearly appears to be operating in collaboration with FERN: “Can the Commission confirm or deny the accusation that some products imported into the EU do indeed result from illegal deforestation?”

One thing that FERN attempts to do in its original report is link the high number of land claims in Malaysian courts to illegality in the products being exported. Clearly, the fact that there is an open, transparent and effective legal system is something to be praised – rather than subject to attacks. The role of the courts is to adjudicate – does Tarabella really think that Belgium has no land disputes currently under legal review? So, perhaps, using his logic the EU should ban all Belgian products as well?

As the Oil Palm also pointed out, FERN’s report failed to mention that some plaintiff claims around land use in Malaysia also related to Malaysia’s main airport. Once again, no evidence is produced to justify the attack on Malaysia’s palm oil farmers.

Fortunately (and surprisingly) the response from the European Commission itself has been measured.

In August, the Commission’s response was simply to refer Tarabella to a large body of work completed by the Commission on the impact of EU consumption on deforestation. One of the reasons that the Commission referred to this document is because it considered the methodology used to be robust.

Some points that the study makes are:

  • In terms of ‘imported deforestation’ crop imports to the EU, Malaysian palm oil only makes up around 2 per cent of the total; this is compared with, say, Brazilian soybeans, which make up 41 per cent of the total;
  • Malaysian palm oil ranks far behind items such as Brazil nut imports, Paraguayan soybeans and Ghanan cocoa beans in terms of imported deforestation – a testament to Malaysia’s proven commitment to forest protection, as recognised by the United Nations;
  • On a national basis, Malaysia makes up around 4 per cent of the total, compared with 48 per cent out of Brazil, and 9 per cent out of Indonesia, followed by 5 per cent each out of Cameroon and Argentina – but this includes all crops, not just palm oil.

So there are three points that make Tarabella’s original demonising of Malaysian palm oil absurd.

First, Malaysia’s contribution to ‘imported deforestation’ to the EU is miniscule in comparison with other nations and other crops. The U.N., World Bank, and others have consistently recognised Malaysia’s commitment to forest protection. MEP Tarabella perhaps needs to read those reports.

Second, so-called ‘exported deforestation’ from Malaysia to the EU makes up just a small percentage of Malaysia’s total exports. Of the many policy proposals put forward by the EU to solve the ‘problem’ of imported deforestation is to introduce a licensing arrangement for exporters of certain products that include legality criteria. The problem with this approach is that it basically inserts the EU as a third party in trading arrangements, and in addition, it is failing dismally.

The EU has tried this with timber products across the world through its Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) arrangements. After nearly a decade and somewhere between EUR500 million and EUR1 billion, not a single FLEGT license has been issued.

Third, Tarabella holds a position as Vice-chair of the Delegation for relations with the countries of Southeast Asia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). If this is the position he holds, he’s clearly doing relations with ASEAN a massive disservice. Does anyone really wonder why trade talks between the EU and ASEAN have effectively stalled? If Tarabella is looking to reduce or harm trade relations between the EU and ASEAN countries, he seems to have found a good way to do this. However, if he is serious as Vice-Chair of ASEAN Delegation, he should focus on improving relations. Currently, he is failing dismally at this task.

The Oil Palm

Malaysian Palm Oil Council: UN Climate Conference in Paris – Implications for Palm Oil

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has become the focus of both environmental policy makers and international campaign groups, as the Conference of the Parties prepares for its 21st Session in Paris from Nov 30 to Dec 11.

The upcoming event is one of the more significant meetings in that it is set to finalise an international treaty that is to replace the Kyoto Protocol – an agreement that is nearly 20 years old.

A decision on the future of the Kyoto Protocol was due to be taken in 2009 at the UNFCCC meeting in Copenhagen. However, that meeting was an abject failure. The world’s major emitters of greenhouse gases (GHG) failed to agree on a common approach.

Read full story here

The Oil Palm

Lopsided Study on Rajang Delta (and a deplorable proposal)

Wetlands International, a European NGO, has received significant press in Malaysia and around the world in claiming that Malaysia’s longer term ecological and economic prospects are threatened by the establishment of agricultural plantations, particularly on delta and peatland areas.

Delta lands have long been exploited for agriculture. The Nile and Mekong Delta areas immediately spring to mind. Such lands are a significant resource for economic growth.

Most emerging economies also rely heavily on rivers for transport and commerce. The Rajang River in Sarawak – Malaysia’s longest river – is no exception. It has a long history of use as a vital route for public transportation and in serving the state’s economic sectors, including agriculture.

The new study by Wetlands concentrates on the Rajang Delta, which is consequently being turned into a political, economic and environmental football. Wetlands argues that agricultural expansion and drainage of peatlands in the delta will result in flooding that will effectively make the land unsuitable for agriculture within the next few decades.

The study highlights ‘failures’ in the US and Europe around land subsidence related to drainage. There is no doubt that land subsidence is a problem. However, land reclamation or swamp drainage for agricultural purposes has been a consistent feature of western and agricultural development.

The Netherlands – where the lead researcher for the study is based – pioneered the effective drainage of swampland for agricultural purposes. Over a period of nearly 500 years, the country has begun to successfully manage land subsidence processes.

Another example cited in the study is the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta region, which is one of the most productive agricultural regions in California. It contributes significantly to the US economy – and this has all been due to draining.

The other major example used by the researchers is the Florida Everglades, which similarly underwent a draining process more than a century ago for sugar production. The Everglades have been the subject of significant advocacy and attempts at rehabilitation – largely because the historical management of the area is likely to result in both economic and ecological failure, not just the latter.

But the larger point of these examples is that all three have provided a significant return to the regional economies, and that the process of environmental degradation is currently moving towards more sustainable management.

One reason that these areas have managed to remain productive for as long as they have, is through the use of levees and other water management systems. There has not – for the most part – been the suggestion that agriculture should be removed from the equation altogether.

To argue that those areas should never have been turned over to agricultural use in the first place is simply not logical. Any argument that this should apply to the Rajang Delta is equally spurious. There simply aren’t sufficient viable alternatives for people in the Rajang Delta region to contribute productively to the economy and raise their living standards.

Radical notion

The recommendations that the report makes are for the most part sensible. They basically involve gathering as much knowledge as possible about the existing peatlands.

Yet among the recommendations is this:

‘There remains, therefore, a fundamental choice that will need to be taken at some point by businesses and farmers, supported by government policy makers and politicians, between abandoning plantations or moving towards a more sustainable type of plantation using flood tolerant species with very limited drainage.

In practice, this generally means utilising local swamp species with valued timber and/or non-timber products that can be grown without drainage (see Giesen, 2013). However, this choice is best made before the land is prone to such severe flooding, which may preclude the planting and re-establishment of indigenous productive and valued swamp tree species in the area.

This will also mean that the oil palm sector, and other plantation industries dependent on drained peatland for production, will at some point in time need to relocate to suitable mineral soils. Such a transition is best undertaken sooner rather than later and managed over the medium term.’

What the authors are implying is that the peatlands should be conserved and restored, and that local farmers and communities should somehow return to subsistence lifestyles by living off plants that occur naturally in swamp forests.

To substantiate this somewhat radical change in living standards, the report draws on a study by Giesen (2013) – which appears to be publicly unavailable – and indicates that among the 1,000-plus species in peat forests, 95% can be used for other purposes such as medicine, food or timber, and therefore can represent an economic value to local communities.

But as with most studies that attempt to value the biodiversity of natural forest areas, this kind of thinking is dangerously flawed. If all of these forest products have such great value, why weren’t local communities exploiting them in the first place?

If valuable species exist and there is a market for them, they are worth extracting, no matter where they are or how hard they are to find. Eaglewood is a clear example of such a product. It is difficult to find and hard to get to market – but it is nearly extinct because of small-scale commercial exploitation.

This report, as technically sound as it might be in terms of projecting floods in the Rajang Delta region, smacks of the kind of research that is determined to ignore the needs of local communities.

This, in some ways, is not surprising. The report was commissioned by Norway’s development agency, Norad, under the auspices of its climate and forest programmes. These programmes have effectively paid groups such as Rainforest Action Network to lobby against palm oil consumption in western countries.

Its work in Indonesia on REDD under this programme was roundly criticised in its own internal review. The reason? In attempting to set forest areas aside to reduce carbon emissions, the Norad programme had not, apparently, considered the role of land tenure in Indonesia.

We can only assume that, like most western crusaders, Norad had simply assumed that property rights were functioning well in Indonesia, and that simply paying people not to deforest would be a reasonably straightforward process.

This is exactly the same flawed thinking that appears to be infecting the report on the Rajang Delta. The message from Norad and Wetlands International is simple: don’t let the poor develop their peatlands; let them eat trees.

Authors Pierre Bois D’Enghien

Greens Propose Harming the Environment

Some interesting news in Paris: Green Senators have proposed an amendment that could harm the environment, lead to more forest land being lost, and affect poor people in developing countries.

Aline Archimbaud, a Green Senator, has submitted amendments to the Health Law criticizing palm oil. She makes clear that the amendment would like to protect the environment, and also to help solve malnutrition, hunger, and other problems affecting the poor.

Unfortunately, this is clearly an attempt to score an ‘easy’ political point, because the facts are simply wrong. This was also proven by Minister Segolene Royal, after her ill-judged comments against Nutella. I wrote to the Minister at the time, explaining why she was wrong. Minister Royal eventually realized the error of her ways; she accepted that she was wrong on the facts. It looks like I may need to write another letter, to Mme Archimbaud.

Mme Archimbaud thinks that using less palm oil will help the environment? Wrong. Palm oil is the world’s most efficient oilseed crop. It produces far more oils per hectare compared to any other oilseed (10 times more than soybean). Put another way, palm oil uses 10 times less land. So: the Senator’s ideas would lead to more land being cleared, more land being converted from nature into agriculture.

Mme Archimbaud is also very concerned about malnutrition. Palm oil is one of the world’s greatest solutions to malnutrition. It is the main cooking oil – and a key staple of calories – across the developing world. In India, in Africa, in Pakistan, in South-East Asia: people get major energy, vitamins, and nutrients from palm oil. Criticising palm oil without knowing how important it is for people in the developing world is very unwise.

Small farmers rely on palm oil – in Africa, and in Asia. In Malaysia, 40 per cent of the plantations are small farmers; in many African countries, such as Nigeria, the percentage is even higher. Lazy criticism of palm oil is really criticism of small farmers in poor countries. Lazy attempts to harm palm oil, will actually end up harming families in poor communities in Africa.

The Malaysian Palm Oil Council has recently launched an education campaign in France, to give consumers some more information on the facts about palm oil. It may be worth Senator Archimbaud taking a look at the website!


Authors Pierre Bois D’Enghien

A Campaign to Inform Consumers About Palm Oil

After many years of working closely on the ecology and economy of agricultural products and farming – especially in the developing world – it is encouraging to see that Belgian and French consumers will be learning more about palm oil in the coming months. A new communications campaign has been launched by the Malaysian Palm Oil community, with the aim of providing facts to consumers.

I have worked closely on palm oil-related issues in Africa, where it is a crop of great importance – socially, economically, and environmentally. This is equally true in Malaysia. Contrary to the common belief that large plantations dominate oil palm cultivation, it is small farmers who account for 40-60% of production of palm oil in emerging countries, including 300,000 in Malaysia alone. The positive social consequences of this are enormous – reduced poverty, higher living standards, property rights, development of rural communities, and so on.

Three young students from France and Belgium recently visited Malaysia to discover these facts, and many others I am sure. The new Malaysian campaign explains what the students found – what I already knew from many years in the industry – that palm oil is a great source of prosperity and wellbeing in rural communities, a truth that is often hidden here in Europe.

The reasons why oil palm has been chosen by so many farmers in Africa and Asia is very simple: it is a perennial crop and has the highest yield of oil per unit area when compared to other crops – it yields between 7 and 10 times more oil per hectare than competing oil plants. Moreover, it doesn’t require too much of investments in technical equipment making at an ideal option for small farmers.

The misinformation about palm oil in Europe can jeopardize small farmers’ livelihoods, and the many services which are developed close to oil palm plantations: housing, schools, roads and health care facilities. A hectare of land under oil palm cultivation can generate 1,000 to 3,000 dollars per year, contributing significantly to rural poverty alleviation.

The campaign is also focusing on palm oil’s role in biodiversity and forest conservation. Malaysia has conserved over 50% of land cover as forests – a commitment significantly greater than developed nations. This commitment was made back in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit, and the United Nations confirms that this promise is still being met today.

Discover the positive story of Malaysian Palm Oil on economic success and environmental protection here –

The Oil Palm

U.S. Bans Trans Fats and Palm Oil Helps Replacements

A decision taken thousands of miles from Malaysia – in the offices of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) – could have profound consequences for the future of the palm oil sector.

The FDA has decided to effectively ban partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, due to their worrying levels of trans fat content. Trans fats have been widely regarded by scientists as a major negative factor for health and wellbeing.

Palm oil is a natural and healthy replacement for trans fats – because the beneficial and adaptable composition of palm oil means that it can serve the same purpose in food, but without the major health negatives.

Palm oil does not contain trans fats – its composition means that it does not require partial hydrogenation (unlike liquid oils, such as rapeseed). This opportunity for the palm oil industry may be expanded, too, as European authorities consider whether or not to introduce their own restrictions on trans fats, following the USA.

Scandalous and frivolous allegations against palm oil abound, still, in both the USA and Europe: but perhaps this new high-profile decision, to ban trans fats, is the opportunity palm oil needs to improve image, and perhaps with it, market share. It will surely take pressure to convince Europeans to take this necessary step, too.

The Malaysian palm oil community has always been a byword for high-quality, responsibly-produced palm oil. In addition to that accolade, we now have the opportunity to make a positive contribution to consumer health in markets across the world by highlighting palm oil’s benefits as a replacement for trans fats.
This can help to protect the health of people around the world. The FDA has shown the way, and now others should follow.

(The Oil Palm)

The Oil Palm Unclassified

Malaysian Palm Oil Council: ‘Beyond Certification’?

In July, a number of environmental commentators talked about the state of certification in the palm oil market. Scott Poynton of The Forest Trust said parts of the industry – including his own organisation – are moving ‘beyond certification’.

Specifically, Poynton said: “The [top reasons the commodity supply chains need to move beyond certification] is that [first] the standards are too weak and have fallen behind the pace of innovation and best practice in the field. The second is that certification stifles innovation and introspection.”

But Poynton – and many other green-oriented organisations – fail to appreciate what palm oil certification in its genuine form is actually about. The benchmark that he and groups like Greenpeace use is certification by the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The model for this was Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification for sustainable wood products.

But the model that these systems attempt to imitate – and the word is used deliberately – involves technical standards, particularly in relation to quality management systems. These standards are supposed to set norms with regard to processes; and they are supposed to provide a basis against which performance can be measured.

Read full story here

Authors Pierre Bois D’Enghien

Shifting to Oil Palm

What leads a farmer to become small oil palm planter?

In improving the living conditions of farmers, perennial cash crops occupy a prominent place.
The plantations of cocoa, rubber, coffee and palm oil are well suited to agricultural development, and when they are owned and managed by small independent farmers, their impact on the economy of a country can be fundamental. We also attributed to them the development of countries like Côte d’Ivoire, Malaysia and Indonesia for this private sector development programs.

However, small farmers have a preference for oil palm. Unlike cocoa or coffee, oil palm produces the entire year, with very little variation over time, and thus ensures a virtually stable monthly income to the farmer.

In Malaysia, an hectare of oil palm makes between 1,000 and 3,000 USD / year to its owner (depending on market prices). As the recommended minimum surface area is 4 hectares, a small farmer can earn income from 4000 to 12,000 $ / year, while the minimum wage in Malaysia is a little over 200 $ / month or 2,400 $ / year.

Touching most times, at least twice the statutory minimum wage, he can reasonably expect to get out of poverty and join the rural middle class.

The cultivation of oil palm requires very little technical skills and, unlike rubber, is available to all the villagers even without training. Harvesting and maintenance do not require expensive equipment, investments to start are low and accessible to the greatest number.

Almost all palm diseases can be defeated with integrated and mechanical tools; the low use of plant protection products does not make the small farmer dependent on external suppliers.

Besides the harvest that has to be delivered within 24 hours and a rare insect attack that must be treated immediately, all agricultural operations can be performed in a spread time that do not require immediate responsiveness; the worker has great flexibility in its work, unlike annual crops.

Oil growing is a real trigger for development and growth in the most remote and disadvantaged areas in tropical countries.