The Oil Palm

Why are NGOs Shooting Down the UN FAO?

The recent FAO data that effectively said Malaysia’s deforestation rates had fallen to zero has ruffled feathers among campaigners.

Friends of the Orang Utans director Upreshpal Singh is content to ‘shoot the messenger’ when it comes to the new forest data, which was recently published in a piece that appeared in The Star.

The FAO goes through an extensive process of harmonization and cross-checking for its forest assessments. It is considered the go-to source by development agencies and other multilateral bodies around the world. It is held in such high esteem by so many other bodies.

We can safely say that the comprehensive global report from the United Nations FAO is a more reliable source of data than a letter from Friends of the Orangutans.

There appears to have been a concerted effort by NGOs to take down the recent FAO data in Malaysia and in Papua New Guinea – two countries where the FAO says deforestation rates have improved.

This looks like nothing less than a fear mongering campaign designed to discredit data sources and keep their campaign of disinformation going.  And they have done so by shooting the messenger (the United Nations) and declaring it ‘greenwashing’ – not attempting to engage with the UN and the Malaysian Government or put forward a serious critique of its methodology or its processes.

Similarly, they shoot the messenger for using data on tree/forest cover published by US NGO Global Forest Watch. Yes, let us repeat.  The data came from a US NGO that is supported by the Brits, Norwegians and the Americans aid agencies.  Rather than critiquing of GFW and its methodology – which clearly includes plantations as tree cover – they have simply criticised the data cited.

Mr Upreshpal’s accusations of ‘spreading misinformation’ are misinformed, and purposeful, at best.

This puts Mr Upreshpal, and his group, at odds with the growing body of research that supports the idea that things are in fact improving in Malaysia.

For example, Yale University has conducted a 15-year longitudinal study on national environmental indicators. It considers Malaysia’s other environmental indicators to have improved 13 per cent over the past decade.

Perhaps then our conclusion should be this: when world-class institutions such as the United Nations FAO, and Yale University, give good news about Malaysia, we should be brave enough to celebrate it – instead of simply following Mr Upreshal down a road of never-ending complaints and cynicism.