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Making a killing from palm oil

July 6, 2012

FMT LETTER: From Sean Whyte, via e-mial

If there was an Olympic event for shooting oneself in the foot the Malaysian palm oil industry would be able to provide any number of contenders. This week saw yet another MPOC public relations debacle. The MPOC released a ‘report’ which 100% contradicts scientific reports, the director of the Sabah Wildlife Department and Sabah’s very own Minister for the Environment.

The MPOC’s report claims the palm oil industry does not harm wildlife or rainforests. While on the other hand on 27th January of this year in an article carried in the New Straits Times Sabah Wildlife director Dr Laurentius Ambu cited ‘the conversion of small patches of forests for oil palm planting was the main cause for the decline of the orangutan population in Lower Kinabatangan.’

He was at the same time quoted in The Star saying,”Today, Sabah is considered as being rich in wildlife but in actuality, much has been lost and what we are trying to do today is damage control, which is why we have prepared action plans for keystone species”. He should know.

Speaking at the same Sabah Wildlife Conservation Colloquium in January of this year Dr Marc Ancrenaz who has studied orangutans in Sabah for 10 years had this to say following the release of his report showing some 300 orangutans had ‘disappeared’ from Sabah since 2004, “As we speak, more islands of forests are created, more areas are opened, and these are privately owned. These are not protected areas but they do have a lot of orang utans. “Orangutans living in pockets of forests within plantations will not survive (in the long term).”

Prior to that ill-fated and controversial colloquium Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Masidi Manjun, no less, said “Sabah is losing her flagship species.” Why?

Last but by no means least Dr Ancrenaz said in November 2011: “If oil palm companies want to contribute to orangutan conservation today, they have the opportunity to do so in the Lower Kinabatangan by stopping what little land conversion they are still planning to do,” he said.

All of which paints a totally different and much darker picture than the rosy one the MPOC would like us to believe. Who do you choose to believe?

In an attempt to seek some clarity and evidence to back up their multitude of imaginative claims I have written to Dr Yusof Basiron, CEO of The Malaysian Palm Oil Council. He has not yet replied.

I have also written to the journalist Alex Singleton. His web site offers advice etc with media issues, so I wanted to know if he was commissioned to write this so-called “investigative” report or was it in fact a sponsored PR project for the MPOC? He has not yet replied.

Just as worrying, given the compelling evidence of palm oil companies destroying endangered species and protected habitat is the total absence of any prosecutions. 300 orangutans killed in eight years and not so much as an arrest let alone a prosecution. Not forgetting countless other ‘protected’ species have also been sacrificed. So why no prosecutions?

According to the MPOC’s article the palm oil industry give “massive” funding to the Sabah Wildlife Department – the people who are supposed to enforce the law but seemingly do not. Might the absence of law enforcement have anything to do with the palm oil industry’s financial muscle? We can only wonder.

Surely a police force, even a wildlife protection one, which accepts large sums of money from anyone even suspected of committing criminal offences, leaves itself wide open to all kinds of allegations does it not? Attempts to solicit answers from the SWD and Minister Masidi Manjun concerning the absence of prosecutions have met with silence. Why? Again, we are left to our own imagination.

I would like to invite the Sabah Wildlife Department’s director Dr Laurentius Ambu to respond to this letter and answer the questions raised about the acceptance of money by the SWD and the apparent absence of prosecutions of anyone connected with palm oil industry or otherwise.

On numerous occasions in the past, I have made clear my own view on palm oil. For those with selective amnesia I repeat it here: I am not opposed to palm oil. But I do oppose with every cell in my body, as do millions of other people, the unsustainable way in which many palm oil companies ruthless and unsustainably conduct their business. And for the record, I do not solicit or receive any public, commercial or government support in any shape or form. I voluntarily do what I do because I care.

I can’t begin to imagine what it is like to go home at the end of the day knowing you are making a living from destroying rainforests and literally millions of irreplaceable animals. I often wonder if people in the palm oil industry have feelings or is market share and profit all that matters to you?

Now we read of the Malaysian palm oil industry’s intention to move into West Africa, home (at the moment) to gorillas, chimpanzees, elephants and many other protected and unique species. What do you think will then happen to the forests and animals of Equatorial Africa?

When all the orangutans, tigers, elephants, rhinos and other protected species are gone, what will future generations think of those who could have prevented this environmental holocaust, but chose instead to pursue obscene amounts of money.

The point is, you can make money from palm oil without all this reckless and relentless destruction, if you choose to grow and harvest palm oil truly sustainably. Just look at Unilever’s environmental pledge; they know which side their bread is buttered.

The writer is CEO of Nature Alert ….supporting Malaysian NGO’s.


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