PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) today refuted claims by a PKR MP that the oil palm industry has not received adequate support from the government.
Contrary to what was said by Kelana Jaya MP Wong Chen, MPOB director-general Dr A. Kushairi Din said the government had done a lot for the Malaysian oil palm industry.
“That the industry is celebrating its 100th year anniversary of commercial cultivation this year and contributed RM67 billion in export earnings last year is testimony of its success,” he told FMT.
Kushairi was responding to comments made by Wong, who had said that the government was not doing enough for an industry that is worth RM60 billion.
Wong had said the palm oil industry is the second biggest domestically owned contributor to the Malaysian economy after the oil and gas sector, but the budget to improve, protect and promote the industry is so ridiculously low at less than RM30 million a year.
Kushairi said the Plantation Industries and Commodities Ministry and its agencies addressed external stakeholders’ concerns through direct engagements or dissemination of scientific facts through the various regional offices and embassies worldwide.
For the European Union (EU), their elected representatives are regularly briefed and have been invited to participate in a palm oil familiarisation programme to educate them on how sustainable the development of the Malaysian oil palm industry is.
“Issues on sustainability like deforestation, biodiversity, displacement of natural habitat and greenhouse gas emissions whenever oil palm plantations are developed have been addressed.
“But they continue to persist in Europe due to the relentless efforts of the western non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to demonise the industry and establish trade barriers to protect their local vegetable oil industries,” he said.
The government would continue to address their concerns with scientific data in defence of Malaysia’s market, he added.
Kushairi stressed it was not a question of “penny wise and pound foolish” when addressing these challenges but “how best to overcome those who erect trade barriers under the guise of promoting sustainability”.
“An accommodative approach has not worked very well so far as our efforts in enhancing sustainability have not been given due recognition.
“A confrontational approach which was announced by Prime Minister Najib Razak and Minister Mah Siew Keong recently may be timely to show we mean business,” he said.
As to the financial support the industry was getting, Kushairi said RM1.54 billion and RM1.35 billion were allocated to the oil palm sector, identified as one of 12 National Key Economic Areas (NKEAs) in 2010, under the 10th and 11th Malaysia Plans respectively.
“Emphasis in the upstream is on productivity and sustainability through new planting and replanting programmes and intensified extension services to improve best practices, mechanisation and oil extraction rate.
“In the midstream, efforts are made to reduce the carbon footprint through biogas capture to reduce greenhouse gas (methane) emission at palm oil mill effluent ponds.
“Great strides were made in the downstream where the structural shift towards oleo derivatives and food and health-based products is evidenced by the RM3.3 billion private investment commitment,” he said.
As to sustainability efforts, Kushairi said Malaysia has pledged to have its oil palm industry sustainably certified by December 2019, and that the industry will be subscribing to the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification.
“This will be done in stages. For those having the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certification, they are required to be MSPO certified by end-December 2018.
“Those without RSPO certification have until end-June 2019 to comply. The oil palm smallholders are required to be MSPO-certified by end-December 2019.
“In short, by 2020, the Malaysian oil palm industry will be sustainably-certified,” he said.
He said the board spent some RM350 million annually for research and development, regulation, promotion and certification to further strengthen the oil palm industry as well as expand its influence in the global market.
About RM50 million was allocated annually to promote Malaysian palm oil worldwide.
In addition, the government had allocated RM50 million to assist the industry players, particularly the smallholders, to be MSPO certified.
Kushairi said defending the oil palm industry against unfair trade restrictions by competing countries was a never ending task because of the global domination of the oil palm industry.
“These countries must recognise the efforts by Malaysia in continuously improving its sustainability practices and this must be reflected in fair trade practices,” he said.
Earlier this month, France said that it would take steps to restrict the use of palm oil in biofuels production in a bid to reduce deforestation in Malaysia and Indonesia, the world’s top two producers of the tropical oil.
Mah had said in a press statement that he believed such attacks against the palm oil industry must stop for Malaysia-France trade to continue to grow.