PETALING JAYA: An environmentalist has voiced dismay over a deputy minister’s call on Malaysians to show patriotism through increased consumption of palm oil.
Andrew Sebastian, chief executive of the Malaysian Ecotourism and Conservation Society (EcoMy), said Shamsul Iskandar Mohd Akin was apparently unconcerned over the damage the palm oil industry was inflicting on the environment.
He was commenting on a statement the deputy minister of primary industries made on Tuesday. Shamsul, speaking to reporters in Melaka, said the government needed the public’s support to increase the demand for palm oil products.
Bernama quoted him as saying that Malaysians would be making a patriotic move if they increased their use of palm oil in its various forms to shore up the price of the commodity.
Speaking to FMT, Sebastian said true patriots would be those who cared about protecting the natural environment and managing natural resources in accordance with practices that would ensure their sustainability.
He acknowledged that the palm oil industry was important to the national economy, but he complained that it had expanded without control, to the point that too many rainforest areas had been converted to plantation land and some river reserves had been taken over.
This had resulted in the displacement of wildlife and the pollution of waterways, he added.
“The government should acknowledge that we have let the industry run riot in terms of land use,” he said. “It is time to develop better policies, tighten the opening up of new lands for oil palm and do more to preserve the environment.”
He alleged that the government and the industry had neglected to focus on strategies that would see the use of less land and the increase of yields per acre.
He urged the minister of energy, science, technology, environment and climate change to step in to safeguard waterways and primary forests.
“We would love to see the industry checking itself, being honest about its environmental track record and putting more resources into preserving the environment,” he added.
A former president of the Malaysian Nature Society, Maketab Mohamed, said Shamsul’s call would be tolerable if the government could give its assurance that no more forests would be cleared and that only land reserved for agriculture would be used for oil palm plantations.
“And we know that is not happening,” he said. “Forests are still being cleared. Our government cannot lie. Satellite technology is precise and powerful.”
Palm oil prices have been depressed for some time and the outlook for the industry has been worsened by European efforts to fight deforestation.
Norway’s Parliament recently voted to ban biofuels based on palm oil and the French national assembly has decided to end tax incentives for diesel fuels containing palm oil.