Dr M refutes oil palm-deforestation link

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad speaks at the International Palm Oil Congress and Exhibition 2019 in Kuala Lumpur.

KUALA LUMPUR: Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad today refuted claims that oil palm plantations are a major cause of deforestation, saying the crop is mainly planted in designated agricultural land.

In his speech at the International Palm Oil Congress and Exhibition 2019 here, Mahathir also reiterated Malaysia’s commitment to environmental sustainability which he said could be traced back to 1992, at the Rio Earth Summit in Brazil.

Then, he said, he had pledged to maintain at least 50% of Malaysia’s land mass under forest cover.

“Today in 2019, after almost three decades, I am proud to say that we have not reneged on that pledge.”

He said palm oil plantations account for only 0.4% of total global agricultural area.

In Malaysia, he added, the opening of new plantations had plateaued in recent years and was expected to continue along that trajectory.

He also said Malaysia’s palm oil plantations had embraced sustainability practices despite the increasing criteria of import countries.

He maintained Putrajaya’s commitment to increasing the use of blended biodiesel from 10% to 20% by next year to ensure a cleaner environment.

“Despite all the sustainable efforts undertaken by the palm oil industry, at the international front, the industry is continuously linked to deforestation and loss of biodiversity.

“The negative publicity campaigns against palm oil are mainly due to reasons intertwined with political and economic agendas in attacking the palm oil industry by anti-palm oil campaigners and Western NGOs.”

He also said the European Parliament had been misled into phasing out the use of palm-based biofuel in the transportation sector by 2030.

He said palm oil was more efficient than other oils due to its high yields – between four and eight times that of other crops.

As such, he added, banning palm oil would not stop deforestation but instead lead to the opening of more land-intensive oilseed crops to keep pace with the rising demand.

According to Mahathir, the palm oil industry is governed by more than 60 national laws and regulations, including stringent licensing requirements by the Malaysian Palm Oil Board throughout the supply chain.

He said this includes the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification which the government has been aggressively promoting.

“MSPO is very important for our palm oil industry, including our smallholders, to practise good agriculture and to ensure a sustainable industry.”

To this end, he said, the government has instructed a government-linked company to work with smallholders to increase the adoption of MSPO certification as part of the company sustainable supply chain.