By ROBERT HII
COMMENT: In light of the misperceptions and some factual errors published in local media recently, it maybe time to set the record straight on some facts pertaining to Malaysian palm oil and the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) initiative.
Malaysiakini for example, published a letter titled “Walk the Talk on Sustainability.” The letter writer sounded quite authoritative in rattling off points to support the title but made the glaring error in declaring that over seven million hectares of forest cover has been lost in Malaysia due to oil palm.
To set the record straight: there is only 5.89 million ha of oil palm in Malaysia, portions of which are converted rice/ rubber/ cocoa farms. So no, Malaysia did not lose 7.29 million hectares of forests to oil palm.
The writer then goes on to question the credibility of MSPO and suggests “sincere and genuine efforts to protect the environment, wildlife and human rights.”
First off, let us set the record straight on the credibility of the MSPO and comparisons to other standards for sustainable palm oil. I strongly suggest that no one should fall for big words on paper but look instead at ground actions of any certification scheme.
Despite the vocal demands of netizens in the past decade to make sure palm oil is produced responsibly, less than a million hectares of plantations in Malaysia is certified. This leaves close to five million hectares of uncertified plantations which cast doubt on the credibility of certified palm oil when palm oil of origins unknown becomes certified under the Mass Balance model.
Only a nationwide scheme like the MSPO can remove this doubt and offer a guarantee that it is 100% certified.
The implementation of the MSPO maybe slower than targeted, especially for small farmers but that is only because it is being done in a sincere and genuine manner that is transparent for all to see.
Certification progress is readily available to the public at mpocc.org.my
As more areas become certified over the course of this year, it is expected that a more sustainable landscape will emerge as some key issues like the protection of riparian reserves are enforced. Will this be enough to convince buyers and foreign policy makers that the MSPO is a credible certificate?
No judgement can be made until the initiative nears completion of its target which is why the opinion expressed in the Daily Express report to “defer implementation of the MSPO” is not a good one.
There is a full head of steam powering the implementation as evidenced by the many events being held across the country by the MPOCC. Certifying the large and medium operations which have never been certified will help to remove the possibility of dirty palm oil being certified.
However, this may not be enough for picky buyers, especially the policy makers in the EU. This is why the MPOCC, as owners of the MSPO scheme collaborated with the globally accepted International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC) to identify any gaps in certification standards. The full report is available on the MPOCC website.
It should be said here, that independent third party certificates like the ISCC will always perform better as they certify only the “best of” operations. The MSPO on the other hand, does not pick and choose which plantations to certify. All will be audited for compliance.
As for the question asked in the local daily’s report on whether certification will bring premiums, the only people that can answer that are the buyers demanding sustainability in palm oil. It should be noted here that the current spat between Malaysia and the EU is only the use of palm oil in EU biofuels.
I fully expect that to be waived in favor of a certification standard which could be applied to cover the bigger market of consumer goods.
While it is always good to be criticized as the knowledge of one’s shortfalls is the best way towards improvement, criticism should come with an equal dose of encouragement.
Small holders like Hariri Sadiman in Kampung Tok Muda in Selangor or Ugak Sanggau in Miri, Sarawak should be cheered on as role models in producing palm oil sustainably in Malaysia. Hariri owns a mixed crop farm that grows some basic foods in addition to oil palm for income. Ugak is on a mission to reduce the chemical impact of oil palm farms by promoting the use of home made organic fertilizers.
They are the people that are seldom seen in the story on Malaysian palm oil and should be cheered on as Malaysia strives to convince the world that its palm oil is sustainable.
* Robert Hii is a Sarawak-born activist whose passion is global sustainability