20/04/2008 (The News-International, Pakistan), Kota Kinabalu - The Malaysian government has started a programme to ensure sustainable development and production of palm oil as well as to further reduce environmental hazards and deforestation.
“The world now demands palm oil that is certified and produced sustainably,” said Plantation, Industries and Commodities Minister Y B Datuk Peter Chin Fah Kui while inaugurating the first International Palm Oil Sustainability Conference (IPOSC 2008) in the port city of Kota Kinabalu, Sabah recently.
The conference was attended by around 500 participants including palm oil growers, international palm oil importers, officials of different departments of Malaysia and media comprising international journalists.
The minister also officially launched the Malaysian Palm oil Wildlife Conservation Fund (MPOWCF). He said 20 million Malaysian ringgit had been pledged to the fund, which would be used for conservation of environment, especially the Orang-utans, which were present in the natural rain forests of the country.
The minister expressed grave concern over the negative campaigns targeting the palm oil industry. “Biased calculations of palm oil and carbon emissions leading to distorted conclusions have emerged from Europe in an attempt to tarnish the image of the industry,” he maintained.
He said carbon emissions for palm oil plantations were often calculated in comparison with carbon stocks of pristine rain forests as the starting point. “Carbon stocks in the palm oil ecosystem are high, but are totally ignored, thus the studies proclaim that palm oil cultivation creates a huge carbon debt that takes many years to settle in order to make the industry carbon neutral.
“In reality, every piece of land has a carbon sink capacity. Any piece of forested land with high carbon stock, once converted to agriculture, would automatically carry a carbon debt since agricultural land use usually carries a lower carbon stock than a pristine forest. This principle applies whenever any forested land is converted to agriculture,” the minister said.
He said the globalisation and rapid development of the international market for natural resources were increasing the pressure on regions with high biodiversity. “New market demands have been created, especially by China and India, which are entering the foray,” the minister said, adding competing claims on resources for food, energy, construction materials and animal feed were forcing them to make choices.
“New markets create opportunities for developing countries, but at the same time we face the threats of over-exploitation and resource depletion,” the minister said, adding the present scenario called for a balance between food security and destruction of environment.
Talking about sustainability, he said the key element was innovative approach to keep the industry’s environment friendly. Different countries, NGOs and people accused Malaysia for deforestation, but the situation was different on the ground, he added.
“Palm oil cultivation in Malaysia is strictly regulated and can only be developed on legally designated agricultural land and does not encroach on protected virgin rain forests,” the minister claimed. He said when palm oil was planted on degraded land that was previously used for other commercial activities, it rehabilitated the land and converted it into a green area.
He further claimed that while planting palm oil the industry took serious care of the environment and it had already adopted good agricultural practices such as ‘zero burning’ in plantations and utilisation of waste. For example, fresh fruit bunches are converted into organic fertilisers.
Answering a question about the accusations that palm oil was harmful for human health, he said these accusations were raised in the past by soybean growers but time had proved them wrong.
“If these accusations were right, then why the US recently increased its imports of Malaysian palm oil for domestic needs,” the minister said.
Later, the participants visited various stalls put up outside the conference hall by different companies involved in palm oil plantation, extraction, packing, etc. Different technical papers were also read in the conference.