The Sunday Times (02/05/2021) - Sri Lanka has come under a global purview in the wake of the country’s ban on importing and producing palm oil as a number of countries raised concerns over these actions by the government in a move to curb the use of the edible oil.
Wayamba University Agriculture and Plantation Faculty, Plantation Management Department Chair Professor, Prof. Asoka Nugawela responding to the queries by the Business Times said that the ban imposed by the government on importing palm oil is likely to die a natural death as it is raw material required for manufacturers and in this respect there could be some adjustments made in bringing down the product. He made these observations at a virtual roundtable this week on ”Sustainability Challenges in Palm Oil Sector in South Asia”, organised by the Council of Palm Oil Producing Countries (CPOPC).
However, pointing out the concern of forced uprooting of palm oil plantations he said, “We will have to change the mindsets of the politicians of the country and we will need to educate them on the correct aspects of palm oil.”
Prof. Nugawela pointed out that Sri Lanka is currently being talked about on palm oil and asserted that the government has due to certain misconceptions resorted to ban the import and cultivation of palm oil in the country.
He noted that in 2009 the cabinet approved tax concessions for the import of palm seeds to cultivate up to 25,000 hectares but in 2016 it was permitted to expand oil palm cultivation up to 20, 000 hectares.
Moreover, the government had mandated the Coconut Research Institute to provide technical information to palm oil growers but there continued to be a lot of social pressure on the growers to stop cultivation.
Some of these concerns were from pressure groups with allegations that palm oil does not provide for any undergrowth; contributes to soil degradation making it uncultivable in future; disturbing soil during land preparation; increased use of chemical fertiliser; replacing environmentally friendly rubber crop; and citing negative environmental impacts in other countries, Prof. Nugawela highlighted.
Some of the social issues alleged are an increase in the monkey population; that pollinating weevils are harmful; that it lowers the bee population; increases snake bites; causes a shortage of water for household use and agriculture; shortage of fuel wood; and health concerns (carcinogens, heart ailments), he said.
Sri Lanka currently has an annual demand of 300,000 MT for edible oils and at present there is a production of 25,000 MT of palm oil and 15,000 MT of coconut oil but the huge gap of 260,000 MT per annum is needed and can be only achieved by way of imports, it was noted.
Solidaridad, Asia, Managing Director Dr. Shatadru Chattopadhayay spotlighting on the situation in Sri Lanka said that other countries in the region like India, Bangladesh and Pakistan also import and produce palm oil.
He noted that they needed to develop an Asian Palm Oil Alliance on Sustainable Palm Oil in line with the European Palm Oil Alliance as the issue of sustainability of palm oil has become a key concern in Europe.
It should comprise major palm oil producing and consuming countries in Asia, Prof. Chattopadhayay said adding that this would ensure that they could develop a common Asia framework on sustainable palm oil and move toward a more balanced and science-based discussion by obtaining a panel of scientists from these palm oil producing and consuming countries to provide science-based feedback on health benefits of the product.
PT Agro Harapan Lestari Goodhope Asia Holdings Director of Sustainability Edi Suhardi pointed out that the Sri Lankan President’s order to ban palm oil imports and uprooting of some of the country’s existing oil palm plantations was “misguided.”
“We believe this policy is misguided and is a result of soft protectionism,” Mr. Suhardi said.
Read more at http://www.sundaytimes.lk/210502/business-times/palm-oil-ban-blamed-on-protectionism-bop-balancing-act-441425.html