Talks to sell stakes in Felda Global Ventures Holdings (FGV) to two Indonesian billionaires have been suspended due to a management crisis at the world's third biggest palm plantation group, sources close to the deal said. (Reuters Photo/Samsul Said)

Going Against the Controversy: Palm Oil


OCTOBER 14, 2016

Kuala Lumpur. Asia's palm oil industry remains a hot topic among environmental conservationists and the private sector profiting from the business, a Malaysian conference has shown this week.

Despite the negative campaigns run by various NGOs worldwide, the deputy minister of Malaysia’s ministry of plantation industries and commodities is not backing down.

“Malaysia has never neglected the environment, it has in fact made the industry more resilient in going against the claims,” said the deputy minister, Nasrun Datu Mansur, in his address at the Malaysian Palm Oil Trade Fair and Seminar in Kuala Lumpur on Wednesday (12/10).

In 2015, global palm oil production recorded 61 million tons, compared to 21.6 million tons at the beginning of the decade, calling for the industrial resilience to cater for the growing demands of palm oil derivatives.

This statistic highlights Malaysia’s confidence and determination in fulfilling rising global demands, particularly as the sector accounts for 600,000 jobs across the country.

Meanwhile, as various NGOs around the globe call for either the outright banning palm oil production or developing ethical palm oil production, international food security and trade policy expert Vijay Sardana questions the agenda against developing countries, including his home country India, as well as Malaysia and Indonesia.

According to Sardana, environmental NGOs have been campaigning against development in India as the country’s population continues to grow, without providing an alternate food security or energy security plan in order for India to be globally competitive.

“Population is the fundamental index for consumption and developing markets will dictate consumer trends and market demands due to population growth,” he stated. “These NGOs never raised issues in developed countries, like massive food waste, which contributes to climate change.”

He believes that activists and NGOs are just like every other business, where money talks and there is nothing sentimental.

He said it is a game plan of NGOs to target developing markets in becoming self-sufficient through development as it would work against the business interests of their donors and their economy.

While he took India as his primary example, he pointed out that palm oil is being targeted due to the change in the status quo.

As palm oil is continuously highlighted as the highest yielding and most sustainable crop, the expert cited the Unesco-IHE Institute for Water Education in Netherlands when stating that oil palm has a smaller average global water footprint, compared to olive and sunflower oils.

With that, he calls into question as to why no NGOs has campaigned against olive oil, or the milk fat, and milk trade from developed economies. According to him, this would in turn lead to using low cost labor from developing markets to benefit from.

The expert continued by saying that NGOs should not just highlight the problems but provide alternative solutions which are logical and affordable. He also argued the issue of sustainable palm oil certification and economies of scale.

“The limited money in developing economies could be used for something else, which may be more pressing, like health, and education,” he said.

Sardana said that to resolve the issues faced by developing countries, particularly those which NGOs campaign against, the co-existence model must be maintained as resources are limited.

“Whatever you want to do, let us have a proper study. Have a proper documentation, look at every aspect, don’t pick and choose your own dimensions and while in your study, involve all the stakeholders,” Sardana stated.

He believes that if NGOs want to be part of the solution, they must face all the stakeholders with unbiased facts and evidence.

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