Sarawak oil palm planters back MSPO

KUCHING: Oil palm planters in Sarawak have pledged full support for the soon-to-be-launched Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification that reiterates the country’s commitment to people, planet and profits in oil palm development.

The MSPO is said to be a reflection of a unified code of laws concerning best practices throughout the supply chain, from oil palm planting to palm oil processing.

Basically, it is modelled in line with the rules of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).  MSPO is meant to facilitate palm oil market access through the mechanism of  WTO and other multilateral or bilateral agreements with buyers.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), set up in 2004, was initially hailed as a forum where stakeholders of diverse interests are considered as equal partners.

Somehow, over the years, the roundtable concept of equal duties and rights became lopsided. The RSPO has tipped in favour of environmental and animal rights activists.

Oil palm planters in Malaysia and Indonesia, which are increasingly treated as the whipping boy of modern agriculture, are losing faith in RSPO, which has evolved into a green activist-driven organisation that is increasingly seen to curb the growth of the oil palm industry, particularly those grown on peat soil.

“Western environmental activists’ blanket threats of banning palm oil supply from forest or peat areas is discriminatory to oil palm producers, particularly from Sarawak,” said Sarawak Oil Palm Plantation Owners Association (Soppoa) secretary Philip Ho.

“The  activists’ discriminatory stance is denying palm oil access to international markets and this raises food security risks among developing nations. This is  not justified as their demands interfere with Sarawak’s sovereign rights in deciding its  land usage,” Ho told Business Times.

“The  activists' preference for big plantation companies’ palm oil supply also condemns small oil palm farmers to perpetual poverty,” he said in a telephone interview  yesterday.

Ho  explained that the oil palm is a resilient crop that can be planted on mineral and peat soil. Oil palm planters in Sarawak invest a lot of money in heavy machinery to clear the land, compact the peat soil and dig up trenches. Yet, western  activists spread their mantra on the Internet that the planting of oil palms on peat soil is deemed polluting and, therefore, not sustainable.

To correct such broad misconceptions of peat agriculture, Ho said Soppoa has urged the government to intensify efforts in disseminating the facts and figures of peat agriculture.

In rolling out MSPO, Malaysia hopes to restore the balance of social and economic aspects of oil palm cultivation to be on par with environmental protection.