The South China Morning Post featured a frank and enlightening interview with Mah Siew Keong, Malaysia’s minister of plantation industries and commodities. In this feature article, the minister dispelled many of the most pervasive myths about palm oil, commented on the challenges currently facing the palm oil industry, and explained why Malaysia’s leadership in certified sustainable palm oil has global significance.
Malaysia is the world’s second-largest producer, and a major exporter, of palm oil. Mah, representing the interests of palm oil growers and small farmers, said, “We speak based on available facts, and the information we disseminate are all verifiable. Palm oil provides many benefits, but we are also the first to acknowledge if there are problems that need solving. We apply a policy of continuous improvement. When an issue is pointed out to us, we do not sweep it under the rug. We take action and corrective measures to constantly improve the industry.”
The Malaysian palm oil industry supports more than a half million people
Palm oil is extremely important to Malaysia’s economy. Each year, Malaysia produces almost 20 million tons of palm oil, valued at approximately 72 billion Malaysian ringgit (HK$133 billion). Traded in 160 different countries, palm oil growth and production provide jobs to more than half a million people in Malaysia. Forty percent of oil palm cultivation in Malaysia is owned by nearly 640,000 small land holders, helping to alleviate poverty.
Palm oil has multiple health benefits
Mah urges consumers to educate themselves against the myths that surround palm oil and vows that his administration will continue to promote palm oil health benefits based on research-backed studies. Palm oil has benefits that include protecting brain function, reducing heart disease risk factors and improving vitamin A absorption, as well as possibly preventing stoke through the presence of tocotrienols. Research has also shown that those with palm oil-rich diets, when compared to individuals with high trans fat diets, had lower LDL cholesterol levels.
Palm oil producers protect wildlife and the environment
Mah discredits claims that palm oil production hurts endangered animals, contributes to global warming and is a major cause of deforestation, “To be accurate, our actions have ensured that the orangutan population in Malaysia is no longer compromised, and we have initiated plans to conserve the orangutans. These efforts are our collective responsibility, and in the coming years, more will be done in collaboration with like-minded non-governmental organisations towards wildlife conservation.”
The article states that, “Mah believes that neither economy nor environment needs to be compromised. Oil palm cultivation can be managed such that it preserves a significant level of biodiversity, especially with proper management of riparian reserves, peatlands, satellite-aided spatial planning and the ministry’s commitment to zero-burning and zero-deforestation of virgin forests.” Malaysia retains about 56 percent of its forests and oil palm plantations add to the country’s total tree cover, which is estimated at 70 percent.
Mah emphasizes his country’s strong commitment to sustainability. “By the end of 2019, Malaysia will meet demands such as the Amsterdam Declaration for Certified Sustainable Palm Oil through the mandatory Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil certification. Over the years, we have created a very credible frontier for quality assurance, good agricultural practices and sustainable production of palm oil even before the talk of certified sustainable palm oil emerged. Our response is not just marketing.”
Mah is setting the record straight on the sustainability and healthfulness of Malaysian certified sustainable palm oil and educating the world about the country’s positive contributions to the economy and the planet.