The Malaysian palm oil industry is making tremendous progress toward 100% palm oil sustainability. This is helping people, planet as well as wildlife living in and near oil palm plantations. There are challenges however. Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) CEO Datuk Dr. Kalyana Sundram outlined these roadblocks in his presentation at the International Palm Oil Sustainability Conference (IPOSC). The leader also provided recommendations for a more responsible future.
Palm oil is the most consumed oil in the world. Its global use has grown immensely since the 1970s. Cultivation, however, has been heavily scrutinized. In his presentation, Datuk Sundram comments that it is, “subjected to an ever increasingly stricter and often ‘discriminating’ sustainability criteria.” Palm oil critics often point to deforestation and biodiversity losses, and use misleading reporting and anti-palm campaigns to gain attention.
Despite the challenges, palm oil producers have responded positively, producing ample quantities of sustainable palm oil. In Malaysia, the industry has stringent guidelines in place with the goal of delivering 100% sustainable palm oil. As of August 2020, the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil Certification Council has certified nearly 87% of all oil palm-planted lands and nearly 88% of all Malaysian palm oil mills.
Datuk Sundram stressed that most global palm oil producers follow strict sustainability guidelines that ensure responsible production. In fact, palm oil is a good-for-the-planet choice. While critics point to the link between palm oil and deforestation, the truth is that livestock, soy and maize are larger drivers of deforestation than palm oil. In fact, oil palms require about 1/10th the amount of land to produce the same amount of oil than the far less efficient soy or canola crops. If palm oil was to be banned, as some critics wish, millions of acres of acres of extra forest would need to be cleared to meet the global demand for oils and fats.
In his presentation, Datuk Sundram also referenced misleading information about the palm oil industry and orangutans. While Greenpeace claims that 25 orangutans are lost every day due to palm oil cultivation, the truth is that the orangutan population has stabilized. In addition, hunting has always been a bigger contributor to orangutan population decline, dating as far back as the early 19th century. Datuk Sundram added that the Malaysian palm oil industry (through MPOC) is an active partner in orangutan conservation, supporting several landmark projects.
Datuk Sundram concluded his presentation offering three suggestions for a better future for all:
- Continuous pressure and unsubstantiated criticism against palm’s sustainability efforts will only dent the way forward. Criticize when a wrong is done and encourage when done right!
- All parties need to create a continuous and rational dialogue if collectively we are to achieve desired goals of complete sustainability.
- Moving forward, it cannot and should not be only palm that is subjected to such rigors of certification. All other remaining oils and fats no matter where they are produced must also demonstrate similar and robust certification systems.
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