Malaysia has been a recognized leader in responsible palm oil production for decades. The country was the first to produce sustainable palm oil, has implemented a game-changing national certification program, and has now committed additional funds to support eco-friendly initiatives, including a reforestation program. According to the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) CEO Datuk Dr. Kalyana Sundram, those looking for responsibly produced palm oil, “should look at what we produce in Malaysia.”

In an interview with CSPO-watch.com, the enthusiastic leader described the actions the country has already put in place and what is still to come.

Fighting against deforestation and climate change
“The Malaysian pledge at the Rio Earth Summit (1990) to maintain 50% forest coverage in Malaysia is still being honored. This position is supported by our present forest cover that is quoted at around 53% nationwide. In 2019, the Malaysian Cabinet officially adopted a policy that no new deforested land could be licensed for oil palm cultivation with immediate effect. This was also extended to exclude planting on peat and capping of overall land that will be given up to oil palm cultivation. No other nation in my knowledge has been so bold in its policy to address deforestation and climate change concerns.”

Working with partners to ensure wildlife remain safe
He added that the country took to heart the emotional claims that its palm oil industry is harming the nation’s wildlife. “Yes, orangutans are used as the icon to generate anti-palm oil sentiment among consumers. We were in fact bombarded by NGO claims that the entire orangutan population in Sabah and Sarawak (Malaysia) would be decimated by 2015. We took these accusations very seriously and set up a conservation action plan that was properly funded and executed by the state wildlife departments, NGOs and other experts. Orangutan populations have now stabilized in Malaysia and we are committed to ensuring their long term survival. 

“Having said that, our focus in conservation is more on wildlife habitats and not just a single species. The introduction of the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil certification scheme by the Federal government has given us a tool at the Malaysian Palm Oil Council’s Wildlife Fund to expand our scope to bring positive impact for wildlife in Malaysia.” 

Making additional investments to support the environment
“As an industry with a wide influence on the Malaysian landscape, we have adopted the United Nations designation of 2020 as a crunch year for biodiversity and climate change as the goals for Malaysian palm oil. No one has to take my word for it but the palm oil industry in Malaysia will prove itself to be a champion for biodiversity in Malaysia. We are in the process of initiating a number of conservation- and environment-friendly programs that should begin to show more positive outcomes. For a start, from 2020 onwards, the industry is paying an additional cess (tax) of RM1.0 per MT of palm oil produced (over 4.5 million USD) for use in various green initiatives including an ambitious reforestation program.”  

In the interview, Sundram expressed frustration that Malaysia’s actions weren’t being noticed nor duplicated in other industries. “We at the MPOC, would love to invite all the critics to come and see for themselves but that is perhaps a weak argument as we all know, it’s easier for the average person on social media to pick up on a popular topic to get “Likes” than flying to Malaysia to get lost in the jungles where wild orangutans still do swing from the trees as they demand.

“The fact is that tens of millions of dollars have been invested into protecting Malaysian orangutans but yet the message has not been received. It is frustrating, to say the least when I read news about vegan chocolate products being palm oil free but no one questions whether the cocoa affected gorillas. We know that it does but these brands prey on a side ingredient for attention while hoping no one asks about the main ingredient.

“In all honesty, the introduction of sustainability requirements as enforced by the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil certificates has raised the bar on sustainable palm oil substantially. We are up to the challenge. We have to be. As a major producer of palm oil globally, our responsibilities reach beyond protecting the economy of Malaysia and the ecology of Malaysia into our commitment as a country to fight climate change.”

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