Malaysia’s oil palm acreage grew to 5.7 million ha in 2016, marginally up by 1.7% compared to 5.6 million ha a year earlier (Table 1). Severe drought induced by the El Nino phenomenon in the second and third quarter of the year severely impacted palm oil production.

Source: MPOB – data as at February 28, 2017; subject to revision

As a result, crude palm oil (CPO) production was down by more than 2.6 million tonnes (13.2%) compared to 2015. Weather conditions improved in the second half of the year, but did not help make up the production losses sustained in earlier months. Crude palm kernel oil production was not spared either by the impact of El Nino, with output falling by 317,043 tonnes (13.9%).

Although there was some recovery in palm oil production over the last four months of the year, most plantations reported tree stress. This reduced overall output despite the increase in planted area. Palm oil ending stocks were recorded at 1.7 million tonnes compared to 2.6 million tonnes in 2015, down by 36.7%. Palm kernel oil stocks fell to 222,615 tonnes (by 33.8%) against 336,328 tonnes a year earlier.

The production shortfall led to slightly lower exports of palm oil and derived products. At 23.3 million tonnes (Table 2), this was a drop of 2.1 million tonnes (8.2%). Reduced volumes were registered in exports of almost all categories of palm-based products. Palm oil fell by 1.4 million tonnes (8.1%); palm kernel oil by 143,598 tonnes (13.5%); palm kernel cake by 413,122 tonnes (15.7%); and biodiesel by 95,361 tonnes (53.3%).

Source: MPOB – data as at February 28, 2017; subject to revision

However, the export volume of finished products rose by 48,477 tonnes (11%), while other products accounted for an additional 28,444 tonnes (3.8%) during the year.

Demand for Malaysian palm oil continued to be driven by strong consumption in India, China, EU-28, USA and ASEAN member-states (Table 3). The top 10 importing countries and regions took up 9.9 million tonnes, or 62% of the 16 million tonnes exported. A significant increase in Malaysian palm oil imports was seen in Turkey, Pakistan and Italy.

Source: MPOB – data as at February 28, 2017; subject to revision

India remained the biggest importer even though it absorbed 860,475 tonnes (23.3%) less than in 2015. Its intake of 2.8 million tonnes made up 17.6% of Malaysia’s palm oil exports. China/HK’s imports of 1.9 million tonnes, while still substantial, represented a drop in demand of 501,803 tonnes (21%). This was due to higher domestic crushing that produced an estimated 90 million tonnes of rapeseed oil, against 70 million tonnes the previous year.

Duncan, Farooq,
Wimmer et al

This is an executive summary of a policy study carried out in 2015 by academics of the German Asian Research Centre into the effects of campaigns by Transnational Non-governmental Organisations (TNGOs) and Direct Action Groups (DAGs) that are targeting Southeast Asia’s palm oil industry.

The study – ‘Debunking Non-profit Campaigns & Economic Impacts on Malaysia’ – considers, in particular, the resulting negative social and economic implications for Malaysia as a major producer of palm oil.

The findings reveal that TNGOs are determined and well financed. Their actions are motivated by self-righteous, often implicitly religious ideals from the Global North that aid in the pursuit of their hostile campaigns. Geopolitical strategies to trigger economic and political regime changes often accompany such transnational activism.

These groups act as political movements originating in the Global North, while pursuing a strategy to undermine and dominate the making of environmental, social, political and economic policy in Southeast Asian countries, among others.

Environmental activism, just like terrorism and human trafficking, has become one of the most polarising themes for Southeast Asian nations, as well as for their policy makers, leaders of industry and citizens. No longer is environmentalism just a struggle to save the planet; it has also become a tussle to change fundamental social values and legal relationships among and within these nations.

On May 31, 2016, Greenpeace International and some of its associated groups were charged in the US Federal court with 11 counts of federal and state offences under the organised crime act – informally dubbed the ‘mafia law’. Greenpeace faces charges of criminal racketeering, conspiracy to commit a felony, and mail and wire fraud. Many of the activists targeting Asian companies were named in the lawsuit; this highlights the changing nature of TNGOs and DAGs.

In Canada, an equally bitter legal battle is going on between Greenpeace and the industry. In India, Greenpeace and others have been declared a threat to national economic security

The study examined a compelling body of evidence showing how the attack on the palm oil industry is akin to the:

  • 1992 anti-mahogany boycott in Europe (Friends of the Earth, 1995) that caused multilateral political friction;
  • 2006 soybean and 2009 beef moratoria in Brazil (Boucher, 2014) that affected the agricultural sector;
  • contemporary campaigns against the pulp, paper and palm oil sectors in Indonesia (Gunther, 2015); and
  • cancellation of bilateral agreements between Singapore and Indonesia over interpretation of environmental laws. (Times, 2016).

Recognising the political nature of the campaign against the Indonesian palm oil industry that has targeted consumer and producer markets, the severity of the threat to Malaysia and its palm oil industry should not be under-estimated.

The economic costs alone will be substantial. A key finding of the study is that Malaysia will lose an estimated US$11.5 billion, or 3-3.5% of its GDP per annum, as the direct result of negative TNGO campaigning. Neighbouring Indonesia has experienced a similar loss.

War by other means

The highly structured and well-funded campaigns implemented by a range of TNGOs employ a number of strategies, such as product Boycotts, Divestment and Sanction campaigns discrediting the Malaysian state and palm oil companies.

Dismissing the potential geo-economic implications as unlikely – simply because they do not fit within the confines of economic rationality (Blackwill, 2016, p.14), business reasoning or policy logic – is discounting risks when it comes to affairs of the TNGO sector.

This is part of a strategy that reflects the new political reality – the intertwining of the interests of Global North nations and a limited group of zealots pursuing an ideologically rooted, anti-development narrative. Exaggerations, over-inflating impacts and misrepresentation of facts are common tactics in use against the industrial ‘targets’.

According to Frances Seymour, a Senior Advisor to the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Climate and Land Use Alliance, the use of funding from foreign philanthropic foundations, mostly industrial legacy foundations, has this advantage: ‘Compared with public funding sources, private philanthropy is less constrained by political sensitivities’ (Seymour, ‘Reducing Emissions from Oil Palm Cultivation in Indonesia’, 2014, p.23). Therefore, this funding may be used for purposes that would be highly problematic if public funds were used in a similar fashion.

In addition, foundations are in a position to fund actions over multi-year periods (Seymour, 2014, pp.28-29). The policy study identifies many of the foreign foundations, as well as recipients of the subsidies in Malaysia.

By definition, the strategies employed by TNGOs and DAGs – also known as the Global Action Network – constitute ‘asymmetrical warfare’, defined as action ‘… [i]n which opposing groups or nations have unequal military and economic resources, and the weaker opponent uses unconventional weapons and tactics, [as terrorism], to exploit the vulnerabilities of the enemy strategies pursued by the enemy’ (, 2015).

As evidence from the study shows, environmental activists employ the terminology of ecological and economic warfare interchangeably. The martial concepts are used as constant references by:

  • direct action TNGOs like Greenpeace (Confino, ‘Furious Greenpeace moves to ‘war footing’ at Rio+20’, 2012);
  • militant ecological scientists publishing in the mainline media (Maijaard, 2015); and
  • scientific organisations, such as the Centre for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), that engage in policy debate (Moss, 2014), referencing the US Counterinsurgency Manual as a reference point.

By employing asymmetrical strategies, relatively weaker entities such as TNGOs are able to overcome their opposition, although the latter – the nation-states – have greater resources to engage in conflicts. The policy study documents the use of military strategies by environment groups in campaigns against the Malaysian palm oil industry. This, in turn, challenges the nation’s sovereignty and the “rule-based order” (Blackwill, 2016, p.15).

Seymour, the architect of adversarial strategy for the Packard Foundation, wrote (2014, p.6):

‘Consumption is primarily in Asian markets, dominated by Indonesia, India and China, where palm oil is used as a staple cooking oil. The more environmentally sensitive markets of Europe and the United States have smaller shares of the global market but are disproportionately important to the industry due to higher value derivatives and the potential for growth.’ [emphasis added]

The statement, in fact, provides an insight into the reasoning underlying the strategy and the recognition that the small size of the markets in Europe and the US provides the Malaysian industry a vantage point. By understanding the strategy behind the global initiatives, Malaysian policy makers are well positioned to formulate a justifiable counter-strategy.

By focusing negative campaigning on the customers – both public consumers and multinational corporations – of palm oil, TNGOs are able to apply considerable economic pressure on Southeast Asia’s producers.

The study concludes that the size, aggressiveness and potential economic consequences of hostile foreign campaigns will require prompt and decisive intervention by the government, regulatory ministries, palm oil producers and the media, in order to counter what realistically is economic warfare against the State and the palm oil industry.

Fortunately, Seymour’s report (2014, p.16) goes on to identify the vulnerability of the strategy:

‘The main limitation of strategies focused on direct engagement with producer companies is that the ability to translate individual company commitments into sector transformation has not yet been proved. As long as irresponsible companies are able to enjoy the impunity made possible by poor governance and insensitive markets, the “flipping” of specific individual companies one by one will be a long and increasingly difficult task. [emphasis added]

The lack of a second producer company to follow the lead of GAR [Golden Agri Resources] for several years after the announcement of its Forest Conservation Policy in February 2011 casts doubt on the potential of even a large, well-connected company to catalyse sector transformation.’

Her admission that “flipping” individual companies may not produce the desired results allows for a wide range of responses that are available to policy makers and industry management.

It also brings into question the strategic thought process on the part of adversarial TNGOs which support the view that the concept of ‘alternative markets’ is ultimately ineffectual, unless bolstered by broad social sector support. The study documents a lack of broad social support for this strategy in Asian markets, as well as markets in Europe and the US.

A resolute response is required in order to reclaim the value of the Malaysian palm oil industry, and the study makes recommendations for actions to defeat the adversarial strategy.

Policy and industry responses

The transnational activists and militant environmentalists are increasingly coming under fire from political leaders in Asia who are beginning to recognise the harmful potential of these movements.

On Sept 2, 2015, the Indian government stated that Greenpeace, other NGOs and some donors are prejudicially affecting the public and economic interests of the country, while delaying and placing illegal obstructions in the path of its energy plans (Singh, ‘Greenpeace India’s registration cancelled’, 2015).

Indonesia has associated activism with proxy wars (Kompas, 2014) and as a latent threat to society (Doull, 2015); while the Malaysian Academy of Science suggests that the negative campaigns by NGOs are tantamount to deliberate sabotage (Ibrahim A, 2015).

As stated earlier, Greenpeace US and Greenpeace International face charges under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations Act. If found guilty, Greenpeace will be a designated criminal enterprise under the anti-mafia, drug cartel and terror legislation (Resolute Forests Products (et al) vs Greenpeace International (& et al), 2016). The implications for policy, industry and the civil society movement is significant.

The study argues that the time is ripe for Malaysian palm oil to reassert itself as an industry leader, and for its government to reclaim control over the destiny of an important sector that contributes so much to the GDP. Since colonial times, palm oil has been considered a strategic resource – for employment, tax revenue, economic development and social stability – in Malaysia. Therefore, whatever affects palm oil negatively must be viewed as a matter of national security.

The study also contends that the interests of national security, if not faced with armed threats, is faced with economic, political, and social threats from TNGOs. It documents alliances that these groups have formed with local and regional militant organisations that are determined to transform the political and economic sectors, the status of indigenous communities, poor communities and other social sectors.

Morphing of activist groups

Greenpeace and many other TNGOs insist that they are political (ecological) movements (Wyler, 2015). Therefore, this study treats the NGOs targeting Malaysia as such.

Lord Robert McCredie May, the former government chief scientific advisor and president of the Royal Society in the UK, said Greenpeace has “transmogrified” into primarily an anti-globalisation movement (Randerson, 2009). The study shows how some conservation groups have morphed into environmental movements and morphed once more into the anti-modern, anti-globalisation movements to which Lord May refers.

Different terms have been applied to these militant organisations – terms like ‘transnational’, ‘cross-border’ or ‘global’ – and designations are rife in academic and policy circles. Technically, Greenpeace and the TNGOs are ‘trans-state’ movements (Fox, 2005); they, therefore, pursue trans-state objectives. And, as this study shows, they are intent on abolishing nation-states and fulfilling the perennial radical socialist dream of a single world government.

To accomplish this dream, the TNGOs – in the context of mass appeal – adopt a policy of encouraging fear and anxiety among citizens around the world. Their product is worry – because worry is what recruits members (Randerson, 2009). What began as a mission to improve the environment for the sake of humanity is today a political movement. Humanity has become the villain, and the need to present hard evidence is a non-issue (Prager, 2015).

These movements place science in the service of ideology. As far as economic development and the idea of progress are concerned, Greenpeace and the NGOs have declared ‘war’ on both – terminology that was deliberately chosen (Confino, 2012).

Since such terminology is not unlike that employed by the Holy Inquisition, Communists, Nazis, Jihadists or Khmer Rouge; it is a language of the extreme (Fiorina, 1999). A new ‘apocalypticism’ based on the end of the world – and encapsulated in the mantra ‘climate change’ – is the tool these groups employ. Dr Sharon Eng wrote (‘Rogue NGOs and NPOs: Content, Context, Consequences’, 2014):

‘A rich literature review of major and minor non-profit scandals – primarily in the West – but also in other countries around the world demonstrate the breadth and depth of non-profit corruption, fraud and misuse of funds as well as misconduct and deviant behavior by individuals within and by organisations. These associations range from Mom and Pop-scaled voluntary foundations to trans-national charitable organisations to trans-national charitable organisations, and so-called ‘Dark Non-profit Groups’ that promote terrorism, hate, extreme political views and other noxious or bizarre ideologies … Consequences of non-profit organisational misconduct and dysfunction reveal a universal need for more research into the dark side of the Third Sector…’

They terrorise and manipulate individuals in order to justify their new world order – one that looks to the past for inspiration, when the human population of the planet was sparse and lived at the subsistence level.

Scholars of social movements no longer consider them as irrational groups or the actors as spontaneous; they assume that TNGOs and DAGs are making rational, tactical and strategic choices (Dalton, 2003).

The result is that a comprehensive, deliberate and premeditated strategy of insurgency is being employed to target the Malaysian palm oil industry, among others, using militant and asymmetrical action (Moss, 2014).

The respectable CIFOR has raised the question of the use of military decentralised decision-making processes being used in conservationism. The reference is linked to the latest edition of the US Army Field Manual on Insurgencies and Countering Insurgencies (Moss, 2014).

The evidence presented in this study shows how a global network of actors and interests (Glasbergen, ‘Global Action Networks: Agents for collective action’, 2010) has acted in collusion (Pruyt, 2014). The Global Action Network refers to activists as ‘Change Agents’ or ‘Agents of Change’, but they increasingly act more in line with common radicals. Canadian researchers refer to the movements as ‘multi-issue extremists’ (Monaghan, 2011).

The evidence analysed in this study prompts the question: Are the choices that TNGOs and DAGs make actually out of a concern for the health of the environment?

In the case of Greenpeace’s actions in Russian waters where arctic oil exploration was underway, and in India where energy requirements prompted the use of technology using coal to generate electricity, the strategic thinking of the NGO and its funders backfired. This affected international relationships and triggered negative reactions by these countries. Today, in a growing number of nation-states, activism is seen as a threat to national economic security.

Environmental groups face a dilemma: they have to choose between fundamentalism, extremism, expressive activities and pragmatic, instrumental activities.

According to the first perspective, environmental movements are seen as advocates of a broad-scale critique of the political and social system. The core ideological beliefs of the environmental movement challenge the dominant norms and practices of capitalist (and state-owned) economies and the presumption that economic growth underlies these societies (Dalton, 2003).

For radical environmentalists, ‘progress’ is transmogrified to ‘regress’, and ‘sustainable’ becomes ‘subsistence’. Thus, with the invention of a new terminology and militancy, they seek to transform values and achieve unchallenged power over the strategic resources of countries like Malaysia.

The full study, currently being peer-reviewed and readied for print, is available on request from the authors, as well as at:

Economic analysis shows clearly that the current situation in France in relation to taxation of palm oil is as follows: • Palm oil is taxed at a higher rate than all domestic oils – rapeseed, sunflower and olive oils. • The situation is clearly discriminatory against palm oil.

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Malaysia’s oil palm acreage expanded to 5.64 million ha for the year under review, up by 4.63% compared to 5.39 million ha previously (Table 1). Floods towards the end of 2014 left a severe impact on palm oil production. As a result, crude palm oil (CPO) output registered 9.04 million tonnes for the first half of the year, but rose to 10.92 million tonnes in the second half with improved weather conditions and reduction of tree stress.

Overall CPO output went up to 19.96 million tonnes, or by 294,628 tonnes (1.5%), over the comparative period. This was due to recovery in the production of fresh fruit bunches that also showed better quality; as well as the maturing of newly-planted areas especially in Sabah and Sarawak. The volume of crude palm kernel oil fell slightly by 916 tonnes or 0.04%.

Palm oil ending stocks increased, closing at 2.63 million tonnes in December or 38.46% higher year-on-year. Palm kernel oil closing stocks stood at 0.34 million tonnes or an increase of 12.48%.

Export demand for palm oil and derived products was 1.19% higher, with the volume going up to 25.37 million tonnes from 25.07 million tonnes a year earlier (Table 2). Palm oil made up the bulk of exports at 17.45 million tonnes, compared to 17.31 million tonnes previously.


Oleochemical exports increased slightly by 0.78%, going up to 2.85 million tonnes from 2.83 million tonnes a year earlier. This was mainly due to higher demand from the EU-28, China, USA and Japan. Reversing the 2014 scenario, biodiesel exports more than doubled to 178,942 tonnes (by 104.84%), but exports of finished products went down to 440,594 tonnes (by 2.01%).

Malaysian palm oil exports increased by 147,966 tonnes (0.85%). The top 10 importing countries and regions (Table 3) took up 11.5 million tonnes, or 66% of the 17.45 million tonnes exported.