To avoid or ban the use of sustainably produced palm oil in our food supply would damage an industry that now actively supports environmental protection, including the orang utan in Malaysia’s Sepilok Orang Utan Rehabilitation Centre, established 50 years ago. Sepilok also was the first centre in the world to return the orang utan to the wild, and we are proud of its overall track record.

The palm oil industry through the MPOC has also partnered with the government on the establishment and operation of the Malaysian Palm Oil Wildlife Conservation Fund (MPOWCF). Oil palm plantations participate in conservation efforts throughout the country.

For example, the MPOWCF funded an orang utan population survey by NGOs, which identified and mapped key habitats to better protect these majestic creatures. The MPOWCF also partners with the Sabah Wildlife Department on the Wildlife Rescue Unit, which is active in the conservation as well as translocation of wildlife impacted by human-wildlife conflict. Not stopping with the orang utan, the MPOWCF also provides major funding for the Borneo Elephant Sanctuary.

Sustainability standard
By Jan 1, 2020, 100% of Malaysian palm oil supply will be certified under the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification programme, launched in 2015. The MSPO is quickly becoming known around the world as an indicator of quality. Its standards have been established to reflect the realities of the oil palm industry and to address the concerns of stakeholders.

MSPO certification addresses the environmental, social and economic aspects of palm oil production, from the field to the final product. It includes general principles as well as stringent criteria for all parties, from independent small farmers to mills that process the oil.

The MSPO standard covers seven areas: management commitment and responsibility; transparency; compliance with legal requirements; social responsibility, safety and employment conditions; environment, natural resources, biodiversity and ecosystem services; best practices; and development of new plantings.

Many claims are made about palm oil and deforestation, but a report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation brings clarity to this. The livestock industry accounts for 71% of global agricultural land use or about 3.9 billion ha. Of this, 3.4 billion ha are for grazing, while 471 million ha are for producing animal feed. This area is five times larger than Australia. The area occupied by oil palm in the world – 15.6 million ha or 0.31% of all agricultural land use – is miniscule by comparison.

Malaysian premium certified sustainable palm oil now reaches more than 160 countries. Its continued use will help lift smallholders out of poverty, lead to a better life for their children, and assist the palm oil industry in caring for the environment. These are weighty issues worthy of inclusion in any serious lesson plan for educators and students.

Dr Kalyana Sundram


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