Oil palm small farmers speak up
Protest and petition
A day before the vote, more than 2,000 Malaysian smallholders had taken to the streets of downtown Kuala Lumpur to send out a strong signal to the EU. As the Jan 16 protest unfolded, photos, videos and comments were uploaded by advocacy group facesofpalmoil.org, which also posted tweets.
A delegation of smallholders and MPOC officials hand-delivered a petition at a meeting with H.E. Maria Castillo Fernandez, the Ambassador and Head of the EU Delegation to Malaysia. The petition was backed by 320,047 signatures collected from smallholders nationwide. The delegation relayed the message that millions of Malaysians would be affected by the unfair and discriminatory ban.
The Ambassador attempted to appease the group by saying that there is no ban on palm oil. However, many in the delegation felt otherwise. They based their stance on a press release by the European Parliament, which stated that ‘MEPs want a ban on the use of palm oil from 2021’. Furthermore, during debates on the RED II, words such as ‘ban’, ‘phase out’ or ‘stopping palm oil’ were repeatedly used.
Almost all the representatives of the smallholders spoke up during the meeting. Among them was Tuai Rumah Thomas Lamet, representing the Sarawak Land Consolidation and Rehabilitation Authority. He urged the Ambassador and the EU not to penalise innocent people, describing this as “cruel”. He said the ban would deprive them of a good life and create social problems because “oil palm [cultivation] sustains their life.”
The Ambassador was further told that negative comments and claims made against the palm oil industry had affected the interests of smallholders. She then agreed to raise their concerns with the European Parliament, Council of the EU (Council) representing the 28 member-states, and European Commission (EC).
The protest generated widespread publicity in major European cities and in Malaysia. It drew attention to the problems that 650,000 smallholders would face, as they depend on palm oil to earn an income and provide for their families. The ‘Faces of Palm Oil’ campaign, supported by smallholder organisations in Malaysia, secured close to 100 articles in the international media in January.
Efforts remain in place to overturn the ban as the legislative process continues. A decision will be made in the coming months, in a ‘trilogue’ between the European Parliament, Council and EC. The Malaysian palm oil sector must ensure that it keeps up the pressure, day after day.
Deputy CEO, MPOC