Two of the world’s largest producers of palm oil, Indonesia and Malaysia are joining hands to fight an ongoing smear campaign targeted at the commodity. This collaboration is recently confirmed by both country’s leaders, Joko Widodo and Muhyiddin Yassin during their meeting earlier in February.
Malaysia will cooperate with Indonesia and initiate a joint action with the Council of Palm Oil Producing Countries (CPOPC) to save the palm oil industry as well as the livelihoods of millions of palm oil farmers. The 2 countries produce more than 85% of the world’s palm oil, an essential ingredient source for many processed foods, cosmetics and biodiesel.
However, the West has in the past decade been engaged in a ‘smear campaign’ to discredit the consumption of the palm oil as it has been associated with huge clearance of pristine rainforests as well as endangering wildlife habitats and labor rights abuses.
The smear campaign has called for international boycotts of products containing palm oil, including its use in biodiesel.
Both Malaysia and Indonesia are accusing the EU of favoring their own vegetable oil producers and they have lodged trade disputes to the WTO. On 15 January 2021, Malaysia filed a lawsuit against the EU following Indonesia’s earlier lawsuit in December 2019. The 2 countries are now planning to hire an advocacy firm to run a black campaign in Europe to counter the negative publicities as well as oppose the introduction of tighter regulations on palm oil.
Both countries are now working on a black campaign which will not only promote the benefits of palm oil, but also to actively educate the global community on the negativities associated with vegetable oils from Europe. For instance, palm oil is often accused for damaging biodiversity, but little was known that rapeseed cultivated in Europe is using fertilisers which might also affect marine biodiversity. The campaign will target olive, rapeseed, sunflower and other vegetable oil producers.
The palm oil industry, in fact, is far more productive than other vegetable oil crops, in some cases yielding 10 times the oil from the same area of cultivated land. Proponents cite this to make the case that replacing oil palms with rapeseed, soybean or other vegetable crops would require a much greater area of land to achieve the same yield. As such, the issue of environmental concerns should not be amplified.
In certain cases, palm oil plantations occupy and ‘reforest’ lands that have been cleared due to legal/illegal loggings, and in return this ‘reforest’ palm oil land does also provide a new home for both flora and fauna.
Environmental activitists felt that the fund invested in the black campaign should instead be channelled to improve the sustainability of the palm oil industry. In contrast, players in the palm oil industry have welcomed the counter-campaign as a right step to correct the image of palm oil.
Despite all the positivities, it cannot be denied that palm oil cultivation, being a huge industry, has inevitably caused damages to the environment and the wildlife habitat. Much needs to be done by both countries to minimise the damages and adopt a more sustainable cultivation practices in line with RSPO standards.