MPOC CEO Answers 10 Questions from The Star Readers

What does the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) do? – PG Sheng, Batu Pahat

MPOCwas formed in 1990 to carry out market development and promotional

activities for Malaysian palm oil globally. We have nine regional

offices abroad – in Shanghai, Mumbai, Lahore, Dhaka, Istanbul, Cairo,

Brussels, Durban and Washington DC – to support, promote and venture

into new markets for the industry. It is funded by a cess of RM2 per

tonne levied on palm oil produced.

What did the MPOC achieve in 2009? – Bulbir Singh, Seremban

Some

of the most successful activities for the past year include holding

lively debates in Europe with members of the European Parliament, with

the support of international think-tanks; engaging with political and

regulatory audiences in the US; hosting frank roundtable discussions

with NGOs; and running European Parliament and media field trips to

Malaysia. On the marketing front, the Palm Oil Trade Fair and Seminar

(POTS) has become our signature event and a platform for the palm oil

trade to deliberate and discuss the latest trends and changes in the

market. Corporate social responsibility programmes are carried out

through the Malaysian Palm Oil Wildlife Conservation Fund set up by the

council. While the main aim is to facilitate conservation education and

programmes on endangered species, the green fund has been successfully

used to address and manage various other biodiversity conservation

efforts in the country.

Our strategy is to ensure that

policymakers, downstream users and consumers understand the facts about

palm oil. Our task is to create adequate demand for palm oil to ensure

price stability. Since a steady price level reflects a well-developed

demand, the MPOC’s success is reflected through the remunerative prices

enjoyed by palm oil producers in recent times.

Most of the

palm oil mills in Malaysia are not ‘green’ as their effluent is not

treated using green technology. What will the MPOC do when the European

Union (EU) countries enforce the rule which will result in them buying

palm oil from ‘non-green’ palm oil mills at discounted prices? – KL Low, Petaling Jaya

Processing

is only one step in the palm oil production chain. Palm oil is

‘greener’ than other vegetable oils because it consumes less energy and

produces more energy.

There are other major sustainability

benefits in the palm oil processing chain. Palm oil effluent and empty

fruit bunches have been used as fertiliser, while kernel shells have

been used in the construction industry. It is also not correct to say

methane is not captured during milling. There are many palm oil mills

that are fitted with effluent and methane capture. These in turn are

used to produce electricity and compost. There is always room for

improvement, and capturing methane is one way.

We are not aware

of such an EU rule. However, an EU development that does bother us is

the proposal to restrict biofuel imports from developing countries so

as to favour biofuel produced in the EU, which is more expensive and

far less sustainable. This looks like just another trade barrier to

cheaper and better products from the developing world.

You

have been very vocal in defending the oil palm industry against

allegations that it harms the environment. But it seems to have no

effect. Clearing jungle for food is perfectly all right. How do you

intend to carry on from here? – Seah, Kuala Lumpur

Conversion

of forests and jungles to expand production of staple foods has been a

traditional way of meeting the global demand for food. There is

legitimate concern over the protection of biodiversity of the jungles

and natural forests. This is achieved by setting aside properly

designed areas for conservation. It is not necessary to conserve all

jungle. Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity

decided many years ago that 10% of the world’s forests needed to be

reserved to preserve forest biodiversity. In Malaysia, more than 50% of

the country has been set aside for that purpose – the average in Europe

is 25% – in a commitment we made at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit. Palm oil

is not produced on this land but on the additional 25% set aside for

agriculture.

The remaining area can and should be used to

produce food for both Malaysia and the rest of the world, as well to

create jobs for Malaysians and to reduce poverty. Land earmarked for

agricultural development will be used to expand palm oil production in

Malaysia, but it will not be the only way to increase production.

Improved practices mean that, over time, the amount of palm oil from

each hectare of land will certainly increase.

As I have spent

many years in R&D for the oil palm industry, I am a firm believer

in the science of palm oil. I will continue to use my knowledge of

science to argue and provide counter-arguments to support the

sustainability of the Malaysian palm oil industry. My views can also be

read at my blog (
www.ceopalmoil.com
).

There

is acute labour shortage in the oil palm plantations. With the

dwindling labour supply from neighbouring countries, what should

Malaysia do? – M Daniel, Miri

The industry should

continue to optimise labour utilisation by increasing the use of

mechanised tools. Hand-held motorised harvesting machines are available

and can reduce labour requirement by 50% or more. To reduce handling

and processing, and labour requirement, future fruit bunches designed

through breeding and genetics will have high oil content. As long as

Malaysia offers well-paid employment, there are huge labour sources

that can be attracted from surrounding countries.

How will

the Malaysian palm oil brand differentiate our palm oil from the oil

from Indonesia? Do you believe branding will help combat the Western

countries’ negative perceptions of palm oil? – Ken Tan, Alor Star

Malaysian

palm oil is already sustainably produced. Consumers can easily see this

from material on public record and from certification labels such as

that provided by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

Malaysian palm oil is exported to more than 150 countries and has

gained brand recognition for its reliable supply, consistent good

quality and favourable price.

The anti-palm oil campaign in

Europe is not based on knowledge of how Malaysian palm oil is produced.

Instead, it is the result of deliberately misleading information

circulated by environmental activists groups that are opposed to any

use of biofuels in Europe because they believe the substitution of

fossil fuels with biofuel will reduce the pressure on producers of

fossil fuels to cut back. These activists also oppose biofuels made

from rapeseed, sugarcane, soybean and corn grown in other parts of the

world. They have attacked palm oil because it is the cheapest and most

effective biofuel. They do not care that curbing the oil palm industry

would reduce economic growth and endanger jobs in poor countries.

As a scientist, do you believe crude palm oil has what it takes to gain world market acceptance as food and biofuel feedstock? – S. Ramasamy, Kuantan

The

steady increase in demand for palm oil demonstrates that it is already

proven as a food staple. The world’s population is expanding steadily

and standards of living are increasing. Demand for vegetable oil will

steadily increase, and we look forward to serving that market. Palm oil

is favoured for its proven nutritional and functional attributes and

competitive prices. Biofuel based on palm oil has already been

demonstrated as an effective fuel. Demand will increase so long as

governments create incentives to use biofuels.

I’ve been

hearing a lot about this new environment issue, the Water Foot Print

(WFP), which is said to be an emerging concern in the US. What is WFP

and its impact on Sabah oil palm planters? – Siti Khalid, Kota Kinabalu

The

WFP concept is new and not yet fully developed. The idea is that the

amount of water consumed and ‘embedded’ in any product should be

measured, presumably as way to encourage more sustainable use of water.

Use of water can already be measured, and any producer should ensure

that water is not wasted. The concept that water might be ‘embedded’ in

a product as a result of water being used to grow and process

components, and that it can then can be measured, has no technical

basis, to my knowledge.

The suggestion that use of water by palm

oil in tropical zones should be directly compared with use of water

for, say, rapeseed in temperate zones, ignores the fact that there is

higher rainfall in the tropics. The tropics are also hotter. Does that

mean people there waste natural heat?

Is it true that World

Growth, an industry group headed by Alan Oxley, an Australian lecturer

and sceptic about climate change, is sponsored by the MPOC to help

dispute anti-palm oil allegations? – Ross Tan, Ipoh

I

am not aware that World Growth represents any industry. We perceive it

to be a pro-development NGO. I believe it is being criticised because

it has been producing research that warns against environmental

campaigns developed by other Western NGOs, which could increase

poverty. I suggest you direct this question to World Growth. To help

counter the anti-palm oil allegations made by western NGOs, the MPOC

employs a number of PR firms and government relations experts.

How

strong is the working relationship between the RSPO and the MPOC,

especially in convincing major palm oil buyers from the EU and the US

that Malaysian palm oil is sustainably produced? – KS Lee, Johor Baru

The

MPOC supports the development of the RSPO as a business-to-business

initiative to certify palm oil in meeting the demands of a discerning

market. Our industry can be proud to be the first to bring

RSPO-certified palm oil to the world market. The MPOC has provided

funds to industry associations to attend or hold RSPO meetings to

ensure the roundtable moves forward. As sustainable palm oil is already

being traded in the global market, in our marketing campaigns, we often

offer RSPO-certified palm oil to buyers.

Unfortunately, although

the industry has lived up to its side of the bargain in conforming to

sustainability requirements, its ‘green’ credentials have yet to excite

more buyers.

Source : The Star

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