Sarawak Primed for Oil Palm Boom

The future of oil palm plantings lies in Sarawak as Malaysia’s agriculture land is limited.

Last year, the state overtook Johor to be the second biggest oil palm state in the country after Sabah.

In view of this, it is important for the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) to be more forthcoming in communicating facts and figures of peatland oil palm planting to all stakeholders, say industry players.

Sarawak Oil Palm Plantation Owners Association (Soppoa) for one agrees with the problem of labour shortage.

“The future growth of the oil palm industry is in Sarawak’s fertile agriculture land,” said Soppoa secretary Phillip Ho.

“But now we have a big problem of uncollected fresh fruit bunches rotting in the fields due to labour shortage,” he told Business Times in an email interview from Miri.

“Malaysians are averse to working in plantations. Estate works, by nature, are far from the bright city lights. We have very little choice but to depend on foreign labour to do the job,” he said.

Last year, Sarawak only harvested two million tonnes of palm oil. Soppoa estimates that a 10 per cent average of uncollected fruits at RM2,000 crude palm oil price translates into RM400 million loss in export opportunity from Sarawak.

In a separate interview, Kapit member of Parliament Alexander Nanta Linggi stressed that it is of national economic interests that MPOB do relevant studies on sustainable peatland farming so that investors understand how best to optimise what is available in Sarawak.

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) like Greenpeace and Wetlands International have claimed that oil palm planting on peatland causes tremendous pollution in the form of greenhouse gas emission when water is drained from the soil. These groups, however, failed to provide any credible scientific evidence to support their allegations.

“Last week, in Parliament, I urged MPOB to give us a clearer understanding of peatland agronomy. This is necessary so that we, lawmakers, can better discern unfounded claims by critics,” Linggi said.

As at December 2009, Sarawak’s oil palm planted area stood at 840,000ha, of which close to 10 per cent of the hectarage is owned by 7,300 smallholder families.

Linggi spoke of higher economic potential of oil palm planting compared with other cash crops.

“About 70 per cent of my constituency population is living below the poverty line of RM840 monthly income,” he said.

“Nobody criticises pineapple planting on peatland. So, why are there unfair attacks from NGOs when my people want to plant oil palms?” he asked.

“With closer cooperation between MPOB and planters in Sarawak on how best to plant oil palms on peatland, more people will be on the right track to lift themselves out of poverty. I see this as part of the New Economic Model that targets high income via sustainable development,” he added.

Linggi said he supports the good intentions of the Sarawak state government agencies like the Land Custody and Development Authority (Pelita) and the Sarawak Land Consolidation and Rehabilitation Authority (Salcra) to develop customary rights land (NCR) land so that the rural poor is lifted out of poverty. But this can only be achieved with sincerity.

“I urge Pelita and Salcra, in managing such joint ventures, be more engaging with participating natives and not burden them with inefficiencies. Government officials should be more mindful that it is the participating natives’ land that is being developed, not state land. Investors, too, should accord good dividends to native shareholders,” he said.

Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Tan Sri Bernard Dompok was reported as saying that the nutritional value of palm oil harvested from peatland “is just as nutritious” as that planted on hill slopes.

Source : Business Times

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