Fanned by media support, the anti-developing country environmentalists are desperately competing for the limelight by making outrageous statements hoping to impart maximum damage to the image of products exported from developing countries. The Friends of the Earth (FOE) was recently quoted as saying that “palm oil helps nobody” in their eagerness to campaign against the use of palm oil in Cadbury chocolates in New Zealand. Palm oil, exported mainly from Malaysia and Indonesia, is produced from legitimate agricultural lands just like competing soyabean or rapeseed oils. FOE is well aware that palm oil has helped farmers in Malaysia and Indonesia climb out of the poverty trap which has long been afflicting developing countries. With oil palm as their main crop, farmers in Malaysia and Indonesia are earning US $20 per day presently as compared to US$ 2 per day 30 years ago when oil palm was not a major crop. Campaigning against the produce of developing country farmers by some developed country NGOs is considered plain unethical as these farmers and plantation workers want to have a better life just like their counterparts in developed nations.

In a related event, Greenpeace, an EU based NGO, recently campaigned for New Zealand farmers against the use of palm kernel meal as animal feed for the dairy industry. Greenpeace “attacked” the famous milk brand of New Zealand (Fonterra) by alleging that demand for palm kernel meal by milk farmers will help cause deforestation.

Getting the facts wrong can be counterproductive. The natural forests of New Zealand were mostly wiped out within a generation of white settlements in the 19th and 20th centuries. These natural forests were replaced with grazing land, to produce milk, meat, and wool which are the main exports of New Zealand. One wonders why an agricultural product produced out of deforested land in New Zealand is acceptable to Greenpeace while an agricultural product from Malaysia is often demonised. Both countries cleared land for agricultural purposes long ago, and the extent of deforestation was much more extensively carried out in New Zealand compared to Malaysia. Yet no questions are raised on this matter? Why are NGOs selectively picking developing countries for their campaigns when the actual land clearance is much more obvious in countries like New Zealand and others?

It puzzles me when NGOs ask Cadbury to use cocoa butter rather than oil palm fat in their chocolate formulation. This surely does not solve the problem of alleged deforestation since cocoa is also planted on the same tropical land of Malaysia where oil palms are grown. Are these so called greenies aware that more land needs to be allocated to planting cocoa (more deforestation possibility?) since the fat yield of cocoa is very low as compared to oil palm.

Discouraging New Zealand farmers from using palm kernel meal as part of feed material for dairy cattle will damage the milk industry as yield of milk will surely decline. (Palm kernel meal helps increase milk yield in dairy cattle significantly). Without palm kernel meal, farmers have to supplement the feed shortage and overcome yield decline, by having larger grazing areas which mean a much larger area needed to be deforested in New Zealand.

In the 1950s to 1990s,when Malaysia opened up its jungle land to resettle landless farmers , surveyors from New Zealand were employed to identify land areas suitable for agriculture to plant oil palm and rubber. Are these knowledgeable surveyors not recognised for their contributions to help develop the Malaysian economy?

To me forests, whether temperate or tropical, are valuable to sequester carbon dioxide to prevent global warming. Why then are forests in tropical countries the only target for preservation? This would give developed country farmers a big advantage in exporting their agricultural products unimpeded compared to us in the developing countries. Thus the “ruling by the ADC NGOs” can only apply to those with perverted view points or those naturally opposed to developing countries trying to develop their economy and export agricultural products to earn a decent income. By practicing double standards these perverted NGOs will conveniently ignore the over-deforestation that has taken place in the developed countries which continues till today. If the intention is to reduce carbon emission, let focus on the real culprit: the use of fossil fuel contributes up to 80% of global CO2 emission which mainly occurs in developed countries, but guess who gets the eventual blame – again China and India – .. another popular perverted viewpoint of some NGOs and even western governments.

While writing this piece, the Hon. EU Ambassador to Malaysia came to my office to discuss progress in the palm oil industry in relation to the EU proposed legislation for renewable fuels. He confirmed the concern of the EU for Malaysia not to repeat the mistakes of the developed countries which have over-deforested and have lost biodiversity due to extensive agricultural development. I wonder if the EU automatically assumed that Malaysia will make the mistake of developed countries. When asked why the EU cannot correct their own mistakes by replanting the lost forests, he replied that it was difficult (I couldn’t help thinking that they can spend billions sending people to the moon!), but did say that some countries are beginning to reforest. I also pointed out that on a per capita basis, our forests are currently providing a free service by cleaning up (sequestering) the CO2 emitted by developed countries because of their high per capita consumption of fossil fuel, and our countries should be compensated. There are no freebies in this world. In response, the Hon. Ambassador was keen to explore Malaysia’s proposal as he believes that Malaysia has some possible solutions to offer which the EU may be keen to pursue.

Malaysia should therefore be able to offer its oil palm production model that is linked to the EU concept of sustainable development if the EU in return offers to compensate for sacrifices made to maximise our forest cover. Currently Malaysia’s reforestation programme is funded by the government to the tune of RM 2 billion under the 9th Malaysia’s Five Year plan. In the coming 10th Malaysia’s Five Year Plan, the timely availability of a compensation scheme from the EU could further extend the reforestation programme. Such win-win proposal will allow the EU and their NGOs the opportunity to pay for the extra forests that they desire while our agricultural products such as palm oil are not haressed through the threat of legislations and other trade barriers which could undermine the income of developing country farmers.

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