Actress Judi Dench’s stint in Sabah opened her eyes to ‘complex issue’ of palm oil industry

The Oscar-winning actress was in Sabah to film the documentary ‘Judi Dench’s Wild Borneo Adventure’ last April.
The Oscar-winning actress was in Sabah to film the documentary ‘Judi Dench’s Wild Borneo Adventure’ last April.

KOTA KINABALU, Aug 15 — Oscar-winning British actress came to Sabah to film a BBC documentary but along the way, she learned how “complex and nuanced” the palm oil industry really is.

Oil palm plantations have been condemned by both environmentalists and animal conservationists in the West, and sparked a diplomatic war between Europe and South-east Asia.

Dench, who was filming Judi Dench’s Wild Borneo Adventure last April, told Sabah Tourism Board in a written interview that she’s learnt a lot about the issue and how conservationists are working to make the industry sustainable for the people and wildlife involved.

“Yes, I was lucky enough to get to fly over these plantations in an incredible helicopter journey to Danum Valley. Since then I’ve discovered just how complex and nuanced the issue really is. 

“It’s caused such destruction, in Borneo and beyond. But it also supports the livelihoods of so many people — I’ve been told that just one small lot of land can pay for three children to go to university,” she said.

“Thankfully I’m learning that there are all sorts of ways of working together to protect what’s left of the forest and help the animals to survive in a changing environment. 

“For example, I’ve met some wonderful scientists working to create crucial wildlife corridors — so that orangutans and elephants and many more animals can move between areas of fragmented forests without coming into conflict with plantation owners.

“It’s undoubtedly a very complex issue, but I’m more hopeful than I was before I arrived here,” she said in a transcript which was made available to the media here.

Attempting to phase out the use of palm oil products, the EU has said oil palm cultivation leads to deforestation, a claim Malaysia has rejected as flawed and is vehemently trying to defend.

Malaysia is making efforts to give EU leaders more information about plantations and the commodity as some countries in the 28-member bloc have negative views about oil palm cultivation.

Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad had previously said Malaysia would consider retaliatory action against European exports if the EU proceeds to implement the Delegated Act to phase out and ban palm biodiesel.

The series, which first aired on July 2 in the UK, shows her exploring the Sepilok Rehabilitation Centre among others, where she interacts with orangutans, as well as sun bears, elephants, crocodiles and hornbills.

“We know this part of the world is struggling with deforestation and diminishing wildlife populations, but on this trip, I’ve met so many scientists and conservationists who are thankfully doing such incredible and important work here to protect the trees and the wildlife. It’s truly inspirational,” she said.

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