LONDON, June 2 — Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Fadillah Yusof has hit out at the anti-palm oil lobby which blames the crop for the decline in orangutan populations, saying that hunting poses a far greater threat to biodiversity compared with oil palm plantations.
“Here’s the truth: the (orangutan) numbers have remained rock-solid at 11,000 for the past five years. It’s time to redirect our focus,” he said in his keynote address on “Sustainable Trade and Responsible Business Practice in A New Global Area” at the International Sustainable Palm Oil Forum here today.
Fadillah, who is also plantation and commodities minister, said the Western media needs to address the elephant in the room.
“Let’s separate fact from fiction and confront the real challenges head-on,” he said at the forum organised by KSI Strategic Institute for Asia Pacific, which saw the participation of parliamentary lobby groups, civil societies, and non-governmental organisations, among others.
Also present were High Commissioner of Malaysia to the United Kingdom Datuk Zakri Jaafar, Sarawak Deputy Minister for Urban Planning Land Administration and Environment Datuk Len Talif Salleh, Sarawak Deputy Minister for Energy and Environmental Sustainability Hazland Abang Hipni, and Plantation and Commodities Ministry secretary-general Datuk Mad Zaidi Mohd Karli.
“It (the palm oil industry) is not the environmental villain it’s made out to be. In fact, it is a shining example of sustainability and environmental, social, and governance (ESG)-friendly practices. Unlike other crops, oil palm trees act as carbon superheroes, absorbing carbon dioxide and transforming our plantations into carbon sinks.
“Don’t just take my word for it — the Forestry and Forest Product Research Institute in Japan confirms that oil palm outperforms natural forests by absorbing four times more carbon dioxide. When it comes to carbon sequestration, palm oil is far superior to soya, rapeseed, and sunflower,” he said.
Commitment to sustainability not mere lip service
The deputy prime minister assured that Malaysia stands firm in its commitment to sustainability and conservation.
“We’ve left no stone unturned in protecting our biodiversity. From the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre to the Turtle Island Reserve, Sipadan Island Reserve, and Danum Valley, our projects speak volumes about our dedication to preserving our natural heritage.
“We’re not just paying lip service; we’re taking concrete action,” he said.
He pointed out that the Plantation and Commodities Ministry has spearheaded the creation of the Malaysian Palm Oil Green Conservation Foundation (MPOGCF).
This foundation, Fadillah said, is Malaysia’s resounding declaration of support for conservation initiatives within the palm oil industry.
“Our commitment to the environment knows no bounds. The MPOGCF doesn’t stop at orangutans; it extends its protective embrace to various wildlife species, including the adorable pygmy elephants in Sabah. Together, we’re making a real difference,” he said.
Palm oil and the economy
Palm oil and the commodities sector are not just good for the environment but important for the economy.
Over the years, the palm oil sector has contributed significantly to elevating Malaysians’ standard of living and reducing poverty. This sector employs nearly 450,000 smallholders including private and organised smallholders.
In 2022 alone, Malaysia’s agricommodity sector recorded a total trade value of RM268.1 billion, with a trade balance of RM146.5 billion.
The export income from agricommodity products reached RM207.3 billion, accounting for 13.4 per cent of the country’s total export income. Moreover, in 2022, this sector contributed RM83.8 billion to the national Gross Domestic Product, demonstrating its pivotal role in long-term economic growth. — Bernama