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Sunday, May 29, 2022

Malaysia’s Sabah aims to win big as world’s first green palm oil state – VnExpress International

But with rising temperatures due to climate change affecting their yields, the 40-year-old has joined an innovative plan that aims to raise sustainability standards among all palm oil producers across the state on the island of Borneo.

Its goal is to protect wildlife and forests, tackle land disputes and labor oppression, improve harvests, and open the door to premium-paying palm oil buyers from around the world.

“Palm oil has changed my life, especially financially,” the father of two told the Thomson Foundation.

“(But) there is definitely a temperature difference in my village now compared to the 1980s. The fertility of our land was better when things were cooler.”

Palm oil is the world’s most widely used edible oil, found in everything from margarine to soap, but it has faced scrutiny from green activists and consumers, who have shifted its production to wilderness. The damage is attributed to fire and exploitation of workers.

Sabah produced about 5 million tonnes in 2020 – about 6 percent of global production – making it the second largest palm oil state in Malaysia, which is the world’s number-two producer according to green group WWF.

Sabah’s palm oil industry, which depends on smallholders for 20–30 percent of production, with plantations spread over 1.7 million hectares (4.2 million acres), according to officials, adds 1 billion ringgit to the state exchequer each year. $238.7 million).

Nevertheless, 65% of Sabah is still covered by lush forests, which include wild boars, orangutans, proboscis monkeys and dwarf elephants.

Seeking to balance nature conservation with supporting its palm oil sector, Sabah launched the Jurisdiction of Sustainable Palm Oil (JCSPO) in 2015, with only oils certified as ethical and green by 2025. production was aimed at.

Onboarding smaller landowners like Kumpillon – who owns six hectares of farmland outside the coastal town of Sandakan – is a key challenge and critical to the project’s success.

“We’ve learned how to manage our farms and finances, and it’s helped us deal with the palm (oil) mills,” said Kumpillon, who joined the scheme about five years ago.

“I am not worried or afraid of climate change, but something needs to be done,” he said.

industry support

The state forestry department’s chief conservator, Frederick Kugan, helps drive Sabah’s palm oil sector towards a greener future as part of the initiative – which unites producers and consumers, local communities and conservation groups.

The Sandakan, where they live, is known as ‘Little Hong Kong’ due to the influx of Chinese immigrants in the last century. It was once dominated by the timber trade before becoming a major producer and exporter of palm oil.

Companies operating in the state include Malaysia’s Felda and IOI Corp, Singapore-based agribusiness Wilmar International and consumer goods giant Unilever.

So far, Kugan said, palm oil initiatives have identified key conservation areas, introduced supporting laws and mandates, consulted with industry and environmentalists, and helped smaller holders face challenges through certification. See how to deal with challenges.

This year the focus will be on taking forward pilot projects that have helped smallholder farmers qualify as green and ethical.

That means adhering to the national green standard before earning certification from the Kuala Lumpur-based Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a global watchdog with more than 4,000 member producers, traders, retailers and advocacy groups.

Backed by major buyers, RSPO standards include restrictions on deforestation and converting peatlands to plantations, and greater protections for labor and land rights.

“It costs money – so we need to support the industry players in Sabah,” Kugan said.

“The oil palm is a very important commodity to the state, so we are here to protect the industry[and]to ensure that whatever palm we produce from Sabah is accepted by the market. “

Kugan said the plan is to expand the sustainable palm oil approach to other commodities such as Sabah’s wood, but acknowledged that the 2025 deadline would be hard to meet.

“We are halfway there[and]there are many other issues that need to be addressed as well,” he said, adding that another five years may be needed to get the certification.

He said that if the political will is present, the leading judicial approach can be replicated in other places as well.

Malaysia has lost about a fifth of its old-growth forest since 2001. It set a five-year limit on its total palm oil plantation area in 2019 and outlined plans to increase fines and prison sentences for illegal harvesting.

It was among more than 100 countries that pledged at November’s UN climate summit to stop deforestation by 2030, with Kugan and other conservationists saying the Sabah initiative could help meet such global goals .

journey of improvement

Joanne Vasai, a field coordinator for the non-profit Forever Sabah, helped nearly 300 smallholders in five villages acquire secure land, adopt better agricultural practices, strengthen health and safety conditions for workers, and improve financial management. helps.

If farmers encroach on protected forests, Vasai – which is itself a grower – can link them with a state-led assistance scheme to move to an approved planting area or grow other crops.

“It is important to share the balance of benefits and environment with the villages,” Vasai said. “The planet is our home and if our home is not healthy, we are also not healthy.”

Sabah will potentially struggle to compete in the global palm oil market with emerging producers in Indonesia, Africa and South America, said Robeka Jumin, head of conservation in Sabah for WWF-Malaysia, which supports JCSPO.

He said the best option is for Sabah to promote its good governance and sustainable production, which can only come from RSPO certification.

He said getting there by 2025 is “an ambitious target”, a process already underway.

Sustainable Sabah

Wilmar International first began its Malaysian oil-palm plantation operations in Sabah in the 1980s, and is involved in a jurisdiction-wide push. Its palm oil is already certified by the National Planning and RSPO in Sabah.

But the agribusiness giant sees “clear benefits” of the state’s entire supply base following suit, said Perpetua George, a Sabah native and sustainability manager at Wilmer.

He said that the key to success is a fully enclosed and controlled supply chain from plantation to mill and refinery.

This has been made easier by the state government overseeing the issuance of all licenses for oil palm plantations.

George said the challenges included the two years lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic and several changes in the Sabah government, which have led to delays.

Dove soap maker Unilever is also behind the project, working with WWF-Malaysia to obtain 70,000 hectares of Sabah plantations certified by the RSPO, protect forest conservation areas and restore important habitats for elephants and orangutans.

Kugan of the Forest Department said 24 percent of the palm oil produced in the state is now RSPO-certified.

Other parts of Malaysia are taking notice, with the southern state of Johor becoming the second state to pursue a judicial approach to sustainable palm oil in talks with the RSPO.

Hoping to get green certification soon, 60-year-old Bidin Angou, a retired schoolteacher, now works with his two sons on his six-hectare farm in Sabah.

He said that planting his palm oil trees keeps him healthy and provides a steady income as compared to other crops.

“There have been many reports – especially in Western newspapers – complaining about palm oil,” he said, referring to its environmental record.

“With good agricultural practices, we hope that international countries will accept our country’s product.”


World Nation News Desk
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