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Sabah won't waver on palm oil
Published on: Saturday, November 04, 2017

Sandakan: Sabah is determined to position its palm oil as a globally acceptable premium brand with internationally preferred and recognised Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certification.

"It's a question of survival and sustainability. Sabah produces enough to meet 10 per cent of world's demand for palm oil, but land scarcity will limit expansion of cultivation areas," said Chief Conservator of Forests Datuk Sam Mannan.

He said this when chairing the Jurisdictional Certification Steering Committee briefing for the media at his office last Tuesday (Oct. 31) on getting the whole State certified to produce Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) under RSPO.

"Our jurisdictional CSPO endeavour – the pillar of our quest to address governance - is critical for Sabah," he said. The RSPO is now the largest international palm oil certification system. The RSPO standard took years to develop, through a multi-stakeholder process that included producers, purchasers, processors and NGOs.

Although the RSPO standard is not perfect as a certification system and does not follow best practice in terms of standards and conformity, it does at least attempt to address the concerns of all major stakeholder groups through a structured process.

The Sabah Forestry Department is one of the largest landowners in Sabah, and Sam said revenue from the oil palm industry from some 200,000 hectares is also financing forestry conservation.

"Sabah has 1.6 million hectares cultivated with palm oil and it could go up to two million hectares but suitable land is limited in Sabah," he said.

"Hence Sabah should not just compete in the global market on volume, cost, pricing, etc., like others, but on the premium branding of its palm oil produce, popular and desirable for discerning customers who are conscious of sustainability of the environment issues now being exploited by anti-palm oil groups fighting deforestation and loss of biodiversity impacts on global ecology, especially in Europe.

"Certification of Sabah's palm oil under RSPO is crucial to the survival of the palm oil industry.

Hence, the Jurisdictional Certification Steering Committee was formed to spearhead efforts to position Sabah's palm oil with RSPO's Jurisdictional Certification for the whole State and all players of the industry," said Sam.

According to records, there are 38 RSPO certified mills in Sabah. There are 362,755.63 hectares of total growers of RSPO certified area with 286,921.08 hectares of total growers certified production area in Sabah.

Out of the 6,648,647.23 metric tonnes of total Fresh Fruit Bunches (FFB) growers in Sabah, a total of 1,472,063.56 metric tonnes of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) and Certified Sustainable Palm Kernel Oil (CSPKO) are produced.

Growers and millers within the RSPO commit to a process whereby they aim to source third party FFB from identified, legal and responsible sources. All Sabah's palm oil should be traceable to sustainable best practice sources.

In order to be RSPO certified, the eight RSPO principles encourage growers to:

- Keep their commitment to transparency; - Comply with applicable laws and regulations; - Maintain long-term economic and financial viability; - Use appropriate best practices by growers and millers; - Be environmentally responsible in conserving natural resources and biodiversity; - be responsible and considerate of employees, individuals and communities affected by growers and mills; - be involved in responsible development of new plantings; and - be committed to continuous improvement in key areas of activity.

"Conservation must also eventually become the culture of our society – that is the goal," Sam said.

"Improvements in livelihoods in a real manner addressing the quality of life and socio-economic development must come first before conservation can work. That is the Sabah way.

"Malaysia and Sabah have many clever people. But we also have noisy idiots. Discern and evaluate what you hear. Work on the ground is the real equaliser.

"A policy of appeasement and populism leads to poor governance," said Sam.

"We love the forests. Other than providing social and economic contributions, forests play a vital role in maintaining ecological stability.

"Whether it is for sequestering carbon and mitigating of the 'green house' effect or conserving biodiversity, the multiple benefits of maintaining forest cover is now seen as critical for the well being of humankind.

"Hence the importance of maintaining forest cover, or even increasing forest cover, is an important agenda of the State Government of Sabah.

"If certification schemes become elitists and dictatorial – they will do more harm than good.

People will create their own schemes. What serves your society and is accepted becomes the norm.

If the world does not buy your produce, too bad. Use it yourself."

On April 4 this year, the European Parliament passed by an overwhelming margin – 640 votes for, 18 votes against with 28 abstentions – a non-binding resolution calling for the establishment of a single Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) scheme to ensure only oil from palms grown in an environmentally sustainable manner will be allowed entry into the European Union (EU) after 2020.

Also by 2020, the resolution suggests phasing out palm oil from the EU's biodiesel programme.

If implemented, this resolution could reduce Malaysia's exports of palm oil to the EU, the second-largest export market for the commodity.

Data from the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) shows the EU imported 2.06 million tonnes of palm oil products from Malaysia last year – less than India's purchase of 2.8 million tonnes but slightly ahead of China's intake of 1.9 million tonnes.

Palm oil contributed 3.3 million tonnes or 27 per cent of the EU's biodiesel feedstock – a figure equivalent to 5.6 per cent of total palm oil output last year.

On the Malaysia MSPO, Sam indicated that he still prefers going with CSPO in Sabah under RSPO as the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is the most widely-used internationally.

He said Sabah has a right to determine for its interest as land is a State matter and besides, he is the power boss as far as forestry lands are concerned when cultivated with oil palm.

The Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) standard is still voluntary, but has come as a welcome addition for small and medium-size oil palm growers who cannot afford the cost of RSPO certification on individual basis, which Sabah is trying to mitigate with jurisdictional certification. The MSPO is intended to become mandatory in future in other states under the National Land Code jurisdiction.

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