Call to defer implementing MSPO
Published on: Wednesday, March 27, 2019
By: Leonard Alaza
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Kota Kinabalu: : With just eight months to go before the mandatory Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification deadline, many oil palm growers in Sabah are still struggling to comply with the requirements and are appealing for its postponement until the market conditions improve.

 They are also wondering what good the MSPO certificate would do since the European Union remains adamant to ban Malaysian palm oil by 2020 over sustainability issues and are equally frustrated over some of the requirements under the MSPO.

They contend that the Government’s commitment of millions to lay the groundwork for certification by Dec. 31, especially among smallholders nationwide, also falls short of expectations in some instances.

One oil palm player said when it sought the Fire Department’s assistance to certify its oil depot, as required by MSPO, it was rejected on grounds that Bomba only certify buildings but not diesel storage depots.

Among the stringent requirements under the MPSPO is for the workers to be suitably dressed, signages throughout the estate on danger areas and even the provision of prayer houses.

 “All this involves huge expenses, not to mention minimum wage but at the end of the day we are not sure if the Mat Salleh (Europeans) will even buy our palm oil.”

Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok at the end of last year announced that her Ministry had been allocated RM30 million to oversee the certification, especially for smallholders.

 Many smallholders in the state claim to be facing challenges in trying to get their ops certified. Thinking that time is not in their favour, many are appealing for the deadline to be deferred.

As Oct 31 last year, Kok had said only about 22 per cent of the 5.8 million hectares of the oil palm area in the country had obtained the MSPO certification, which was far from the target.

 She had also said that in Sabah, the MSPO certification achievement was less encouraging because only 1.2 per cent or 2,613.25ha out of the total 221,148.49ha oil palm cultivated land by smallholders had been MSPO certified up until July last year.

 Kok had said the government would pay for the certification as long as the smallholders abide by the rules and regulations, and that they would also be given annual grants to help them obtain certification.

She warned that after the deadline, products from uncertified smallholders will not be accepted.

Incorporated Society of Planters (ISP), a 100-year-old professional body, argues that while the concept and purpose look good on paper, the Government has to be practical, especially when it concerns individual smallholders in Sabah and Sarawak.

“Based on government records, there are about 650,000 individual smallholders in the country. I’d ask any of the Cabinet ministers how many of them ever reached out to these smallholders. What I’m saying is that the Government has to be fair and practical enough.

“The big estates have the personnel (to do all the heavy documentation work for certification). But what about the smallholders? Yes, the Government has pledged to help them but even they are shorthanded,” said ISP chairman Datuk Daud Amatzin.

He pointed out among the many challenges in the process is that many smallholdings in Sabah are spread out wide in remote locations and are in isolation.

“Do many people know where Long Pasia is or even how to get there? My point is that the location of the smallholders in Sabah as well as logistics must be taken into serious consideration by the Government.

“It’s nice on paper that it aims to reach the target of 100 per cent certification but let’s be practical because our land is huge and these smallholders are all over, many of them in remote and isolated locations,” he said.

Another matter the Government has to look into, he said, is concerning smallholders’ motivation to get themselves certified.

“It’s a national agenda, so we don’t quarrel about it. But the smallholders must be motivated. Let’s not forget that they sell FFBs (fresh fruit bunches). They don’t sell oil,” he said.

 According to Daud, who is also the president of International Institute of Plantation Management, even the documentation process is a put off to the simple smallholders in the rural areas.

“Don’t expect them to understand especially if it’s all in English. And don’t expect them to do it for they don’t have the people to do it for them, unlike the big estates. The Government has pledged to help. But does it have the people to reach out to them?” he asked.

Malaysian Palm Oil Certification Council (MPOCC) Chairman Datuk M. Nagarajan reportedly said for smallholders operating plantation land of 40 hectares and below, the Government would cover 100 per cent of the costs of auditing and building storage facility for toxic pesticides and fertilisers, purchase of personal protective equipment, training and documentation.

He had said the process to get the MSPO certification required between three and six months, encompassing preparation of documents, audit compliance and improvement measures before the certificates are issued.   

 Daud argued that the bigger challenge is not costs, but the Government’s capability to reach out to the more than half a million smallholders in order to achieve its certification target.

 He said that he is all for the MSPO certification but urged the Government to do it cohesively including by engaging the expertise and capability of the century-old ISP.

It has been reported that in Sarawak, the Sarawak Dayak Oil Palm Planters Association (Doppa), according to Kok, had agreed to assist her ministry by going to the interior areas to reach out to smallholders to explain to them the importance of getting MSPO certification.

Acknowledging these challenges, Daud said the Government should consider extending the deadline to ensure that it achieves the target.

Meanwhile, ISP board member M. R. Chandran said the organisation is aware of the struggles of smallholders on the ground in trying to get certified, particularly in Sabah and Sarawak.

He said some of the feedback they received from them about six months ago included being unaware of the process.

“Some of them told us that no one ever came to visit them to explain,” he said.

He said some of the other questions asked by smallholders were about what they would gain from the scheme.

“At the end of the day, they’ll ask the same thing that happened to RSPO (Roundtable Sustainable Palm Oil) – “Am I able to recoup the additional expenses I’ve incurred? Is the mill prepared to pay me additional premium?” – They don’t see the carrot. Yet it’s mandatory,” he said.

Another question raised to the ISP is regarding the credibility of the MSPO standard in the eyes of buyers.


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