Replanting with oil palm is ill-advised and wasteful
Published on: Sunday, August 04, 2019

The Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng on 27 April, 2019 a day after nomination of by-polls Sandakan announced a “RM550m fund, RM100m grant for oil palm smallholders.”

The soft loan fund is expected to help ease the financial burden of smallholders in carrying out replanting of the crop. I would say a lot more would be needed in this sector.

Lim also announced a RM100 million grant for entrepreneurs who obtained the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil Certification (MSPO). 

Isn’t it a bit odd that the biggest industry in Sabah is getting such massive attention especially for the smallholders? Are any other industries getting similar financial treatment? 

Should not Malaysia go for multi crops as an assurance to sustainable agriculture for domestic consumption and exports of more variety of crops and fruits also in great demand. 

It takes about four years for oil palms to produce fruits suitable for harvest.

Oil palm tree may start bearing fruits after 30 months of field planting and will continue to be productive for the next 20 to 30 years; thus ensuring a consistent supply of oils. 

Each ripe bunch is commonly known as Fresh Fruit Bunch (FFB). In Malaysia, the oil palm trees planted are mainly the tenera variety, a hybrid between the dura and pisifera. 

The tenera variety yields about 4 to 5 tonnes of crude palm oil (CPO) per hectare per year and about 1 tonne of palm kernels oil.

Oil palm is a monoecious crop as it bears both male and female flowers on the same tree.

Isn’t oil palm or palm oil a sunset industry in Sabah when Sabah started to cultivate the mono crop in increasing acreage since 1980s after cocoa plantations seemed to fail for attack of pests. 

Did the Finance Minister consult other departments or ministries such as the forests, agriculture, primary industries, land resources, commodities before he came to provide such financial facilities in such attractive terms to the palm oil industries?

I have written three small books on the industry with all the pros and cons and I hope due diligence and comprehensive research be done on the palm oil and its future for Sabah. It may have been good perception of the crop so far but it can do more harm than good as it is a still a sunset industry for the following factors to be carefully reviewed. 

We had more than thirty years of oil palm an alien plant brought to Sabah from other continents such as Africa and South America hence lots of experience in the plantations and also generate lots of money for outsiders. 

Similarly outsiders especially Japanese made tons of money from 1960s to 2000 from the timber logs. (source: Timber from the South Seas: Analysis by WWF). Did we learn much from the depleted rainforests? 

Similarly do people learn from the excessive mono crop of oil palm that is the second edition of environmental destruction in Sabah?

So I would like to offer some key elements for review of oil palm especially we are in the threshold of replanting now abetted and aided by the greedy people.

l Palm oil maybe edible as ingredients in most food products and also fuel items.

l Palm oil cannot be edible as a raw food item by itself.

l All cooking oils cultivation do displace the agricultural land and forests hence environmentally unfriendly ,

l It must be more costly to do replanting in terms of poor top soil already destroyed by chemicals, fertilisers and pesticides etc. Hence the yield may be less attractive even with more chemicals.

l If the oil palm plantations after 30 years have no money to do replanting and how could they stay afloat for another 3 or 4 years for the replanted palms to be productive. Isn’t the Government spoiling them in a sunset industry?

l We know oil palm plantations should have been frozen since 2006 when BBEC came to Sabah with a pressing message of biodiversity to be sustained. Instead a few hundred thousands more of oil palm plantations were developed.

l With the low prices and the challenge of Kalimantan massive production coming on stream now, how would Sabah sector survive well even despite with MSPO certification for premier price? Isn’t Kalimantan doing the similar thing?

l With developed countries insisting palm oil as food not to be into fuel and other protest the sunset industry can taste bitterness soon.

l It is definitely oil palm as a deceptive greenery.

l I have seen lots of fruitless oil palms all along the journey by road from Kota Kinabalu to Kudat. Why so wasteful planting?

l Sarawak and Kalimantan should increase its areas for Heart of Borneo with several folds.

The State Government has in past decades talking of excising 10pc of oil palm plantations for agriculture and fruit trees but what is the status now is anybody guess. Isn’t it a good opportunity with the replanting seasons instead to go into other agriculture and fruits trees planting?

For food security both local and globally, why not make a strong effort to make Borneo the food basket of the world with real foods easily grown in Borneo. With the climate change biting more, we may never make it to abate the rising temperature despite Heart of Borneo. What may unfold soon environmentally would be bitterness for the lop-sidedness of rainforest depletion and the over cropping of alien mono crop oil palm. There is a misplaced complacency with some slight and insignificant increase of forest land as reserves.

Why Malaysia cannot emulate Thailand with lots of agricultural products in overseas markets for decades? 

UN has just come out with a pleading report “Save Nature to save ourselves” with such an imperative message for action.

We need to do massive brainstorm to review the sunset industry in term of economy, employments, skills, products superiority, quality and quantity food resources, wild life extinction and environment for our own survival. We need to take action in #EcoGeneration. We can no longer ignore the writing on the wall.

Joshua Y C Kong

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