Saturday, 24 May 2008

Malaysian palm oil conference focuses on sustainability

From the June 2008 Issue Biodiesel Magazine

Malaysian palm oil conference focuses on sustainability
By Susanne Retka Schill

The word “sustainability” is no longer a catchphrase but a global market requirement for the palm oil industry. “The world now demands palm oil that is certified and produced sustainably,” said Peter Chin Fah Kui, the Malaysian minister of plantation commodities and industries, in his opening address at the International Palm Oil Sustainability Conference on April 14 in Sabah, Malaysia.

“The challenges created by globalization and the increased demand for natural resources call for additional and different types of intervention. Collaboration between the different actors and stakeholders targeting a balance between sustainable production, trade and consumption is a key element in innovative approaches, and how this will impact the environment.”

The Malaysian Palm Oil Council hosted the inaugural conference, which brought together more than 500 industry players from Southeast Asia, Australia, Europe and the United States to discuss the emerging issues surrounding sustainability.

Speakers addressed corporate social responsibility, new certification requirements, wildlife conservation, life cycle analysis and carbon balance, among other topics. At the opening ceremonies, Chin officially announced the formation of the Malaysian Palm Oil Wildlife Conservation Fund, a collaborative effort of the Malaysian government, the Malaysian Palm Oil Council, Bursa Malaysia (representing the country’s financial market) and the Borneo Conservation Trust.

One of the first efforts for the $6.25 million research and conservation fund will be to survey the orangutan population in the Malaysian state of Sabah on the island of Borneo. Sabah is the No. 1 palm-producing state in Malaysia and also home to significant populations of orangutans in remnants of virgin tropical rain forests.

Chin said the Malaysian palm oil industry has been under a shadow for too long. “The cultivation of palm oil generally gives the world an impression that large tracts of virgin rain forests are bulldozed and cleared to make way for our plantations,” he said.

“Palm oil cultivation in Malaysia is strictly regulated, can only be developed on legally designated agricultural land and does not encroach on protected virgin rain forests.” He called for conference attendees to dispel the myths and misinformation surrounding the palm oil industry, “and highlight the sustainability of the palm oil industry, compared to other oilseed crops and agricultural practices around the globe.”

MPOC Chairman Lee Oi Hian echoed Chin’s emphasis on sustainability. “The demand and expectation of customers for sustainable palm oil are all familiar to us,” he said in his opening remarks at the conference. “This is our single most important current challenge or threat.” Malaysia is the world’s largest exporter of palm oil and follows Indonesia as the world's second-largest producer of palm oil.