Wednesday, 11 November 2009

PALM OIL: All the NGOs want is responsible development


2009/11/11 New Straits Times, Malaysia

WITH the world's largest single palm oil event happening in Petaling Jaya this week, it is time to set the record straight and dispel myths perpetuated by industry spokesmen.

Time and again, in an endeavour to shift blame and focus from themselves, the palm oil industry attempts to depict non-governmental organisations as people who want to put them out of business. Nothing could be further from the truth.

What's happening after years of freedom to log millions of hectares of rainforest and in the process wiping out millions of wildlife forms is that the palm oil industry is at last being held accountable for the undeniable destruction they have wreaked, relatively unchecked, until now.

And after all this time and freedom to do what they want, some palm oil industry executives (thankfully a slowly declining number) cannot stomach being questioned or, worse still, seeing their industry exposed for what it is; arguably the most environmentally destructive industry in the world.

As bad as the industry is, NGOs don't want to see it closed down; neither are they seeking a boycott of palm oil. No. All NGOs are asking (and I generalise here) is for the industry to grow and prosper without causing such irreversible damage to the environment.

Is this to much to ask? Is it unreasonable to expect the palm oil industry to permit indigenous tribes to retain and live on their ancestral lands without threats and intimidation?

How would you like it if the Penan people came into your neighbourhood before proceeding to destroy your homes, gardens and source of income and told you to move out and never come back? This is what happens every day in Sarawak.

Is it unreasonable to assume that in the wake of such damage by the palm oil industry, if left unchallenged by NGOs and the public at large, some 20 years from now there could be little or no forest cover left in Malaysia and Indonesia, no orang utans, no tigers, no elephants, no birds, no insects to pollinate fruit and vegetable plants, increasing frequency of landslides and changes in climate?

All the evidence points this way. It's precisely for these reasons that NGOs are asking the industry to change its operating procedures. We don't oppose profit or development. We oppose financial greed, the abuse of human rights and the rampant destruction of the environment.

Values, I suggest, most reasonable people have no argument with.

I leave you with the recent, wise words of Sabah Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun: "The (palm oil) industry must self-regulate itself. Eventually, by the full force of global pressure on the need for sustainable harvesting, it will have to be done. The industry can make money and be socially responsible at the same time."

Food for thought. I hope.

SEAN WHYTE, Nature Alert