PETALING JAYA — The Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) has accused a Europe-based academic of making unfair and biased criticism of sustainable palm oil certification. MPOB director-general Ahmad Parveez Ghulam Kadir said the academic, Roberto Cazzolla Gatti, had failed to recognise the efforts made by governments and the industry to improve the sustainability of palm oil.

Gatti is the co-author of a paper published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, which had criticised the certification by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), describing it as “greenwashing”. He said the certification was a meaningless attempt to pass off palm oil as sustainable without basis. He claimed that 99% of the palm oil supply bases in Borneo certified by RSPO was on land that was forested as recently as 30 years ago.

“This is a biased view,” Parveez told FMT, adding it was unfair to make sweeping statements by just looking at deforestation in the context of the past 30 years. “Why is deforestation only seen as unproductive now? For hundreds of years, western countries have been converting forest lands into land for agricultural, livestock and industrial activities.”

Ahmad Parveez Ghulam Kadi, Director General of MPOB

Parveez said that while some agriculture-designated non-permanent rainforest areas have been opened up for oil palm, many plantations were opened up on land converted from agricultural land. Similarly, many smallholders also have converted their non-oil palm agricultural land into oil palm cultivation.

Parveez said every country had the right to develop its economy. Since the Rio Summit of 1992, Malaysia has committed to preserving at least 50% of its forested areas.

“This percentage is a lot more than many European countries and we are continually trying to make it more sustainable, not only through the voluntary business-to-business oriented RSPO but making the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification mandatory.”

The MSPO, Parveez said, applies to all plantations, including smallholders, and making certification mandatory is not easy given the compliance costs and resistance from smallholders to changing how they operate.

“But the government, from the previous administrations to the present one, is committed to ensuring compliance and has allocated a lot of resources towards this. Palm oil is the most productive among the vegetable oils and can produce up to 10 times more yield than other oilseed crops like rapeseed, soybean, olive and sunflower which Western countries produce.”

Parveez said critics of palm oil were only trying to discredit the efforts put into ensuring that it is more sustainable. Palm oil, he said, is the only crop subjected to high standards and scrutiny, both locally and internationally.

“We keep improving the sustainability of palm oil, but every time we do that, our critics will still say we are not doing things right. Yet, they do not question how sustainable it is to persist with rapeseed, soybean, olive and sunflower oils.”