Malaysia targets Africa and the Amazon for palm oil expansion
August 25, 2008
Speaking to reporters in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysian Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Peter Chin Fah Kui repeated an earlier call for Malaysian palm growers to use their expertise to establish oil palm plantations in Africa and South America.
"There's a need to look beyond Malaysian shores," Chin was quoted as saying by Bloomberg. "It's difficult to say how much land Malaysia needs, but we are encouraging our local companies to invest to other countries."
Facing increasing criticism from environmental groups over deforestation and pollution from plantations, the palm oil industry has launched a two-pronged response: cleaning up operations by establishing criteria for sustainable production (the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil - RSPO) and global PR campaign to promote the virtues of palm oil while simultaneously attacking critics via editorials, blogs and web sites. The marketing effort has included misleading claims on the carbon balance and biodiversity value of plantations.
Malaysia is the second largest producer of palm oil after Indonesia. Figures from the Malaysian Palm Oil Board show that production in 2007 stood at 15.8 million tons, while export revenue reached a record 45.1 billion ringgit ($13.6 billion) due to surging palm oil prices.
Chin's comments come shortly after Malaysia's Land Development Authority FELDA announced plans to immediately establish 100,000 hectares (250,000) of oil palm plantations in the Brazilian Amazon. To facilitate oil palm expansion in the Amazon, the Brazilian government is now weighing legislation that would allow land owners to include plantations as part of their "forest reserve" requirement. The law would enable Amazon landowners to boost forest-clearing on their land from 20 percent to 50 percent.
Oil-palm plantations in and around Tanjung Puting National Park in Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo Satellite image courtesy of Google Earth.
Analysis by the Woods Hole Research Institute suggests that DRC has the potential to convert 778,000 sq km of forest land for oil palm plantations. The Brazilian Amazon has 2.3 million sq km of forest suitable for oil palm.
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