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Malaysian government says no more forest clearing for oil palm plantations

Malaysia says no more clearing of forest reserves for oil palm plantations

Malaysia says no more clearing of forest reserves for oil palm plantations
June 26, 2008

Update: Sarawak to continue logging forests for oil palm plantations

The Malaysian government said it will prohibit forest clearing for the establishment of oil palm plantations. Only areas zoned for agriculture will be allowed to be converted for palm oil production.

In comments reported Wednesday by the New Straits Times Online, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said Malaysia will encourage the use of existing agricultural land for oil palm expansion.

“We don’t have to reduce the protected forests to increase new oil palm plantations,” Abdullah was quoted as saying. “With more effective management of the plantations and new technologies, production can go up by 30 per cent.”

“There is still land available for agricultural expansion. There is no need for permanent forest reserves to be used for this purpose. The government in any case will not encourage deforestation to obtain more land for agriculture,” added Datuk Chin Fah Kui, Plantation, Industries and Commodities Minister. “But land currently designated for agriculture or not utilized for the planting of specific crops, can be converted for the cultivation of oil palm.”

Oil palm plantation and logged over forest in Malaysian Borneo.

Malaysia has been working to improve the image of its palm oil industry in response to criticism from green groups who say plantation expansion has come at the expense of biodiverse natural forests and can result in significant greenhouse gas emissions when established on carbon-rich peat lands. In April the Malaysian Palm Oil Council held a sustainability conference to look at some of the environmental issues surrounding palm oil production. The conference highlighted some of the measures firms are taking to reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, including treating palm oil mill effluent, replacing chemical pesticides and fertilizers with natural predators and composting techniques, and setting aside forest reserves in riparian zones and hillsides. It also noted that oil palm is presently the world’s most productive oilseed with a carbon balance favorable to other oil crops including rapeseed and soy.

Nevertheless some environmental groups have expressed concern that as Malaysia improves the environmental performance of oil palm within its borders, Malaysian firms have lower standards when operating in neighboring Indonesia where much expansion is taking place. Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak said Wednesday that Malaysia — the world’s second larger producer of palm oil after Indonesia — has already acquired land in Papua, Kalimantan, Aceh and Brazil for future expansion.

To help allay these fears, some producers have banded together to form the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil to establish environmental standards for the industry. Unilever, one of the world’s largest buyers of palm oil, said in May that aims to have all its palm oil certified as eco-friendly by 2015.

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