KUALA LUMPUR: As long as there are buyers, some oil palm smallholders remain unperturbed over the disturbing trend of discrimination in Europe, with palm oil’s use in biofuel to be phased out in the years ahead.
While acknowledging the strong moves by the government to address the issue, which will likely affect the livelihood of a majority of them, some smallholders believe they still have elsewhere to ship the product to.
Niam Saw Yok, 65, a smallholder in Sabak Bernam said the step taken by the European Union parliament would not jeopardise his 12.14 hectare (ha) (30 acre) small estate, as he understood that Malaysia’s export destinations also included other places like Pakistan, India, the Middle East, as well as China.
“I am unaware that Europe is importing a large amount of palm oil, but this is not the first time I am hearing the boycott issue being brought up. The Americans did it once, a long time ago, and it was because they wanted to protect their own soy bean production.
” So, I’m not surprised by this new trend,” Niam, who has been involved for almost 20 years in the oil palm sector, told Bernama.
Asked what really mattered to him, he said: “As long as there is a buyer for the fresh fruit bunch (FFB) and the price level is satisfying, anything else is less important ”.
Elaborating on the proposed EU ban in respect of the crude palm oil price, he noted that it would not have too big an impact, as currently, a tonne of FFB is valued at between RM400 to RM500.
“The price is favourable when compared to the earlier years when a tonne could only get you between RM70 to RM80,” he said.
On whether he would be applying for the palm oil certification as required by the government to promote the sustainability approach for the industry, Niam said he was taking a wait-and-see approach and it would very much depend on the government’s next step.
Another smallholder, 80-year old Musa Omar from Jengka said, he believed the ban was part of the agenda to harm the domestic oil palm industry.
In putting aside the issue, he opined that FFB prices were unstable and had directly impacted smallholders.
“Not to mention, the fertiliser and labour prices are consistently going up, but the extraction rate is just the opposite,” he said.
Musa is also a Felda settler managing a six-acre family oil palm plot.
For Abdul Jalil Aziz, 62, securing buyers for his FFB was far more important as this was his main income in respect of livelihood.
“I don’t know whether the EU ban on palm oil will impact on me or not. As far as I am concerned, we also sell to China, India and Pakistan,” he said when asked about the issue.
Asked about the sustainability certification, Abdul Jalil, who works hard to maintain his 2.83 ha (seven acre) plantation in Pagoh, Johor, said getting it was not as important as the issue of selling the FFB and the price of palm oil.
The government has agreed to allocate RM130 million as an incentive for oil palm smallholders to enable them to obtain the Malaysia Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification for free.
The Plantation Industries and Commodities Ministry has announced that mandatory implementation of the MSPO would take place by end-2019.
For now, only four per cent of about 244,622 hectares (ha) of plantations, including 7,113-ha owned by smallholders and 22 mills, had voluntarily obtained the certification since it was introduced in January 2015.
The ministry has also set a target of ensuring that about 500,000-ha of oil palm plantations are MSPO-certified by year-end.