Oil palm has done wonders for Malaysia’s economy. FILE PIC

OIL palm is not a native crop. Its true home, where it still grows wild, is in the west African states of Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon.

Malaysia had its first taste of oil palm planting about 100 years ago. The British brought planting materials for cultivation here.

Over the years, Malaysia, through research and development, has built oil palm to become what it is today.

If not for Malaysia’s efforts, the crop may still be languishing at the low end of global production.

We should congratulate the early pioneers of the crop, who fought other oil crops to capture a sizable percentage of the world demand for edible oils.

It is now leading other oil crops in terms of production and consumption.

Though essentially an immigrant crop, oil palm has done wonders for Malaysia’s economy.

Not only has it contributed to the rural economy, its downstream manufacturing has also of enriched many.

Oil palm has brought prosperity to many.

The global expansion of palm oil has rattled competing oils.

Much of their market dominance has been eroded. It is, therefore, natural for supporters of competing oils to launch attacks to discredit palm oil.

But we are concerned about Malaysians who pick on palm oil to the advantage of competing oils.

Yes, as is true for all crops, palm oil is not perfect. It does have shortcomings, which researchers in Malaysia are trying to rectify.

But in comparison with competing oils, palm oil has more positives than negatives.

We Malaysians must not play into the hands of the competition and use their data to criticise palm oil.

We need to generate our own data and compete on sound science.

Competing oils have their agenda. We cannot blame them because they have been cornered by palm oil’s popularity.

Let us look at this issue of sustainability in the context of the three pillars of the economy, society and environment.

In terms of economy, none of the other oils can come close to palm oil’s supremacy.

This is explained by the prolific expansion of its global market share.

As for its impact on society, palm oil is again a clear leader.

Not only is palm oil a major contributor to the growth in rural wealth, it is also a major contributor to global accessibility to edible oil nutrition, a public health issue in many less-developed countries.

On the environment score, yes, palm oil needs to improve.

It is, however, positive in a number of environmental concerns.

FIRST, as the most high-yielding oil crop, the land area requirement is much less;

SECOND, it provides an efficient sink for greenhouse gases perennially;

THIRD, as a perennial, it not only conserves the soil structure better than annuals, but also deals with fewer pests; and,

FOURTH, as a perennial, it supports better biodiversity than competing annuals.

Admittedly, deforestation is a grouse that can offset the positive environmental aspects of oil palm.

But then again, the blame should not be on the crop.

The blame rests on planters who are driven by greed to venture into environmentally-sensitive areas.

Every industry has bigots. They are often a minority.

Illegal logging, which is rampant in many states, has also been blamed on oil palm, which is unfair.

Whatever it is, the competition will stop at nothing to discredit palm oil.

What the government has done through the “Love My Palm Oil” campaign is commendable.

We Malaysians should not be influenced by competitors’ propaganda to spread hate against oil palm, nature’s most sustainable oil crop.


Fellow, UCSI University, and professor, Academy of Sciences Malaysia

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