Putrajaya needs to take a more aggressive approach to tackle the European Union’s (EU) decision to phase out palm oil from transport fuel used in that trading bloc, says the Federal Land Development Authority (Felda).
Felda director-general Datuk Dr Othman Omar said this is a purely business strategy for some EU member nations.
“In the past they said the cultivation of palm oil here caused deforestation, but we have stopped planting in new areas. Next they said palm oil is not green. I think as far as the lobby is concerned, they look at oil palm as more efficient and more people are attracted to produce more, so they need to kill it before it becomes their biggest competitor.
“So we have to play a more aggressive role. I think they are winning in terms of their public relations campaign, they are using small children now. All the children have been taught that from young you don’t consume palm oil at all as it is bad and it kills the orang utan,” he told reporters today.
Earlier, Felda conducted a meeting with its head of settlers on ways to counter the issue.
Othman said Malaysia needs to be smart enough to get to the young people there so that they understand that oil palm plantation is not killing the orang utan.
“But you are killing the 650,000 smallholders and their family members who are depending solely on the oil palm. They are now being victimised”.
On Friday, the European Commission officially approved a measure to phase out palm oil-based biofuel by 2030.
On Saturday, Malaysia said that it would bring a World Trade Organisation (WTO) challenge if the EU proceeds with recommendations to phase out palm oil from transport fuel.
He also said that to date, up to 42% of Felda settlers have received Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification involving 175,950.21ha of land, with the remaining 225,480.23ha to be MSPO-certified by November.
Othman said Felda is also urging the settlers to venture into other cash crops instead of just depending on palm oil.
“For example, maybe they can plant durian trees, which do not take as long as the oil palm oil trees but can yield at least 10 times more, so we might have to explore.
“If you convert between 10-25% of your land area to a crop that yields 10 times more, you actually double the whole area.
“You need to explore and be more innovative in what is in demand, and you are more diversified, so when you are impacted by the lower crude palm oil price, you will not lose everything.
“The problem with palm oil is you have to wait for three years, plus the four years of low yield. With cash crops you will not have that problem.
“And the problem with us is that we give cost of living aid to the settlers. If you times six or seven years, that is many times the cost of the planting.
“Our cost is six or seven times more than the other companies like IOI and Sime Darby since they don’t have to pay the cost of living aid,“ he explained.
Asked about which profitable cash crops to grow, Othman said they include pineapple, durian and soursop, adding there are even other businesses like solar farms and swiftlet farming.