Archive for July, 2011

Melbourne Zoo criticised

July 29, 2011 3 comments
MELBOURNE: Malaysian Palm Oil Council chief executive Tan Sri Dr Yusof Basiron has lashed out at the treatment of orang utans at Melbourne Zoo here, describing it as deplorable and a disgrace.

Yusof said yesterday he made a quick visit to the zoo to check out the anti-palm oil signs outside the orang utan enclosures and was appalled at the way the animals were screaming for attention in the cold winter.

“They were shivering and were in distress. Orang utans are tropical animals and find it hard to survive in biting cold temperatures. At the Melbourne Zoo, the orang utans had only sackcloth to cover themselves.

“Even then, the sackcloth was small and they were struggling to get it round their bodies. I felt sorry for these poor animals. Unlike human beings, orang utans cannot complain and their screams appeared to be ignored by the zoo.” 

Yusof said he could not believe his eyes when he saw food for the orang utans being placed in the open so that visitors could see how the animals ate. “This was a poor show pandering to the people but cruel to the orang utans.”

Yusof, who is accompanying Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Tan Sri Bernard Dompok on an eight-day working mission to Australia, said Australian animal welfare authorities should investigate the pathetic conditions of the orang utans at the zoo, as well as other zoos in the country.

“The zoo must understand that these are animals from the tropics and adequate protection should be given to them during winter. Their enclosures must be warm and comfortable.”

Yusof suspects that having the orang utans in such degrading captivity was to win public support in the campaign against a tropical industry and the use of palm oil products. He said having anti-palm oil signs at the zoo was to win public sympathy and to misrepresent the orang utan issue.

“Australians must visit orang utan sanctuaries in Malaysia and see how well the animals are taken care of. There is something sinister behind the campaign by western non-governmental organisations to ruin the palm oil industry.” — Bernama

IOI buying Dutaland estates for RM830m

July 29, 2011 2 comments
Kuala Lumpur: IOI Corp Bhd is buying close to 12,000ha of matured oil palm estates from Dutaland Bhd for RM830 million. In a filing to the stock exchange yesterday, IOI said the planned purchase will help expand the group’s agriculture landbank in Malaysia by 7 per cent to 190,862ha.

“This is the best price we can get. We negotiated for many months,” said IOI Corp executive chairman Tan Sri Lee Shin Cheng, who is known to enjoy bargain hunting. 

“We like this block because it’s adjacent to our existing plantation in Sabah,” Lee told Business Times yesterday.

Still, the tycoon contended that there is hard work down the road as IOI will need to rehabilitate the estates. The current yield is very low.

IOI is a very efficient planter. Its estates are mostly high yielding, with top performers churning out more than 30 tonnes of fresh fruit bunches (FFB) per hectare.

 “The current yield at Dutaland estates’ is about 10 to 11 tonnes of FFB per ha. But we have the agronomic expertise to bring up the FFB yield to 18 tonnes in the first year, and 22 tonnes in the second year,” Lee said.

Zeti: We’ll support those feeling the pinch

This is written by my colleague Roziana Hamsawi.

KUALA LUMPUR: Low- and medium-income households whose purchasing power has shrunk because of rising inflation need to be supported, Bank Negara Malaysia governor Tan Sri Zeti Akhtar Aziz said yesterday.  She said the government is doing its best to increase the supply and distribution of food items, including accessing food sources at lower costs.

“All these sources will rein in the amount of the rate at which our inflation will increase,” she said, adding that this must be addressed to ensure the country’s future growth prospects will not be undermined.

Zeti said inflation is now at 3.5 per cent due largely to the very high commodity and energy prices, the latter’s oil price has reached US$99 (RM295.02) per barrel.

“This has resulted in higher food and fuel prices and of course this is very much felt because these items are the main component in our consumption basket.”  The government, she noted, has been directing a lot of efforts to address the inflation issue and “other areas we will address is to see how we can provide support, especially to the low- and medium-income levels.”

Zeti added that addressing rising inflation is a focus now because if left unchecked, it can easily damage the sustainability of the country’s economic growth. She spoke to reporters after announcing the issuance of commemorative coins for Malaysia’s new third coins series here yesterday.

The country’s inflation increased last month after a hike in power tariffs. Bank Negara, however, had kept borrowing costs unchanged at 3 per cent.

The central bank had in March said that consumer prices may climb 2.5 per cent to 3.5 per cent this year from 1.7 per cent in 2010.

New Thai govt urged to set up separate palm oil body

This is written by Nalin Viboonchart and published in Thailand’s newspaper The Nation.

The Palm Oil Industry Club under the Federation of Thai Industries (FTI) wants the new government to pass a new bill and set up an independent organisation to develop and supervise the entire value chain, from oil palm agriculture to palm oil processing.

The Palm Oil Industry Club, the FTI’s latest industrial group, set up in May 2011, has made it its priority to lobby for this new law.

Krisada Chavananand, the club’s chairman, said the bill could cover the development of the entire palm oil value chain. Oil palm seeds, for example, should be developed scientifically and legally registered because good seeds mean higher oil content.

Thailand is the world’s third largest palm oil producer behind Indonesia and Malaysia, but its research and development initiatives is behind the top two.

Palm oil production in Thailand is 8-10 million tonnes per year. Oil yield is 2.7-3 tonnes per rai per year, while that of Malaysia is 3.5 tonnes.

Moreover, oil content in Thailand is just 17 per cent, while in Indonesia and Malaysia it is 22 per cent and 19 per cent, respectively.

Oil palms can be grown within 10 degrees of the equator with good rainfall distribution. Thailand now needs a research centre and to focus on increasing productivity and oil content if it wants to be more competitive, said Krisada. “Oil palm planting provides job security to rural folks. Around 300,000 households in southern Thailand are in oil palm agriculture and related industries,” he added.

“Oil palm biomass can be used as renewable energy while the oil is an important ingredient in food and cosmetics industries. In the past, we developed the industry without direction. But crude oil will become more expensive once the world’s population reaches nine billion by 2050. So it’s time for Thailand to take the development of the palm oil industry seriously.”

Presently, the National Oil Palm Policy Committee is the mechanism for developing and supervising oil-palm agriculture and the palm-oil industry. But the private sector believes that there should be a legal organisation and bill to oversee the whole industry. For instance, the bill could specify budget allocation for research and development of seeds and productivity improvement so that the country can develop the palm oil industry over the long term.

It might also be beneficial if the government did not constantly subsidise cooking oil prices, said Krisada.

He also said the new bill could authorise another independent organisation to control crude palm oil mills. Thailand has too many mills, around 70, considering palm oil production is just 8-10 million tonnes per year. This results in high operating costs per factory and fierce competition. A better way to control the number of mills is to grade their operational productivity. Those that could not meet the criteria will be forced to close, said Krisada.

Come meet us, Musa challenges palm oil critics

This is written by my colleague Rupa Damodaran.

KOTA KINABALU: Australian lawmakers must come to Malaysia and see for themselves the situation on the ground before rushing to pass a law which could make bilateral ties awkward between Malaysia and Australia.

Sime Darby Bhd chairman Tun Musa Hitam is keen to meet the Australian politicians who had cast doubts on the agricultural practices of the Malaysian palm oil industry.

Stop scaring consumers with your labelling and “exploiting their fears”, he told New Sunday Times recently in response to the palm oil labelling bill which will be presented to the Australian House of Representatives soon.

Criticise but don’t cut off our lifeline, he appealed, referring to the 570,000 oil palm farming families who depend on the industry for their livelihood. Sime Darby is one of the forerunners in the private sector which has spent millions of ringgit to save and rehabilitate forests and protect wild species like the orang utan.

To Musa, the move to single out palm oil for the labelling of products can only be termed as a discriminatory one by the Australians.

The bill, which was moved by independent senator Nick Xenophon in late 2009, proposed, among others, amendment to the Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) Act 1991 requiring food manufacturers to list palm oil on food labels.

However, last month, the Community Affairs Legislative Committee of the Australian Senate in Canberra recommended that the bill not be passed.

The bill sought to discriminate palm oil as a food ingredient produced unethically because it wrongly assumes oil palm planting with tropical deforestation, and the endangerment of orang utans and other wildlife.

Hope for Sabah wildlife

SABAH’s forestry chief believes that if the orang utan is going to survive as a species, it will be in the state — due to its well-managed forests.

Datuk Sam Mannan’s conviction stems from the forest governance which the state authorities had put in since decades ago although it was admittedly a different scene then when the forests were logged heavily.

During the boom period when lands were expanded at a rapid pace, an alarming number of orphaned orang utan was reported at rehabilitation centres. 

But Sabah is now a trailblazer in conservation efforts, fully aware that its rich biodiversity is crucial not only for Malaysia but globally. “Some 75 to 80 per cent of orang utan in Sabah are either in protected areas or areas which are well-managed. 

“The heartland of the orang utan is in Ulu Segama, Danum Valley, Malua and Deramakot — which measures 450,000 ha in area,” he said, in an interview at his office. Forest reserves and parks make up four million ha or 53 per cent of its land area and there is no more of that compromise which took place more than 25 years ago.

Borneo, the third largest island in the world, is one of the mega-bio diversity hot spots with a myriad of plant and animal species, many of which are endemic to the island. Deramakot is the world’s first certified lowland mixed-dipterocarp tropical forest in 1997, and Sabah intends to repeat this success story in its other forest reserves like Ulu Segama.

Unlike decades ago when the land classification by the colonial masters enabled the rich lowland to be utilised for economic activities, the state government now insists that forest reserve land be replaced, and issues 50-100 year licences.

“If not for the revenue from palm oil which the Sabah government is enjoying, there is no way to expand our conservation efforts,” he said, adding that the revenue has accelerated, beating that from forestry.

Forest revenue, which used to be a billion ringgit earner in 1979 (80 per cent of the state’s revenue) has nose dived to RM100 million last year.

But “the drought period for timber earnings” should pass as through the long-term licences, Sabah should be able to receive RM500 million from the production of sustainable timber by 2030, he said.

In the interim period, the state must step up its efforts to be innovative and carve out earnings from non-timber sources. These include tourism or sourcing geo-thermal energy from forests. Money is needed to repair whatever damage done to the land but such conservation efforts would lead to a vibrant tourism industry, too.

Sam is all for plantation giant Sime Darby’s support in the conservation efforts in Sabah, especially in the Ulu Segama area where it has been helping to restore 45,000 ha of degraded rainforest. This is where the Tabin wildlife reserve is located and the critically endangered Sumateran rhino is found.

Sabah’s biodiversity conservation and reforesting efforts have attracted a large number of foreign agencies and non-governmental organisations like the World Wide Fund for Nature, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Alexander Abraham Foundation, as well as business corporations like Marks and Spencer.

Foreign organisations such as the Royal Society United Kingdom which celebrated its 25 years in the Danum Valley is continuing its work with the Yayasan Sabah Concession Area.

Of immediate concern to Sam and his team is the 40,000 ha of forest reserve which was encroached by the small oil palm developers. He hopes more corporations will take the cue from Sime Darby.

So far his enforcement has destroyed 5,000 of this encroached land but to embark on replanting a forest promises to be an expensive affair, costing not less than RM80,000 per ha. Sam blames the small companies or individuals with oil palm smallholdings for giving the industry a bad reputation.

The culprits, he said, are those with bad agricultural practices, especially the smaller companies which do not respect the riparian reserves which form buffer or protection zones for the wildlife.

Because the wildlife sanctuary of Kinabatangan came about after the land alienation exercise (which explains its odd shape), the Forestry Department is also ensuring that natural corridors are provided for primates and other mammals. In some instances, artificial bridges, using ropes, are provided to enable the primates to cross the rivers.

To Sam, the next 20 years is critical for Sabah, “we must not falter otherwise our rainforest will be in trouble”.

Smallholders protest law that tarnish palm oil

July 23, 2011 4 comments
This is written by my colleague Zaidi Isham Ismail.

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian oil palm smallholders held a peaceful protest against the Australian government yesterday, for proposing a law that will tarnish palm oil as an ingredient produced at the expense of tropical deforestation by labelling it on food products.

Oil palm smallholders protesting outside the Australian High Commission against the Truth in Labelling Palm Oil Bill, which is being proposed in the Australian Senate. — NST picture by Zulfadhli Zulkifli

National Association of Smallholders president Datuk Aliasak Ambia said they were making their voice heard as the labelling might affect the livelihood of more than 240,000 smallholders and their one million family members who depend on the commodity.

“We are not against the Australian government but we are against the labelling which discriminates palm oil against other vegetable oils. Why just label palm oil? What about other vegetable oils?”

The Australian Senate is proposing the Truth in Labelling Palm Oil Bill, which was mooted by independent senator Nick Xenophon in late 2009.

The new law seeks to amend current guidelines used by the Food Standards Australia New Zealand to require food manufactures to list palm oil in their food labels. The Food Standards Australia New Zealand is a bi-national government agency responsible for developing and administering the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code, which lists requirements for foods such as additives, safety, labelling and genetically-modified foods.

However, last month, the Community Affairs and Legislative Committee of the Australian Senate in Canberra recommended that the bill not be passed.

During the protest, Aliasak handed over a memorandum and an open letter to the Australian High Commission’s economic and social counsellor, Juliana Nam, and attended a 30-minute closed-door meeting with the support of 150 smallholders outside.

Aliasak said the bill, if passed, would affect smallholders’ livelihoods and stump Malaysia’s RM297 million replanting programme for this year.

The government had identified the oil palm sector as one of the National Key Economic Areas under the Economic Transformation Programme to transform the country into a high-income nation.