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Wilmar pledge merely wishful thinking?

KUALA LUMPUR: ONLY time will tell if Wilmar International Ltd’s new palm oil sourcing criteria is workable or mere wishful thinking.

Last month, well-funded green group World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) arranged a signing ceremony for Wilmar, the world’s biggest palm oil trader, and food giant Unilever Plc to undertake “No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation” terms in their palm oil trades. 

“It is Wilmar’s decision to undertake whatever brand promise it wants to promote,” said Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC).

“But only time will tell if its new terms of trade can be accepted,” said its chief executive officer Tan Sri Yusof Basiron, referring to the fact that Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil-certified palm oil, which is also being promoted by the WWF, had only received half-hearted purchases.

He was responding to a question on whether Wilmar’s pledge with Unilever and WWF amounted to unjustified trade barriers that will severely curtail oil palm farmers’ earning ability.

Last week, Sarawak Oil Palm Plantation Owners Association (Soppoa) strongly rejected the deal as discriminating against the state’s palm oil supply. 

Soppoa manager Melvin Goh reportedly said Wilmar’s pledge is the start of a stranglehold on oil palm farmers being coerced into a path that will kill the industry’s growth.

“Well, Soppoa has registered its protest. What MPOC thoroughly disagrees with is Wilmar’s green activist partners’ relentless smear campaign against the entire palm oil industry,” he told Business Times on the sidelines of an industry seminar, here, yesterday.

Skillful in communication and blackballing tactics, these activists harass oil palm planters into submitting to the standards and criteria that they dictate. 

Unknown to many, the environmental activists’ strident criticisms have created trade barriers to the global palm oil trade under the pretext of environmental activism. 

Indeed, Yusof said this sits oddly with the fact that oil palm is one of the world’s most sustainable crops.

Oil World, a Hamburg-based trade journal, noted that oil palm is the world’s most efficient oil crop as it can produce five tonnes of oil per hectare. This is 10 times more productive than soyabean planted in the United States and five times more than rapeseed, Europe’s main oil crop. 

Should alternatives to oil palms be grown, more land would be needed to produce an equivalent volume of oil to replace palm oil, likely resulting in further deforestation.

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