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Planters urged to rethink signing pledge

Kuching: SARAWAK Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Alfred Jabu Numpang has urged plantation companies that are scheduled to sign the “No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation” pledge with Unilever Plc not to act hastily.

He acknowledged that those are business-to-business arrangements but said “the implication of these deals will affect the livelihoods of 800,000 people living in peat area, native customary land of rural Sarawak”.

Two months ago, Wilmar, the world’s biggest palm oil trader, and food giant Unilever signed a “No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation” pledge in their palm oil trades. 

Other plantation companies rumoured to have been roped in to sign with Unilever are Sime Darby Bhd, IOI Corp Bhd, Kuala Lumpur Kepong Bhd and Felda Global Ventures Holdings Bhd.

Last month, Sarawak Oil Palm Plantation Owners Association (Soppoa) strongly protested against the pledge as it is seen as discriminating against the state’s palm oil supply. 

Soppoa manager Melvin Goh had reportedly said Wilmar’s pledge was the start of a stranglehold on oil palm farmers that would see them coerced into a path that would kill the industry’s growth.

“Corporations should not be hasty. They should consult the rural folk. The Sarawak government has always worked hard in its poverty alleviation programmes. 

“The planting of oil palms and rubber trees are among the measures that we are implementing to bridge the income gap between rural and urban Sarawak,” Alfred told Business Times on the sidelines of “Reach and Remind Friends” seminar organised by the Malaysian Palm Oil Council, here, yesterday.

In his opening address at the seminar, Alfred told oil palm planters that one must be courageous to reject draconian terms and conditions that will stunt both their ability to earn income and the country’s palm oil exports. 

He said the attempt to boycott fresh fruit bunches harvested from oil palms planted in peatland is inhumane.

To a question if the pledge is seen as interfering in the state government’s sovereign rights in determining land usage, Alfred said the corporations should think twice and consider the welfare of those people living in rural Sarawak. 

He urged them to be careful in their business arrangements. “The Sarawak government is committed to its poverty eradication measures and that include planting oil palms on land that have been set aside for agriculture,” he said.

Also present was Sarawak Land Consolidation and Rehabilitation Authority (Salcra) general manager Datu Vasco Sabat Singkang. 

He noted that Wilmar operates a palm oil mill in Saratok. “As joint venture partners, we were not consulted when Wilmar signed the pledge with Unilever in December. 

“We are not comfortable with this as it will have negative consequences on the 10,000 small farmers whom we source fresh fruit bunches from. Since many of them plant their trees on peatland across Saratok, Seri Aman and Sarikei, what are we to say to them?” Vasco asked.

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