sustainable agriculture in MalaysiaSustainable agriculture in Malaysia centers on the production of palm oil. Globally, people consume more palm oil than any other vegetable oil and it is found as an ingredient in products ranging from soap to bread.

Palm oil grows in tropical environments, and Malaysia, located in southeast Asia, has that ideal climate. Because people consume such great quantities of palm oil, its vast production has large effects on the environment and the communities in which it is grown. As demand for palm oil continues to increase, conventional farming practices decrease biodiversity and harm the regions where it is grown.

However, on the positive side, when palm oil is produced sustainably, the environmental harms are minimized. While some countries use destructive farming practices such as clearing forests to grow palm oil, Malaysia is a model for sustainable agriculture.

Malaysian palm oil production meets the U.S. definition of sustainable agriculture. The U.S. standard is based on the 1990 Farm Bill by the Department of Agriculture. This bill lays out a framework for sustainable agricultural practices.

Malaysian production of palm oil is able to meet the standards of the bill largely due to Malaysia’s certification for sustainable palm oil, Malaysia Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO), which started in 2015 and will be mandatory by 2019. MSPO is based on seven principles that emphasize a commitment to sustainable agriculture in Malaysia.

Below are the seven principles and the ways palm oil farming practices commit to sustainable agriculture in Malaysia.

  1. Management and commitment responsibility
    Malaysia has committed to having 100 percent of its palm oil plantations MSPO certified by 2019.
  2. Transparency
    Malaysia is transparent with its agricultural practices as they pertain to palm oil. Additionally, Malaysia is transparent with the percentage of palm oil plantations that are MSPO certified and its plan to obtain 100 percent certification.
  3. Compliance with legal requirements
    This is a basic principle whereby Malaysian plantations will abide by laws and regulations governing palm oil agricultural practices.
  4. Social responsibility, health, safety and employment conditions
    The palm oil industry employs over 500,000 people in Malaysia and is an integral part of the economy. Growing palm oil improves the standard of living for many farmers in Malaysia and can aid in diminishing poverty.
  5. Environment, natural resources, biodiversity and ecosystem services
    Palm oil is an efficient crop, meaning a large amount of palm oil is gained from a small area of plants. This allows for a smaller environmental impact compared to other crops. Additionally, the Malaysian Palm Oil Wildlife Conservation Fund oversees the production of palm oil and ensures it does not negatively affect biodiversity where it is grown.
  6. Best practices
    The cultivation of Malaysian palm oil uses sustainable farming practices. These include integrated pest management and biomass, as well as avoiding deforestation.
  7. Development of new plantings
    As of 2017, Malaysia had 5.74 million hectares of palm oil plants. As new plants are introduced, Malaysia wants to ensure that it meets the standards that have been laid out for the already existing plantations.

As more palm oil plantations become MSPO-certified, the model of sustainable agriculture in Malaysia is one that other countries can base their own farming practices on. The positives of sustainable agriculture, especially relating to palm oil, benefit the farmers, the environment and even the consumer.

– Hayley Herzog

Photo: Flickr

Palm oil, a key ingredient in biofuels and a product present in vast amounts of food, is at the center of a violent conflict between local farmers and agribusiness in Honduras.

The source of the conflict goes back 20 years when the World Bank instituted a land modernization program in Honduras. Farmers point to this program as the mechanism by which thousands of hectares of land were confiscated by large companies specializing in growing African palms.

President Zelaya started an investigation into the land grabs at one point, but he was deposed in a coup in 2009. The Guardian reports the coup had financial backing from the police, business, military, and political bodies of Honduras.

The most recent revelation implicates the World Bank in giving millions of dollars in loans to Dinant Corporation, the company at the center of the conflict.

The World Bank recently conducted an internal review of actions taken by the staff of Dinant Corporation.  The report concluded that the violence and forced relocations were not adequately assessed before  the International Finance Corporation (IFC) granted Dinant Corporation a massive loan. The loan given to Dinant Corporation by the IFC amounts to a grand total of $30 million.

Human Rights Watch asserts that many IFC staff members knew of the conflict between Dinant and local farmers before giving the loan.

One of the major conclusions reached by the World Bank’s internal investigation, was that the culture within the IFC contributed to the decision to continue conducting business with Dinant. For example, results measured at the IFC are in purely financial terms. This has led some investigators to conclude that various staff members turned a blind eye to Dinant’s violence.

The report also states that much of the IFC staff involved with the loan misinterpreted the rules set out before them with regard to these massive loans. The IFC responded with a vague, five page statement contesting the conclusions reached by the World Bank’s investigation.

Most of the conflict is within the Bajo Aguán region of Honduras, where multiple killings have taken place at the hands of both private and public forces. It is believed that some of these forces operate at the behest of Dinant.

There seems to be a mix of private and public interests at work to oust local farmers from the Bajo Aguan region. The 15th battalion and private security forces have been implicated in the violence. Over the past four years, 100 people have been killed in this conflict.

Unfortunately, the conflict between small farmers and Honduran agribusiness does not seem to have an end in sight. What makes these farmers predicament truly tragic is the fact that the crimes perpetrated against them had financial backing from an international institution usually associated with helping the world’s poor.

Zack Lindberg

Sources: The Guardian, New York Times, Human Rights Watch
Photo: CGIAR

Of the 11 million hectares of oil palm plantations globally, about 6 million are found in Indonesia. These plantations are quickly pushing out native rainforests and the species associated with them. Chiefly affected is the Orangutan. One of our distant cousins, these intelligent primates are facing increased poaching consequently, pushing them towards becoming critically endangered. Habitat conversion from natural forests to oil palm plantations has devastating impacts on tropical forests, along with the plants, animals, insects, birds and reptiles that depend on them.

Borneo and Sumatra are two of the most bio-diverse regions of the world, yet have the longest list of endangered species – namely, the orangutan. Orangutans exist as two distinct species, the Sumatran Orangutan and the Borneo Orangutan. Scientists currently estimate that fewer than 60,000 orangutans remain in the wild of Borneo and Sumatra. Clear cutting of forests undertaken by the palm oil industry has also facilitated access for hunters and traders. It is the main factor for the dramatic reduction of orangutan populations.

An area the size of 300 football fields of rainforest is cleared each hour in Indonesia and Malaysia to clear room for the production of a single vegetable oil. This amounts to six football fields being destroyed per minute. Since 1990, the total area of Indonesia covered by palm oil plantations has grown 600 percent.

Palm oil can be found in nearly all products we use. From soaps to lotions to fuels, it is found in nearly half of the products found in grocery stores. The United States is the largest consumer of palm oils, consuming 1.2 million metric tons of the product yearly.

In 2006, after a European Union incentive promoting the use of biofuels for transport, the use of palm oil as a biofuel in the E.U. has increased by 365 percent, making the overall consumption of palm oil 5.6 million metric tons.

The conversion of Indonesia’s rainforests into energy crops is responsible for more carbon pollution each year than all the cars, trucks, planes, trains and ships in the U.S. combined. Indonesia has the world’s third largest greenhouse gas emissions behind only China and the U.S. This is exclusively because of deforestation.

Part of the correlation between orangutan endangerment and palm oil is because both parties favor fertile lowland soils close to rivers. As such, when competition occurs it is usually the latter that comes out successively. To clear land for the building of habitats, often fires are used to destroy vast areas of orangutan habitat. Unfortunately, these slow moving apes frequently burn to death, unable to escape flames. Not only that, but in some areas of Borneo and Sumatra, orangutans are seen as pests and shot by plantation owners or farmers.

Over 50,000 orangutans have already died as a result of deforestation due to palm oil in the last two decades. If this trend is to continue, our furry cousins will be extinct in the wild within three years to 12 years; they will be extinct from the jungle they occupy in 20 years.

There is only a singly chromosome difference between orangutans and humans. They have the ability to reason and think. Chentek, an orangutan at the Atlanta Zoo in the U.S., was taught American Sign Language and acquired a vocabulary of over 500 words. They are vital to the ecosystem in South-East Asia. Orangutans cannot live without the rainforest, and the rainforest cannot live without orangutans.

Chloe Nevitt
Feature Writer

Sources: WWF, Alternet, Karenstan, Say No to Palm Oil
Photo: Ecoteer Responsible Travel

Sustainably Grown Palm Oil: The Future of Fast Food?
What’s better than deep-fried dough covered in sugar? Turns out, Dunkin Donuts has an answer: sugarcoated, deep-fried dough that doesn’t destroy the rain forest.

Palm oil has become a key ingredient in many processed food products, including fast food and as many as 50 percent of foods sold in grocery stores. Palm oil has surged in popularity over the last few years not because of its taste or nutritional value, but because of the consumer backlash against trans fats, which are known to contribute to the development of a number of diseases. Because palm oil is solid at room temperature, food manufacturers use it in products like Oreos that require a soft yet thick texture.

The replacement of traditional solid fat sources with palm oil has had unintended consequences. Palm oil is made from the pulp of the fruit of oil palm trees, which grow mainly in Africa, Southeast Asia, and Brazil. The top two palm oil-producing countries are Indonesia and Malaysia, where thousands of acres of rain forest have been cut down and replaced with oil palm plantations.

While the production and exportation of palm oil has supported the economies of these countries, the extensive deforestation and habitat destruction associated with its production will have only negative long-term consequences. Greenhouse gas emissions have increased dramatically in Indonesia due to the carbon released as a byproduct of deforestation. One unique population of orangutans that lives only in Aceh, Indonesia is nearing extinction due to fires raging through the expanses of palm oil plantations next to its rain forest habitat.

Local communities of people who depend on forest resources for their livelihoods have fought to end the destruction, but little has been done on a global scale to stop it.

That is, until now. Dunkin Donuts has announced its intention to use only sustainably grown palm oil in making its donuts. While it remains to be seen exactly what changes the popular food chain will make in order to source sustainably grown palm oil, the decision is certainly a step in the right direction.

As long as the global market has access to unsustainably produced palm oil, food corporations will continue to purchase it and use it in products, contributing further to environmental destruction. Consumers must stand up to protect the rainforest and those who depend on it by purchasing only those products made with sustainably grown palm oil.

– Kat Henrichs

Sources: NPR, Rainforest Action Network
Photo: Wikipedia