KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 11 — Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad today admitted that Malaysia had cleared vast tracts of forest to develop its palm oil sector, but said that the practice had now been stopped, as the nation has adopted a more sustainable approach.
The prime minister also gave the assurance in his speech at the Asean Leaders Gathering in Bali that the palm oil produced by Malaysia will conform to “certain standards”.
“Malaysia has always been very conscious about the sustainability of its development. It’s true we had to fell many trees in our forests in order to grow oil palm, palm trees, but today, we have stopped doing so because we feel there can be other sources of income for us.
“At the same time of course, we are ensuring that the palm oil produced by Malaysia conforms to certain standards, which means that it will not cause any more destruction of the forest in Malaysia,” he said.
The Langkawi MP also expressed hope that the world will appreciate Malaysia’s efforts and will respond favourably, expressing regret that Malaysian palm oil was once labelled as unsustainable.
“It is unfortunate that in some cases, there have been attempts to label palm oil from Malaysia as unsustainable for food, but that is not true at all. Palm oil has been taken by millions of people without any harm occurring to them.
“Also, our forests are well sustained. Forty-eight per cent of the country is still covered with virgin jungle. So we still absorb much of the carbon dioxide produced by other parts of the world,” he added.
Last month, Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok said that the government will not allow any more expansion of oil palm plantations in the country,
She said Malaysia’s forest cover was over 50 per cent and the government was committed to maintaining it.
She noted the glut in palm oil supply worldwide due to overproduction by Malaysia and Indonesia. The two countries are the biggest producers of palm oil globally.
Kok added that several companies are also already mulling converting their estates into coconut plantation farms instead.
In October 2017, the European Parliament passed a resolution to phase out palm oil exports from the EU biofuel programme from 2021.
The resolution was passed on claims that palm oil manufacturers have failed to achieve the UN’s sustainable development goals on responsible consumption, production and climate action.
The move stunned Malaysia, and later led to a rally of about 1,700 Malaysian palm oil smallholders here, against the move.
The protest demanded that the EU withdraw its proposal to ban, after 2020, palm oil biofuels from a list of renewable fuels, claiming that it discriminated against Malaysia and undermined the United Nations’ sustainable development goals to eradicate poverty.