Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - EU palm oil ban bitter for SE Asian farmers

EU palm oil ban bitter for SE Asian farmers

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A palm oil farmer displays palm oil seeds in the Indonesian province of Riau. wahyudi/aFP

EU palm oil ban bitter for SE Asian farmers

INDONESIAN palm oil farmer Kawal Surbakti says his livelihood is under attack, but the threat is not from insects or hungry orangutans eating his prized crop.

Half a world away, the European Parliament is moving to ban the use of palm oil in biofuels, while British grocer Iceland has announced it will stop using the commodity over concerns that it causes widespread environmental destruction.

Losing the key European market worries small farmers like Surbakti and millions of others in Indonesia and neighbouring Malaysia – the world’s top two producers – as prices drop for an oil found in everything from biscuits and sweets to cosmetics and vehicle gas tanks.

“I’ve suffered serious losses,” the 64-year-old Surbakti said from his two-hectare (five acre) farm on Indonesia’s Sumatra island.

“Before, I could save up a little money but now I can’t even do that.”

Across the Malacca Strait in Malaysia, grower Mohamad Isa Mansor issued a dire prediction as he plucked reddish-orange fruits from his trees.

“If the EU succeeds in the ban, I’m dead,” he said at his small plantation in the coastal town of Ijok.

“Without this crop we will be living in poverty. It is the source of income for thousands of people (here),” he added.

‘Victims of big corporations’

Europe is one of the world’s biggest palm oil consumers, along with India and China.

About half of the palm oil used last year in Europe was for biofuels that ended up in gas tanks, according to environmentalists.

Indonesia and Malaysia have threatened retaliatory sanctions on European products over the proposed palm oil ban, which calls for a complete phase-out from biofuels by 2030. The legislation is awaiting a final vote and member-state approval.

As the diplomatic row smoulders, Indonesian grower Selamet Ketaren says he and other small farmers – the backbone of the industry – are pawns at the mercy of land-clearing multinational firms that buy their crops.

“Smallholder farmers like us are just victims of the big corporations,” said Ketaren, who has been growing palm oil since the mid-eighties.

Environmentalists accuse the multibillion-dollar industry of destroying huge swaths of rainforest home to indigenous communities, orangutans and other threatened species.

Critics say that palm oil development also contributes to climate change through deliberate forest-clearing fires, which release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and lung-clogging smog into the region’s air.

Many under-pressure firms made “no deforestation” pledges, but activists say they are tough to monitor and frequently broken in the vast jungles of Sumatra and Borneo island.

This week, Greenpeace said a group of Indonesian palm oil firms that supply major international brands including Unilever and Nestle have cleared an area of rainforest almost twice the size of Singapore in less than three years.

A ban would threaten the livelihoods of 650,000 smallholders and over 3.2 million Malaysians who rely on the industry, according to the Malaysian Palm Oil Council.

MOST VIEWED

  • ‘Education’ a priority traffic-law penalty

    A top National Police official on June 21 neither rejected nor confirmed the authenticity of a leaked audio message, which has gone viral on social media, on a waiver of fines for a number of road traffic-related offences. General Him Yan, deputy National Police chief in

  • Volunteer scheme to foster ‘virtuous’ humanitarian spirit

    A senior education official said volunteer work contributes to solidarity and promotes a virtuous humanitarian spirit among the youth and communities. Serei Chumneas, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, made the comment during the opening of a training programme called “

  • Chinese firms unveil preliminary results on metro, monorail for capital

    Minister of Public Works and Transport Sun Chanthol and representatives from China Road and Bridge Corp (CRBC) and its parent company, the state-owned China Communications Construction Co Ltd (CCCC), met on June 24 for talks on results of the firms’ preliminary study on a potential metro

  • ACLEDA, WU to enable global money transfers

    Cambodia's largest commercial bank by total assets ACLEDA Bank Plc and global money transfer firm Western Union (WU) have partnered to offer customers cross-border money transfers to 200 countries via “ACLEDA mobile” app. In Channy, president and group managing director of ACLEDA, said the June 22 agreement

  • Aeon, Micromax partner again for third mall

    AEON Mall (Cambodia) Co Ltd and a locally-owned Micromax Co Ltd have entered into a partnership agreement to develop fibre optic infrastructure for $200 million Aeon Mall 3, which is expected to be opened in 2023. The agreement was signed on June 20 between Masayuki Tsuboya, managing director of

  • Walmart plans to diversify stock of Cambodia goods

    Walmart Inc, the world’s biggest retailer, on June 22 reiterated recent plans to scale up and greatly diversify its purchases of Cambodian products, according to the labour ministry. This came during a virtual working meeting between Minister of Labour and Vocational Training Ith Samheng and