Oil palm plantations
Indonesia, the world’s largest palm oil producer, should understandably be outraged by the European Parliament’s approval last week of the draft measures to ban the use of palm oil in biofuels in 2021. First, 40 percent of the country’s 11 million hectares of oil palm plantations are owned by smallholders, the industry directly employs almost 6 million workers and annually generates US$20 billion in export earnings.
Palm oil is now the world’s most widely used vegetable oil. Hardly a day goes by without a consumer using or eating something containing palm oil. Official data shows EU palm oil imports from Indonesia totaled $2.4 billion in 2016, making the EU the second-largest importer after India.
The most sensible and productive response to the EU campaign against palm oil is for Indonesia and Malaysia to work harder to address the main driver of the global negative campaign against the commodity: the extensive damage the palm oil industry’s expansion has allegedly done to the environment. EU lawmakers seemed to believe claims by international NGOs that palm oil has also been responsible for deforestation and other social conflicts.
True, Indonesia has imposed tougher and stronger rules on the palm oil industry to make it economically, socially and environmentally sustainable. But making the rules is one thing and enforcing them is quite another, and the most challenging one. And we should magnanimously acknowledge that both the government and the industry should work harder to gain international trust that palm oil is being subjected to best agricultural practices.
But EU politicians and green NGOs should also understand that the palm oil sustainability drive is a very challenging process, involving millions of farmers with complex poverty problems. EU should not let the palm oil issue stand in the way of the negotiations on the EU-Indonesia Comprehensive Partnership Agreement, which will enter their fourth round next month.