Sarawakian NGO mobilises youth in the state to preserve Malaysia’s quest for sustainable palm oil

AS Malaysia’s palm oil industry looks to press on its global advantage, Pertubuhan Transformasi Dayak (TRADA) has called on Sarawakian youths to help play a key part in extending Malaysia’s lead in sustainable palm oil.

In 2022, Malaysia’s palm oil export revenue reached RM135 bil, accounting for 2.4% of the country’s GDP (gross domestic product) with exports projected to rise to 16.30 million tonnes in 2023.

Smallholders, who make up 30%-40% of cultivation and number nearly 250,000 (predominantly in Johor, Sarawak and Sabah) are crucial to the industry’s success. In general, the agriculture sector, including palm oil, employed 1.86 million people in 2022.

According to TRADA’s president Joseph Janting, palm oil provides a lifeline for many Malaysians, especially Sarawakians.

“Our smallholders who form a substantial portion of the industry are not only supporting their families but also paving the way for our youth to step into a sector that promises sustainability and growth,” he observed.

Joseph Janting

“Palm oil is at the forefront of Malaysia’s journey towards sustainable agriculture. Our commitment to sustainable practices places us in a unique position to lead globally, benefiting not just the current but future generations. This sustainable approach is crucial for Malaysian youth for nit offers them a landscape to grow and thrive.”

Empowering the young

Around 96% of Malaysian palm oil plantations are now MSPO-certified under the Malaysia Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) scheme.

This was a new nationally mandated sustainability standard enforceable by law, and the first of its kind in the world. Positive government action has continued in more recent years with a plantation area cap established in 2019 through 2023 and new forestry laws enacted in 2022 to stiffen penalties for illegal logging.

The initiatives employed by the Malaysian government and oil corporations appears to be bearing fruit with some 83% of palm oil refining capacity now operating under a ‘No Deforestation, Peat and Exploitation (NDPE)’ commitment.

Highlighting the sector’s impact on the local economy, TRADA believes that Sarawak’s youth can help unlock the potential of agriculture to move the domestic economy’s performance needle.

In addition, TRADA views young people as powerful allies in ensuring the continued success and positive narrative of the palm oil industry both locally and globally.

By involving youth in palm oil agriculture, Sarawak can capture more value in production, distribution, and logistics. This will also increase employment in the sector which is crucial for Malaysia to quickly extend its lead in the industry.

On track to lead global sustainability goals, TRADA stresses the importance of placing a strong emphasis on the empowerment of Malaysian youth in the sector.

“We are calling on Malaysian youths to become active participants in shaping the narrative around palm oil as it will pay dividends in the long term from an employment perspective,” asserted Joseph.

“Their energy and voices are powerful in dispelling myths and advocating the truth about our industry’s commitment to sustainability and its economic importance.”

Globally, palm oil supplies between 35% and 40% of the world’s vegetable oil demand on just under 6% of the land used to produce all vegetable oils. To get the same amount from alternative oils like soybean, coconut or sunflower oil would require anything between four-to-10 times more land.

To keep pace with growing food demand would require 36 million hectares of additional oil palm land whereas soybean – the second most popular oil crop – would need 204 million more hectares. On top of this, producing palm oil takes significantly less amount of fertiliser, pesticides and energy inputs.

As Malaysia is primed to capitalise on sustainability opportunities arising from the palm oil industry’s green transition, TRADA envisions a future where the Malaysian palm oil industry becomes synonymous with sustainability and prosperity through the involvement of youth and smallholders. – Dec 27, 2023

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