Indonesia trains farmers, teachers to defend palm oil

SINGAPORE • Indonesia's giant palm oil industry, long a target of global green groups, is shoring up its defences closer to home as it tries to counter growing anti-palm oil sentiment among a more environmentally conscious generation of young Indonesians.

Indonesia, the world's top palm oil producer, is training farmers and teachers and running social media campaigns to highlight the "positive aspects" of the US$50 billion (S$67 billion) industry.

"We must tell the world about the benefits of palm oil," Mr Achmad Maulizal, the corporate division head of BPDP, a government body in charge of collecting export taxes, told a media training workshop for farmers in Kalimantan via Zoom.

Palm oil, found in many consumer products from potato crisps to soap, has been linked by environmentalists to land clearance, habitat destruction and forest fires.

Indonesia has the world's third biggest rainforest area, vast wildernesses seen as crucial to limiting the effects of climate change, and home to vulnerable species including the orang utan, tiger and rhinoceros. At least 1.6 million hectares of forest and other land were burned in 2019 and losses were estimated at US$5.2 billion as a choking haze blanketed Indonesia and neighbouring countries.

Greenpeace analysis shows about a third of forest fires in Indonesia are in palm and pulp areas.

But the government is keen to highlight the positive aspects of the industry which employs more than 15 million Indonesians and generates around 13 per cent of the country's exports.

The BPDP has teamed up with the Smallholder Farmers Association to provide palm farmers with a media training programme to enable them to contribute to news articles and social media content that touches on innovation in the palm oil industry, as well as its importance to the national economy and to Indonesians' livelihoods.

The BPDP has also teamed up with Indonesia's Teachers Association to conduct workshops for teachers across the archipelago to "Unravel Myths and Facts" about palm oil.

"In my understanding, palm oil is the largest foreign exchange earner, but... there's also information that may be a bit negative," said Ms Sukiter, a teacher based in Yogyakarta city who attended the programme.

"But (based on) the explanation earlier (at the workshop), there are so many benefits of palm oil," she said on a promotional video for the programme.

Environmental activists have for decades tried to spread anti-palm oil messages among young Indonesians, who have become more receptive to global calls via the Internet and social media to combat climate change.

That has prompted Indonesia's palm industry to try to counter what it sees as one-sided information spreading at home, said Mr Toggar Sitanggang, the vice-chairman of Indonesia's Palm Oil Association.

"This makes us more urgent to balance out the information out there," he said. "We need to spread positive information among these youngsters and get them to be more questioning about the information that they get."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2021, with the headline 'Indonesia trains farmers, teachers to defend palm oil'. Subscribe