Fighting haze

Boycotting palm oil products not a long-term solution

Palm fruit is harvested on a plantation on the outskirt of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Palm fruit is harvested on a plantation on the outskirt of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Boycotting palm oil products is not only impractical, but it could also be counterproductive ("To resolve haze woes, boycott palm oil products" by Mr Eric J. Brooks; Tuesday).

Oil palm is the highest-yielding edible oilseed crop, with yields of up to nine times that of other oilseeds, like soya and rapeseed.

If we want to replace oil palm with other oilseed crops, then we must be prepared to provide at least nine times as much land to grow them. The social and environmental impacts would also multiply.

If a boycott does succeed in denting profits, the price of oil palm would plummet.

It would then become a financially attractive feedstock for biofuels, which would continue to cause deforestation.

It is not an easy journey to go palm oil free, because there are so many products derived from it.

Many suppliers are unaware of the impact of palm oil, and finding alternatives is difficult and expensive.

Furthermore, we do not have the right to tell Indonesia and other countries to forgo economic development through palm oil production, an industry that employs millions.

But we can help steer development in a sustainable direction.

Consumers can buy products which are certified sustainable by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). This information should be clearly stated on the packaging.

Indeed, many non-governmental organisations, such as Palm Oil Innovation Group, Greenpeace, Orangutan Land Trust and the World Wildlife Fund, urge consumers to demand that palm oil product companies meet RSPO requirements to ensure the supply of palm oil is sustainable and does not destroy forests.

A boycott is not a long-term solution, but it does invite people to challenge the notion that the world cannot survive without palm oil.

With collective pressure, producers may make the effort to move towards certification and beyond.

Francis Cheng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 17, 2015, with the headline 'Boycotting palm oil products not a long-term solution'. Print Edition | Subscribe