Indigenous Palm Oil Farmers Issue Open Letter to EU MEPs

Small palm oil farm with mixed crops in Sarawak
Small palm oil farm with mixed crops in Sarawak

The Dayak Oil Palm Planters Association(DOPPA) from the Malaysian state of Sarawak issued an open letter today, addressed to the EU MEPs who will be making a decision on the use of palm oil as feedstock for biofuels.

A vote on the issue earlier this year had suggested that a single certification scheme would be created. However, a subsequent vote this month, identified palm oil simply as a driver of deforestation and called for its use in biofuels to be phased out by 2021. This has raised the ire of palm oil producing countries, Malaysia and Indonesia which are both threatening to retaliate with similar trade restrictions on EU products. In calling for a resolution to the matter, Malaysian Minister of Plantations, Datuk Mah Siew Keong repeated the fact that the palm oil industry in Malaysia includes 650,000 small farmers whose livelihoods are now threatened.

I’ve met some of the small farmers in Malaysia and can attest to the fact the palm oil industry has given them a chance to better their livelihoods. It is one of the reasons why I have never supported a general boycott against palm oil. These small farmers simply do not have many choices in cash crops. I have met farmers who planted rice and fruits only to dump them in order to compete against cheap imported foods from industrial operations in other countries. The small palm oil farmer is also subject to the price driven conditions in the global market but at the very least, they have a chance to sell their harvests to a wider consumer base.

Information session on Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil(MSPO) scheme held in a longhouse in Sarawak.
Information session on Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil(MSPO) scheme held in a longhouse in Sarawak.

There is an estimated 28,000 Dayak smallholders in Sarawak with an average farm size of four hectares each. As the Malaysian government presses on with certification under the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) scheme, these small holders are being trained on sustainability practices to prime them for certification. The goal is to ensure that all Malaysian palm oil, whether from industrial plantations or smallholders, be certified so as to avoid the hazy model of certified palm oil which allows the mix of certified and un-certified palm oil.

In defense of their livelihoods and to support the governments push towards certified sustainable palm oil, DOPPA issued an open letter addressed to the EU MEPs. The letter is published in its entirety below:

OPEN LETTER FROM DAYAK OIL PALM PLANTERS ASSOCIATION TO THE EU

We are the office bearers of the Dayak Oil Palm Planters Association(DOPPA) from Sarawak state, Malaysia. We have heard with much distress of your plans to ban the use of palm oil as feedstock for the EU RED program due to the alleged deforestation and abuse of human rights commonly associated with palm oil.

We would like the voting members of the EU MEP commission on renewable energy and biofuels to understand with this open letter, how important your support is to the indigenous smallholders involved in the production of palm oil in Malaysia.

On the issue of forests and indigenous land rights. We are an indigenous-led association and represent the indigenous oilpalm farmers of Sarawak. Thousands of us have invested in our children’s futures by planting oilpalm as a crop on lands we have fought hard to gain legal title to. As farmers, our lands have been treated with the utmost respect as we, the indigenous peoples of Sarawak, still depend on forested areas for our livelihoods today with cultivated crops like palm oil as a means for our children to see a better future.

You must understand that we are at the mercy of the global commodities market where palm oil is traded. There have been times when we asked ourselves whether we should harvest the palm fruit when market prices are so low. Yet we forge on, with the knowledge that what we produce in Sarawak can help to lessen the environmental pressure in the EU as we recognize your lands and forests are under similar pressure to provide for the increasing populations in your countries.

The forests of Borneo are safe in our hands. Our lands and forests are capable of meeting the needs of our livelihoods as evidenced by the presence of subsistence crops on indigenous lands. We cultivate secondary forests over which our forefathers had created native customary rights, estimated at 1.5 million hectares. If we could cultivate all of this land, the total acreage still would not exceed 1.5 million hectares, which is only about 10% of the total land area for the state of Sarawak. What acreage we set aside for palm oil as a cash crop is an investment in our children’s futures. Palm oil as a cash crop has brought us opportunities to improve the future of our children in a way no other crop has allowed. For once, we understand that while we must toil as farmers of small oil palm farms, the personal sacrifices we make today will afford our children a more comfortable future and a means for the EU to divest from fossil fuels for energy.

DOPPA has been actively conducting awareness drives to get indigenous farmers to adopt sustainability practices and get their farms certified under the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil( MSPO) scheme before the end of 2019. We earnestly believe that through proper regulation and responsible production, palm oil can be relied on as sustainable feedstock for biofuels.

Even as you make your decisions to include or exclude palm oil from the energy needs of your countries in Europe, we at DOPPA invite you all to come and see for yourselves, that what we do does not cause deforestation or abuse human rights. Your decisions will have a great impact on our lives today and that of our children in the years to come.

As indigenous peoples and small farmers of palm oil, we ask you to please consider us in making a decision to use palm oil as a sustainable renewable source of energy that will benefit all of us as global citizens.

End DOPPA letter to EU MEPs

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