Deforestation in Malaysia: Why pick on us?

Tan Sri Datuk Dr Yusof Basiron is the CEO of the Malaysian Palm Oil Board Council, and he often cites the criticisms particularly by foreign NGOs on Malaysia’s oil palm expansion through deforestation as unfair, hypocritical, and careless.

Tan Sri Datuk Dr Yusof Basiron, CEO, Malaysian Palm Oil Board Council

“How is it,” Tan Sri says incredulously, “that the UK produces 18 million tonnes of coal per year and the NGOs do not seem to notice the GHG emitted but they can detect burning of a few hectares of forest for agricultural conversion in Indonesia 10,000 km away?”

This amount of coal, he further points out, produces 66 million tonnes of CO2, which also equivalent to a deforestation of 378,000 ha of rainforest, a number which more than double of Malaysia’s annual oil palm expansion rate.

Moreover, boycotting of palm oil products or stopping oil palm expansion threaten the livelihood of oil palm smallholders in Malaysia.

So, are these NGOs unfair and careless to pick on Malaysia? Of course. And are they hypocrites because they choose to focus on Malaysia when they have their own environmental concerns in their countries? Of course.

But then this is exactly how foreign NGOs operate. In other words, this is their modus operandi (that is, their mode of operation). Let’s face it. Our world environment is in a mess, and we are all to blame for it. Over-consumption, over-fishing, over-mining, over-population, over-indulgence, and, of course, over-deforestation. Deforestation is the second largest contributor to anthropogenic climate change, and agriculture is the main reason why deforestation occurs. Tropical rainforest is the “richest” kind of forest type. Clearing one hectare of tropical rainforest destroys more biodiversity and releases more carbon than other types of forest. In short, our tropical rainforest are extra special.

So if you are an environmental NGO, what do you do? Who do you blame on anthropogenic climate change and loss of biodiversity? Rather than spreading yourself too thin by fighting on all environmental fronts, wouldn’t it be better to target on a few individuals (or countries) and concentrate all your effort and battles on those selected few? In other words, you have to start somewhere. So, if the deforestation issue mainly concerns you, pick one or two culprits (e.g., Malaysia and Indonesia), then go for the kill. It does not matter that when you pick one or two culprits, you let other culprits off-the-hook. Just pick some culprits (remember, you have to start somewhere), and if you are winning the war, you would be raising awareness on your important issue, and you would be forcing change and forcing other nations to comply.

In the book, No Logo, by Naomi Klein, she describes the exact modus operandi by NGOs that fight against corporate power and loss of social identity through corporate branding. Big corporations like Shell, Starbucks, Nike, and McDonald’s are frequently targeted by NGOs. These four aren’t the only big corporations around; there are other big corporations (e.g., Reebok, Adidas, Apple, and Chevron) that are equally guilty, some more than others. But Shell, Starbucks, Nike, and McDonald’s get picked in exactly the same way a lion picks out an antelope out of a herd or antelopes. Rather than fighting all the corporations at once, pick on the big one, fight it to the death, and if you are successful, you raise awareness, and you force change.

Unfair, careless, and hypocritical of these darn NGOs to pick on Malaysia? Of course. But consider — just for a moment — if there was no external pressure on Malaysia’s palm oil industry: Would Malaysia be so in hurry to green her oil palm industry and ensures its sustainability? Of course not.

Increasing world palm oil demand

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