The State Government, through the Ministry of Land Development and relevant agencies, is working together with Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) and Sarawak Oil Palm Plantation Owners Association (SOPPOA) to carry out a comprehensive Public Affairs Program to correct the misconceptions about the palm oil industry in Europe, which has been subjected to a long running anti-palm oil campaigns by western NGOs and media.
The strategic objective of this program, which focused on Sarawak, is to close the knowledge gap on Sarawak among the western NGOs and consumers, which have been alleging that oil palm cultivations in Sarawak involve deforestation, destruction of peat land, and exploitation of people and communities.
The anti palm oil campaigns, mainly carried out by very unfriendly foreign NGOs and media, have been alleging that oil palm cultivation in Sarawak involve deforestation, destruction of peat land, and exploitation of people and communities. The State, as a major producer of oil palm, must address the challenges and correct the misconceptions about the palm oil industry.
The Minister of Land Development, Tan Sri Datuk Amar Dr. James Jemut Masing, in his winding speech on the debate of Budget 2015 during the recent sitting of the State Legislative Assembly, said his Ministry together with MPOC recently organized a visit by a team of 11 journalists, comprising editors and senior reporters from key European countries, to Sarawak in the overall efforts to close the knowledge gap on Sarawak among the western NGOs and consumers.
They represent media organizations in the United Kingdom, Belgium, Italy, Spain, and France. Their visit was to enable members to gather information on the conservation and protection of forests and wildlife initiatives being implemented by the State Government.
They also paid field visits to meet with smallholders in order to gain first-hand knowledge about the contributions of palm oil industry to their socio-economic well-being. They also visited plantations including those on peat soil in Sibu to see how the oil palms are planted on peat soil.
After Sarawak, the journalists continued their visit to Peninsular Malaysia where they had the opportunity to meet the Minister for Plantation Industries and Commodities, Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas.
Tan Sri Datuk Amar James Masing said their reports and articles will essentially be used to change the negative and misinformed perceptions of European consumers over the palm oil industry. They are expected to have more balanced reports on the situation in general.
He said Deputy Chief Minister, Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Alfred Jabu and the State Secretary, Tan Sri Datuk Amar Haji Mohammad Morshidi Ghani joined him during a question and answer session with the journalists during the visit.
Besides, a team led by qualified Danish forester, who has substantial experience in hands-on forest management and analysis, has also been invited to visit Sarawak by the Ministry of Land Development to study and produce a report on the State’s management and conservation of forests and the development of oil palm on peat land.
Essentially, the Public Affairs Program is an extensive public relations and communication exercise, which the Government undertakes at the international level, with the assistance from experts from outside the country. It is targeted at specific audience in Europe, and eventually to reach consumers of palm oil and products in Europe.
He thanked the Ministry of Primary Industries and Commodities in sorting out the funding, which is estimated to cost RM1.76 million, which runs over a period of eight months commencing from September 2014. Subsequently, the Ministry has also decided that activities under the Public Affairs Program will form part and parcel of MPOC’s annual overall promotional program for palm oil and the industry as a whole.
Tan Sri Datuk Amar James Masing said the State Government, realizing the importance of oil palm industry in contributing toward the State’s economy and the development of rural areas, is expanding oil palm cultivation to NCR land and other idle land areas. These are mainly to cater for smallholders and NCR landowners.
The State has an estimated 290,000 hectares under the smallholders; of this an estimated 177,000 hectares are under organized smallholders or those who are managed by the Government agencies and 113,000 hectares under independent smallholders or those who manage their own holdings. Their number is increasing by the day as the land owners rely on oil palm cultivation to generate higher household income and move out of the trap of poverty cycle.
Tan Sri Datuk Amar James Masing said NCR lands are areas formerly under shifting cultivation; they are non-forested areas. It saddens him to hear of NGOs, who are trying to undermine the development of oil palm industry, through their negative campaigns. They are actually doing a great disservice to smallholders, who are trying to make a living out of their land.
Why do NGOs need to champion their causes to the detriment of the poor, he asked and added is it wrong for NCR landowners to plant oil palm to better their lives or is it a crime for NCR land owners and smallholders to clear their land to plant oil palm to have better income?
Tan Sri Datuk Amar James Masing said international NGOs seem to think that it is both wrong and a crime for the natives to harness their own lands to improve their living standard. They accuse planters of doing injustice to the natives by assisting them to improve their lives.
The State must never allow others, mainly foreign NGOs, to stop the people from bettering themselves nor should foreign NGOs, which do not represent anybody, be allowed to determine the destiny of the local people. Obviously, the State has to face and overcome many challenges from NGOs in the next few years to come.
In this regards, all the people including members of the opposition, elected members in particular, must join in the fight against the undesirable actions of unfriendly NGOs, who should be considered as common enemies.
Tan Sri Datuk Amar James Masing assured that legal NCR land owners will not be deprived of their rights to own land. No one can deprive NCR land owners of their land as the Land Code is very clear on these matters. Any disputes or claims over ownership of land in Sarawak whether it is on ‘temuda’ land (land cleared after shifting cultivation), ‘pulau galau’ (communal reserved land) or ‘pemakai menoa’ (land where foraging and hunting take place), will be referred to the Courts for their decisions.
He said in tackling NCR land issues, the State Government had already amended the Land Code to allow NCR land to become a commodity of trade state wide and thus increase the value of NCR land carry out the perimeter survey to demarcate State and NCR land.
He believed once the perimeter survey is completed, disputes between State authorities and NCR land claimants will be a thing of the past. The perimeter survey thus offers security on NCR land ownership among the native community.
Tan Sri Datuk Amar James Masing, who is also the President of Parti Rakyat Sarawak said Malaysia stands firm as a nation of moderates. Hence, it will not tolerate nor condone extremism and religious bigots. Sarawak will not allow itself to be bullied by bad hats from Malaya on issues, which can destabilize peace, religious tolerance and political unity in the state.
His party stands firmly behind the Chief Minister, Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Adenan Haji Satem on all issues including banning of all religious bigots and extremists from entering into Sarawak. The party is also firmly behind Chief Minister in fighting against corrupt practices in whatever form they appear.
He called on the people, comprising of various ethnic and religious groups, all to stand alongside the Chief Minister to make this country a better place for everyone. Obviously, the Chief Minister needs the space and time to find amicable solutions to problems that are besieging the state or country.
Tan Sri Datuk Amar James Masing said there were 1.28 million hectares of land planted with oil palm as at 30 June 2014, an increase of 7.5% from the 1.19 million hectares achieved up to 30 June 2013. The private sector companies continue to be at the helm of the industry with close to 78% of the total oil palm area or 992,188 hectares developed by them.
The balance of 285,787 hectares was planted by government land development agencies, Joint Venture companies and the independent smallholders. The areas planted by the independent smallholders totaling 101,920 hectares show the highest increment of 16.6 percent from the 87,410 hectares up to 30 June 2013.
He said there are now 71 palm oil mills and six refineries in operation to cater for the processing needs of the palm oil industry. Another 9 new palm oil mills are at various stages of construction. The Government has been approving new mills and expansion of processing capacities of existing mills from time to time to cater for the increasing needs of the planters, including the smallholders.
The total export of Sarawak’s oil palm products, consisting of palm oil, palm kernel oil,
palm kernel cake and finished products, increased to 5.3 million in the first nine months of 2014 from 4.8 million tonnes for the same period in 2013. This generated total export revenue of RM12.6 billion, which is an increase by 17.8% or about RM1.9 billion from the RM10.7 billion recorded in 2013.
Up to 30 September 2014, a total of 75,167 hectares of NCR land located in 48 project areas have been planted with oil palm by 42 joint venture companies. This shows an increase of 7.3% from the 70,059 hectares achieved a year ago. The participants, numbering 13,646 landowners, received cumulative monetary benefits amounting to RM143 million comprising of dividends, upfront payments, and incentives.
Tan Sri Datuk Amar James Masing said his Ministry has been tasked to pave the way for the development of NCR land areas already perimeter surveyed and gazette as Communal Reserves under section 6 of the Land Code. In this connection, officers from his Ministry have to identify the claimants/landowners, conduct dialogues and consultations with the landowners to determine how they want their NCR land to be developed.
Obviously, the Ministry must assess the availability of underutilized NCR land and suggest the type of development and agencies to undertake the development. The Ministry has already received 115 gazette NCR land areas encompassing 101,140 hectares from the owners for development.
The Ministry, given the manpower available, has prioritized 17 areas, which are fairly distributed among various ethnic groups and different administrative Divisions. Officers from the Ministry have carried out the first round of the field visits to 15 of the areas.
Tan Sri Datuk Amar James Jemut Masing said his Ministry, with the feedback from the participants of a workshop to identify and formulate a new model for the development of NCR land, has succeeded in formulating new approaches as alternatives to the existing joint venture model. One model, called the ‘Management Model’, is now being introduced with the implementation of a pilot project in Sibu.
Another new model, to look into the various legal, financial, technical and operational issues, is still being studied. Two Ministries, four government departments and seven statutory bodies are still studying the details. Once the exercise is completed, the new model will be put up to the government for approval early next year.
2 December 2014