Up to 86.39% of Malaysia’s total planted area for oil palm has been certified sustainable under the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification scheme.
During a webinar entitled “Sustainability And Food Safety: The Perspective of the Malaysian Palm Oil Industry” organized by the EU-Malaysia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (Eurocham), Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) Technical Advisory Services Unit, Product Development and Advisory Services Division (PDAS) Australasia and Oceania Regional Manager and Desk Officer for Europe, Rafizah Mazlan, 5.07 million hectares (ha) of Malaysia’s oil palm planted area was certified sustainable. In total, the country has a total licensed planted area of 5.87 million ha.
In terms of MSPO-certified palm oil mills, 437 of 96.04% of the 455 palm oil mills in the country have been certified as MSPO compliant.
She noted that while larger and smaller plantation companies have adopted the MSPO standard, the MPOB still has challenges when it comes to onboarding more smallholders to the standard. Rafizah added that from a government and regulator perspective, there is a focus in place to get more smallholders certified under the scheme.
“MPOB has offices all over Malaysia in all regions to talk to the smallholders, to train them, to give an understanding in terms of MSPO and its requirements, and to guide them in getting certified,” Rafizah said.
Indeed, of the 955,811.41 ha of land classified as the total licensed planted area for independent smallholders in Malaysia, only 355,367.82 ha is certified as MSPO-compliant or 37.18%.
When queried on the Jurisdictional Certification of Sustainable Palm Oil (JCSPO) in Sabah and whether the presence of too many sustainability standards would be a negative for the industry, Rafizah said that the government is promoting the adoption of MSPO, which was designed after taking into account the challenges faced by Malaysian smallholders.
While she acknowledged that the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certification also exists, smallholders faced challenges attaining this standard due to the higher costs involved.
“But MSPO is the way forward for the Malaysian palm oil industry,” she said.
The JCSPO standard was first developed by the Sabah government in 2015 and is a 10-year plan that involves all types of land including alienated, gazette, state land and agroforestry forest reserves.
In terms of whether the goalposts have continued to be shifted when it comes to sustainability for the Malaysian oil palm industry, Rafizah acknowledged that while this has been the case, the government, alongside end buyers and market regulators, are also moving along with the changes.
She referred to deliberations with the European Union (EU), saying, “We have had a lot of official dialogues and sessions for both the EU and Malaysia to find a common understanding. The goalposts have shifted, but both teams are following the shifts. We want both parties to be at the same goalposts with the same understanding.”
Palm oil has been at the center of a dispute between the EU and Malaysia, as the regional bloc has moved to restrict edible oil in biodiesel.
Under the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) II, palm oil has been classified as a high indirect land-use change product that raises its greenhouse gas emissions to unacceptable levels. It will be gradually phased out of the bloc’s renewable energy mix by 2030.