Palm oil prices are on an upward trend and there are no plans to chop down such trees.
Assuring this, Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok said news reports of oil palm trees being chopped, were far-fetched.
“On the contrary, we are encouraging better agricultural practices of inter-cropping with vegetables and fruits that fetch high prices.
“This is to provide a better and diversified income base for our small farmers,” she said in response to a foreign media report.
She cited a report headlined ‘Malaysia turning to food crops as palm oil price falls’ quoting Agriculture and Agro-based Industry Minister Salahuddin Ayub, as being misconstrued.
“My ministry is not advocating chopping down existing oil palm trees. Nothing is more far-fetched from the truth than this assumption,” she said in Malaysia’s battle with Indonesia to counter the western world’s boycott of palm oil owing to alleged deforestation.
Both countries are the world’s largest producers and exporters of the commodity, with crude palm oil prices reportedly falling from US$1,290 per tonne in February 2011 to US$521 per tonne last month.
Kok added that it did not make sense to chop down existing oil palm trees that were providing a continuous stream of income to small farmers.
“We must take into account that once planted, the fruiting oil palm tree is an income generator for at least the next 25 years.
“Why should we kill off the ‘goose that lays the golden egg’?” she asked.
Kok said she agreed with Salahuddin that Malaysia was over dependent on imports for a large number of food products that could be cultivated locally.
“However, we should remember that palm oil is actually our major food commodity exported to more than 160 countries.
“The annual value of such exports averages RM66 billion. It is indeed unfortunate that in recent months palm oil prices had been lower as a result of the overall commodities downward cyclical trends, impacting all other oils and fats as well.
“Fortunately, prices are now on an upward trend and pressure on the small farmers can be expected to ease,” she said.
Kok added that nearly 40 per cent of Malaysia’s total oil palm acreage was cultivated by small farmers owning two to three acres, who faced challenges unlike organised entities such as Felda and Felcra.
Another challenge faced by the small farmers was that their better educated and qualified children were not keen to cultivate their parents’ plots.
“Thus, many have become absentee landlords, hiring outside help to manage their plots.
“This further reduces their realizable income from their small oil palm acreage,” she said.
It was for this reason, Kok said, that they planned to introduce additional cash crops that could successfully supplement their income.
“Such intercropping, even undertaken at Felda and Felcra sites, can also involve the adoption of animal husbandry including cattle, goats and chicken.
“Cash crops including higher priced vegetables and produces that can be brought directly to local wet markets, are also an option,” she said.
Kok added that the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification scheme better educated farmers on the use of fertilizers and other yield-enhancement programmes.
“Overall our vision is to see higher yields from such small oil palm plots and to further supplement their income with various cash crops.
“All these are to make Malaysian palm oil fully sustainable, provide a viable income to the small farmers and manage total oil palm cultivated acreage at around 6.5 million hectares, without replacing the precious oil palm land,” she added.