The indigenous oil palm smallholders in Sarawak are seeing some light at the end of the tunnel with positive response shown by the French government to Malaysia’s appeal for better understanding on its palm oil industry.
Dayak Oil Palm Planters Association (Doppa) vice president Rita Insol said that a majority of the farmers are struggling now even though the price of the commodity has increased from a rock-bottom of RM280 per tonne recorded at the end of last year.
“The price has gone up to about RM320-RM340 per tonne. We are hanging by our teeth! If the price climbs to RM400 per tonne (then) at least we can breathe easier,” she told The Borneo Post.
Rita was asked to comment on Malaysia’s and France’s plan to hold joint dialogues and strengthen engagements to promote better understanding of the palm oil industry.
Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok revealed this following a courtesy call on her by French ambassador to Malaysia Frederic Laplanche, during which they discussed ways to enhance bilateral cooperation and dialogues on palm oil, as well as encouraging engagements between lawmakers from both countries.
Rita took the opportunity to invite the French ambassador to visit Sarawak to get a better understanding of the scenario rather than listening to third parties.
“It’s a positive move. It shows France is willing to listen to our side of the story. We welcome the French embassy to visit our farms and rural communities which depend on oil palm for a decent livelihood,” Rita added.
She said Doppa will extend an official invitation to the French ambassador via a courtesy call soon.
“It (invitation) was proposed, yes. We are waiting for the executive council meeting next month to decide on the courtesy call,” she added.
Rita was also happy to hear that French environment ambassador Wehrling Yann planned to visit Malaysia to get first-hand exposure on Malaysia’s sustainable oil palm practices and conservation efforts.
She said if the French government reverses the decision on its palm oil ban, the negative outlook faced by the commodity would be significantly improved.
“It would assure a steady market for palm oil and with increased demand, it is hoped that the price will inch up further,” she said.
When asked about other market sectors other than Europe and whether the purchase from China has returned, Rita replied in the positive.
“January 2019 exports recorded an increased volume to China, EU and India. With B10 demand in Malaysia, domestic consumption is expected to rise as well,” she said, referring to the newly introduced B10 biodiesel, which will contain 10 per cent palm oil.
When asked about Doppa activities on the ground, Rita said they were working full throttle to train indigenous farmers to meet the strict requirements of the Malaysia Standard Palm Oil (MSPO) certification.
“We are working closely with MPOB and MPOCC on this. Yesterday, smallholders in Sarikei, Kanowit and Sibu underwent the MSPO briefing. This Saturday it will be in Selangau and Serian,” she said.
Rita thanked The Borneo Post for highlighting the plight of indigenous oil palm farmers that has caught the authorities’ eyes.
“Thank you for telling our story. By telling our story you are speaking for the small farmers who depend on oil palm for their living. Many farmers have improved their lives over the years, and got out of the poverty cycle due to oil palm,” she concluded.