Sabah Makes Strides towards Sustainable Palm Oil Production

In 2020, Sabah produced 4.65 million tons of palm oil.

Growing up during the late 1980s, this writer used to visit his grandfather’s small oil palm estate in Batu Pahat, Johor, where his favorite activities were catching ikan puyu or the climbing perch fish and trapping burung wak-wak or white-breasted waterhen.

His grandfather Mohtar Haron, who is now 86, was well aware of the importance of sustainable palm oil production as he used to tell this writer that fauna such as climbing perch and white-breasted waterhen would have disappeared from there if he had used excessive chemical products to take care of his oil palm trees.

His plantation and the surrounding area’s ecosystem were kept intact by the wild owls that kept the pests away and the fallen palm fronds that were turned into organic fertilizer with the help of certain insects and animals.

Sabah, Malaysia’s biggest palm oil-producing state with a total planted area exceeding 1.35 million ha, is taking the necessary measures to position itself as a global leader in sustainable palm oil production.

According to the Sabah Socioeconomic Report 2019 published by the Department of Statistics Malaysia, its agriculture sector – which is the third-largest in the country – contributed to 16.1 per cent of the state’s RM85.4 billion gross domestic product that year.

Sabah’s palm oil industry – which constitutes 65.3 percent of Sabah’s agriculture sector – is among the state’s most important economic sectors that provide jobs and livelihood assurances to millions of Sabahans.

Jurisdictional approach

Last year, its palm oil production stood at 4.65 million tons, which comprised 6.2 per cent of the world’s palm oil production. Naturally, Sabah has not been exempt from widespread criticism, what with the international media often alleging that the opening of oil palm plantations is causing massive deforestation and loss of wildlife habitats in the state.

How does the state strike a balance between conserving the environment and boosting its palm oil industry? A crucial step taken by the state in this direction is the implementation of the Jurisdictional Certification of Sustainable Palm Oil (JCSPO) and establishment of the Jurisdictional Certification Steering Committee (JCSC) in 2016.

Central to the JCSPO is the jurisdictional approach which provides a structured approach to establishing wider commitments from stakeholders to sustainable palm oil practices state-wide.

The JCSC is co-chaired by Sabah Forestry Department and Sabah Natural Resources Office, while its members comprise representatives from the government and private sectors, and civil society.

The jurisdictional approach also seeks to align interests and coordinate the actions of the government, businesses, local communities and non-governmental organizations towards shared conservation, supply chain sustainability and green development goals to bring about a sustainable palm oil industry.

Sabah Forestry Department chief conservator of forests Frederick Kugan told Bernama the jurisdictional approach will be able to address environmental and social issues faced by the palm oil industry, as well as support the sustainability of the industry in the future.

“The JCSPO is a very important initiative to ensure conservation and sustainable development, and certification of palm oil production is necessary especially in addressing issues such as chemical use and labor standards,” he said.

According to Frederick, a larger perspective is needed to safeguard wildlife populations, forest resources and ecosystems.

“Thus, finding a common ground is vital so that nature, as well as the palm oil industry, benefit from each other.

“I think we have done much to achieve great conservation efforts in Sabah that can, in fact, benefit other sectors, especially palm oil,” he added.