Sabah has set up an initiative to ensure the palm oil sector remains the state's key economic driver while also working towards conservation and sustainability.
The initiative will be implemented through the Jurisdictional Certification of Sustainable Palm Oil (JCSPO) and Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification in Sabah.
The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Malaysia CEO Sophia Lim said the adoption of the JCSPO initiative would help the state government address deforestation in the palm oil supply chain by putting in place strategies, policies and measures to safeguard the environment.
"This is a crucial step in positioning Sabah and laying the foundation for the state as the global leader in sustainable palm oil," said Lim, who is also WWF Malaysia executive director.
Sabah set up the Jurisdictional Certification Steering Committee (JCSC) in 2016 to lead and implement the JCSPO and MSPO certifications under a 10-year plan.
The committee is co-chaired by the Sabah Forestry Department and the Natural Resources Office while also including government representatives, the private sector and civil society, including WWF-Malaysia.
The Sabah JCSPO will remain the ultimate goal in the initiative while pursuing the MSPO certification to achieve an internationally-accepted standard under the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).
The 10-year plan aims to produce 100% RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil by 2025.
To date, about 26% of palm oil produced in Sabah is RSPO-certified.
She said one of WWF-Malaysia's contributions towards the realisation of the JCSPO in Sabah was through the Sabah Landscapes Programme, supporting the certification of 70,000 hectares of middle-sized and small-holders in Tawau, Tabin and Lower Sugut landscapes.
"WWF-Malaysia has set up a dedicated Sustainable Palm Oil team to provide technical support to growers located within the landscapes to form growers' groups and subsequently guide them to undergo the group certification process of RSPO," she added.
Lim said that through the living landscapes approach they were also working on advancing sustainable palm oil to include elements of conserving orangutan and Bornean elephants as well supporting the management of protected areas and forest reserves within the areas.
Sabah Forestry department chief conservator Frederick Kugan said Sabah JCSPO has been globally recognized as a pioneering model to address deforestation from the palm oil supply chain.
The jurisdictional programme implemented by Sabah will now create a new wave of change and pave the way for a future where sustainable practices will become the industry standard, he said.
"This is just the beginning. There is a lot more work to be done and we hope that the Sabah JCSPO will continue to receive support from all our stakeholders, towards 100% RSPO as well as MSPO certification by 2025 as per the circular issued by the state secretary recently," he added.
He said that it would help in greater conservation of wildlife population, forest resources, or ecosystem services.
Sabah Wildlife Department director Augustine Tuuga said the JCSPO encompasses a more holistic approach to conservation and is a real hope to ensure a brighter future for the species in Sabah
Tuuga explained that the monoculture nature of oil palm plantations meant that they tend not to support species that are dependent on a forest-type environment.
"Orangutans need good forest habitat to survive but many of them are found in isolated forest patches scattered within oil palm plantations.
"Apart from orangutans, Bornean elephants often face problems from palm oil plantations where human-elephant conflict incidents exist," he said.
He said connectivity, through wildlife corridors that link these patches of forest to a wider forest habitat is key to the orangutan's and other wildlife's survival at oil palm plantation landscapes, especially in the lowlands of Sabah.
Sabah's production of palm oil was recorded at 4.65 million tonnes last year, amounting to 6.2% of the world's palm oil production. It is an important economic sector that provides jobs and livelihood.
The oil palm sector has been subject to environmental criticism as it is associated with massive deforestation and loss of wildlife habitats, including the orangutan.