The palm oil industry has the potential to lead in sustainable agricultural practices, said Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) chairman Datuk Carl Bek-Nielsen.
He said that oil palm is the preferred choice for producing more output with less land used compared to other edible oils, and if palm oil were to be substituted with an alternative, a larger amount of land would be needed to meet the same level of production or supply.
"It would require seven to 10 times more land; as much as 240 million hectares,” he said.
Speaking at the 10th International Planters Conference 2023, Bek-Nielsen highlighted that Malaysia’s deforestation rate due to oil palm planting activities has also declined.
"In fact, the mature oil palm area in Malaysia has fallen by 0.2 million hectares over the last three years.
"Comparatively, the deforestation rate in Brazil due to soybean plantings has increased by six million hectares in the last three years,” he said.
Bek-Nielsen added that companies in the oil palm industry are also signing up for the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certification, committing to principles such as no deforestation, no new peat development and no exploitation.
He also emphasised the need to help smallholders improve their operations to enhance sustainability, noting that smallholders account for 40 per cent of Malaysia’s crude palm oil production.
Bek-Nielsen also urged the industry to embrace mechanisation, decarbonise the value chain, upskill employees, and adopt hands-on leadership.
"Sustainable palm oil is the way forward and the increasing demand for palm oil in the future calls for a shift towards sustainable practices, and this requires shared responsibility and changes by everyone involved,” he added.