Oil palm cultivation more efficient than coconut - Indonesian Ambassador | Sunday Observer

Oil palm cultivation more efficient than coconut - Indonesian Ambassador

2 July, 2023
Ambassador Dewi Gustina Tobing
Ambassador Dewi Gustina Tobing

Oil palms are a type of vegetable oil that holds great importance as an edible product, contributing significantly to global food consumption patterns and the claim that the oil palm industry contributes to deforestation is unfounded, said the chief guest Ambassador of Indonesia to Sri Lanka, Dewi Gustina Tobing.

The Ambassador was speaking at the Agriculture Symposium of the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Ruhuna recently.

The primary goal of the symposium was to foster a commendable endeavour in uniting agricultural and environmental professionals, researchers, and academics from national and international backgrounds.

Oil palm cultivation requires less land and is more efficient compared to other vegetable oils. To put it into perspective, producing 80,000 MT of oil from coconuts would necessitate approximately 80,000 hectares of land, whereas oil palms would only require 20,000 hectares for the same amount of oil production, she said.

Sharing some insights on the thriving oil palm industry in Indonesia and maximising its economic potential, Ambassador Tobing said that oil palms have become a ubiquitous ingredient found in numerous products, making it challenging to avoid their presence.

They are extensively used in a wide array of supermarket food items, ranging from chocolate, bread, biscuits, ice cream, to baked goods. The global demand for oil palms in the food industry continues to soar, surpassing the demand for other vegetable oils.

Similarly, in Sri Lanka, oil palms are widely utilised in consumer goods and serve as primary inputs for industries such as bakeries and confectionaries. Studies indicate that approximately 50% of all consumer products in Sri Lanka incorporate oil palms. The industries associated with oil palms provide employment opportunities to at least 100,000 people in Sri Lanka.

This clearly underscores the irreplaceable characteristics of oil palms. Their production makes a noteworthy contribution of 3.5% to the GDP of Indonesia and 3.8% to the GDP of Malaysia. These figures highlight the crucial role of oil palms in bolstering the economies of these countries and playing a part in poverty alleviation efforts. Over the years, oil palms have emerged as one of Indonesia’s most valuable commodities.

World’s largest crude palm oil producer

In 2022, Indonesia secured its position as the world’s largest producer of crude oil palms, with a staggering production of 46.73 million tons. This labour-intensive industry has played a tangible role in poverty reduction, benefiting over 17 million individuals. As a result, oil palms have contributed significantly to Indonesia’s progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

Considering the projected growth in the global market for vegetable oils, which is expected to increase from 199.1 million MT in 2020 to 258.4 million MT by 2026, it becomes crucial to ensure an adequate and consistent supply of vegetable oils. This is essential to prevent price volatility and shocks to the global economy, given the growing global population and the widespread use of vegetable oils across various industries.

Indonesia places significant emphasis on ensuring that its agricultural commodities, including vegetable oils, meet global sustainability standards. In this regard, certification plays a crucial role in the sustainability framework, forming the foundation for implementing sustainable practices that lead to improved efficiency and productivity.

In Indonesia, the oil palms industry has been committed to implementing sustainable practices through the ‘Indonesian Sustainable Oil palms (ISPO)’ program. This program covers oil palm management and supply chain certifications, including plantations, independent and organised smallholdings, and oil palm processing facilities across Indonesia.

In a manner similar to Indonesia, the oil palm industry in Sri Lanka has made considerable strides in adopting the principles of sustainable oil palm cultivation. This includes adhering to rigorous sustainability criteria encompassing social, environmental, and economic best practices.

“During my visit to Sri Lanka, I visited the Nakiyadeniya estate, which is an oil palm plantation. I observed the various agronomic practices used in the cultivation process to gain a better understanding of the quality of the operation. I was impressed by the numerous initiatives undertaken by the estate’s management in implementing sustainable agricultural practices across all its plantations.

“I commend the estate for obtaining and consistently maintaining the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certification. It is evident that the estate sets a benchmark for sustainable oil palms cultivation in Sri Lanka.

“Misconceptions surrounding oil palms have emerged, primarily related to concerns such as deforestation, wildlife loss, and health implications. These issues have contributed to an unfavourable reputation for both oil palms and the industry. However, significant strides have been made in the past decade to address these concerns and align oil palm production with global.

Eonomically viable

“As a result, oil palm cultivation has become increasingly recognised as one of the more sustainable and economically viable crops available. According to information from the official website of the Palm Oil Industry Association of Sri Lanka, there is a scientific fact about oil palms that is supported by Harvard nutrition experts: they state that oil palms are a better option than high trans-fat shortenings and likely even a better choice than butter.

“Numerous studies have demonstrated the potential health benefits of oil palms, including their ability to reduce risk factors associated with heart disease and support optimal brain functioning. Additionally, oil palms are rich in tocotrienols, a type of vitamin E that functions as a potent antioxidant.

“As outlined by the Balance Small Business, agriculture assumes a paramount role due to several compelling reasons. It profoundly affects communities by fostering livelihoods through the provision of sustenance, habitat preservation, and employment opportunities.

“Agriculture serves as a critical source of raw materials for various food and non-food products. It plays a pivotal role in bolstering economies by facilitating trade and contributing to their overall strength and stability.

“Nonetheless, there remain obstacles that impede the full realisation of its potential. Challenges such as inadequate technological advancements and complexities within the supply chain hinder the agricultural sector. These difficulties are exacerbated by extended periods of adverse weather conditions, such as drought, which result in shortages of essential commodities such as rice, wheat, and other staple food.

“The agriculture sector in many developing countries is currently grappling with emerging challenges, including the rising demand for food traceability and the detrimental effects of climate change. As a result, it has become imperative for these nations to expedite the adoption of advanced technologies and foster innovation within their agricultural practices. The pace of implementation needs to accelerate significantly compared to previous efforts to effectively address these pressing issues.

“Leveraging technology to enhance the agricultural sector has the potential to yield several benefits, including streamlining the distribution chain from farmers to consumers, minimising the industry’s substantial carbon footprint, and fostering more equitable economic growth within these countries.

‘Smallholder model’

 “I would like to emphasise the significance of empowering farmers in Sri Lanka through the implementation of the ‘smallholder model.’

“Such initiatives hold great potential to improve the quality of life for farmers engaged in the agriculture sector. By providing support and resources to smallholders, we can enhance their livelihoods and create sustainable economic opportunities.

“Undoubtedly, agriculture holds significant importance in the Indonesian and Sri Lankan economies. This vital sector encompasses expansive plantations, operated by either state or private entities, as well as smallholder farms predominantly managed by traditional agricultural households, often passed down through generations,” she said.

She appealed to all stakeholders at the symposium to provide the industry with their expertise and estate practices, to promote the sector’s growth while simultaneously enhancing the economic well-being and quality of life of the communities involved.