Tuesday, August 16

SFD: Sabah palm oil should compete via governance


KOTA KINABALU: Sabah cannot compete in the world palm oil market in terms of size due to the emerging producers in Indonesia, Africa and South America amongst others, said the Sabah Forestry Department (SFD).

The state should instead compete on the basis of governance which can only come about from being certified under the world’s gold standard for oil palm management  i.e., the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) at present.

SFD stated this yesterday after recent comments made by various parties on the ongoing Sabah Jurisdictional Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (JCSPO) approach of oil palm plantation management in Sabah, the latest being the opinion of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC).

Amongst other matters, it was asserted that it is one man’s wish, it has not been adopted by the State.

The Sabah Forestry Department explained in a statement yesterday that certification on the basis of area by area is expensive, given the many growers, and certification instead on a jurisdictional level (certify the whole of Sabah) will be cost competitive.

After consulting experts and stakeholders including the Industry, NGOs and governmental bodies, a proposal was submitted to the State Cabinet and approved on 21st October 2015. Essentially, it involves a 10-year plan (2015–2025) for the certification process to be completed, involving all types of land. i.e., alienated, gazetted, State land and a portion of agroforestry forest reserves.

The Sabah Forestry Department took the lead of organising the Jurisdictional Certification Steering Committee (JCSC) as it has the largest land area set aside for this purpose in Sabah, of over 200,000 ha (500,000 acres), but only as an interim measure while the secretariat is being established;

The JCSC consists of five governmental bodies, five civil societies and five industry players and has since been focusing on achieving three main goals of the first five–year work plan. i.e., achieve no loss of High Conservation Value (HCV) and High Carbon Stock (HCS) forests for all oil palm in Sabah, to enable zero–conflict in oil palm production landscapes in Sabah, and to strengthen smallholder sustainability and uplift local livelihoods.

Ten years was chosen to allow for adjustments in land use practices, training, extension services and awareness programmes etc., with the help from the stakeholders. For smallholders, engagements to explain and help them in the process of getting certified is ongoing;

On 15th November 2017, the Chief Minister’s Department has again reaffirmed this policy and thus this clarification.

At this stage, the following have been achieved:

a. The ongoing effort of mapping of forests within the whole of Sabah in order to determine the High Conservation Values (HCV) and High Carbon Stocks (HCS) areas within the State. This is done with the assistance from the Carnegie Airborne Observatory. The identified HCV and HCS areas will be treated as Totally Protected Areas (TPAs);

b. The continuous work on the implementation of the activities of the JCSPO initiative within a huge area involving several particular zones (Tongod, Telupid, Beluran and Kinabatangan (TTBK)). This is in collaboration with fellow NGOs and other partners. The work also focuses on organising smallholders and building support systems to address matters pertaining to land legalities;

c. The ongoing process of producing Sabah’s very own specific Free, Prior, Informed and Consent (FPIC) Guide to be implemented within the whole State (will be integrated into Sabah’s Legal and Institutional landscapes in due course) ; and

d. The JCSPO Initiative was also presented at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Forests Day Event at COP 23 in Bonn, Germany on 12th November 2017. Sabah JCSPO is now in the world platform and was recognized as a pioneering effort or model to address deforestation from the palm oil supply chain.

SFD added during the process of implementation of the JCSPO initiative, the Plantation Industries and Commodities Ministry has made an official announcement on introducing the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification scheme. First thought to be voluntary and now made mandatory to all oil palm plantations, including the smallholders by 2019;

On 27th April 2017, the JCSC had called for a meeting with the officials of MSPO to explain Sabah’s position on oil palm certification;

It was pointed out to them that any certification scheme will bring good results that will address governance amongst other things;

However, it was made clear to MSPO that Sabah has chosen the JCSPO with RSPO as the anchor because of the following reasons:

a. To our best knowledge, RSPO is well known, well accepted internationally and known to all markets. Twenty percent or so of Sabah’s oil palm is now RSPO certified. MSPO has just started and is new;

b. Lands, forests and agriculture all fall under the State List and any usage of land is under the authority of the State Government. The Sabah Cabinet decides on land use policy and the zoning of uses;

c. Making MSPO compulsory without the consent of the Sabah State Government contradicts the laws of Sabah and is not free from conflicts. A two-year deadline is not practical and achievable. Furthermore, certification means legality as its core principle;

d. The MSPO proposal has never been referred to the State Cabinet for its comments or opinions and any such proposal needs approval at the highest level of government in Sabah;

e. The MSPO contradicts the Sabah JCSPO strategy that is now in its second year of implementation; and

The MSPO may be misconstrued as an attempt by a ministry to take away lands, forests and agricultural policies and their administration, which have always been under the State’s jurisdiction since time immemorial. This perception may be taken advantage of by unscrupulous people.

SFD also said that issues on lands, forests etc. are all best handled by local administrators as they know better and empowered. Land is a complicated matter in Sabah with many issues that still need addressing such as the Native Customary Rights (NCR), encroachments, overlapping claims and etc. Only local administrators are competent to address these issues, not others;

The actions of certain agencies in the past (non–local) such as financing oil palm development on the basis of LAs/PTs (Land application forms) etc also caused havoc in land management and must not be repeated. For example, Paitan forest reserve  was encroached at one time with agency financing and fertiliser bags (with logos) dumped at site;

Since any certification scheme involves land use policy and usage, what is accepted by the State Government is what it controls and not the other way around. Certification in the final analysis besides legality, is about best land practices. It involves amongst other things: the HCVs, the wildlife corridors, water catchments, local culture, social issues and etc. These are all issues to be addressed by the authorities of Sabah as they know best and others lack local knowledge and definitely not empowered.

As land is a sensitive issue, particularly those involving natives, and lands being an emotional asset of Sabah, it is best to leave land management to those who are empowered by law and not by those who desire to build empires;

Certification is not new to Sabah as the process has been put into practice since 1997 and Sabah has more than 850,000 ha of fully certified or partially certified forests, proportionally higher than most countries around us.

The decision of the State Government must therefore be respected and not challenged, said SFC.