Malaysia has been a major player in the palm oil industry for over three decades, but it has failed to make any breakthrough in the field of biodiesel energy due to insufficient research.
Economist Jomo Kwame Sundaram said discussions on biodiesel energy – that can be derived from palm oil – had been ongoing for over 30 years, but research and development efforts were too modest.
Jomo was speaking at a public lecture organised by the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (Isis) here yesterday.
According to Jomo, Malaysia had also failed to place a strong enough foundation to develop biodiesel energy, compared with other countries.
He said countries such as Cuba, Brazil and the United States had enacted policies to promote biofuels such as bioethanol, derived from sugar cane, and biodiesel, derived from soybean oil.
In the 1960s, Malaysia shifted from the production of rubber to oil palm cultivation. It became the main producer of palm oil before it was taken over by Indonesia.
Jomo said the country would be able to deflect some of the criticisms made against its palm oil industry if it had successfully promoted palm-oil derived biodiesel.
“The whole situation could be turned around if Malaysia could show its major contribution, not only in renewable energy, but also sustainable development.”
Criticism levelled against the palm oil industry usually centres around its effects on the environment, wildlife and carbon emissions.
International environment organisation Greenpeace, for instance, has spoken out against forest fires in Sumatra, Indonesia, which were carried out for the purpose of oil palm cultivation.
During a question-and-answer session later, Noah Foundation chairperson Faridah Abdullah said Jomo’s statement was unfair as research required huge funds.
“And research conducted in universities depend greatly on government grants.
“It’s not like in the western countries where big companies allocate big amounts of money for research.”
Jomo agreed with this and questioned the government’s decision to cut allocations for higher educational institutions.
He also agreed with Tan Siok Choo, the chairperson of palm oil plantation company United Malacca Bhd, who said the government had also let go of an opportunity to have other bodies provide necessary funds for research purposes.
She said the government had done this by imposing a “windfall tax” on palm oil companies that, at one point, had made huge profits from the industry.
Source : Aedi Asri @ FMT Online