Hornbill Unleashed

May 11, 2019

More than “beauty therapy” to resolve the palm oil land conflicts in Sarawak

Filed under: Politics — Hornbill Unleashed @ 8:15 PM

Recently the Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok told Parliament that red palm oil is so health that taking a spoonful will keep one young and healthy, like the the prime minister (Dr Mahathir Mohamad), the deputy speaker (Rashid Hasnon) and also herself ( See, 09.04.2019 ).

So I have been very surprised to find out that these days the Minister is on another mission to Europe to lobby the European Union (EU) on palm oil, including the EU plan to phase out palm oil from biofuels used in the region by 2030. The message is none other than to promote “our palm oil as premium grade, is safe to consume and is a five star oil,”  and to ensure that “all our exports to Europe are certified sustainable.”

So I wonder why she is so keen to keep Europeans healthy instead of Malaysians by keeping the palm oil for ourselves. In fact, other Malaysian ministers have also been asked to actively search for new markets during their overseas mission “due to the potential loss of the EU market.” At the same time, Malaysia seems keen to cooperate on palm oil markets with regimes like Russia and Turkey which have highly questionable human rights records and governance.

Last September-October 2018 the Minister also led a delegation on palm oil economic and  promotion mission to EU and Switzerland. I have been helping to promote disscussions between the Minister and critical voices in Europe as there were issues raised by Malaysia about the effect of the EU biolfuel ban and boycott on our palm oil, and the increasing palm oil boycott by western environmental and human rights NGOs.

(I commend that despite the Minister’s tight schedule, separate meetings were held between the Minister and the accompanying delegation, and two Swiss federal MPs and a key European NGO.)

Show us the comprehensive facts and figures, please

Similar to many other “development-ism” in Malaysia,  it is not sufficient for the government and industry players to keep saying that profits ultimately benefit the poor, marginalised and most vulnerable communities too.

The  government and especially Sarawak state government repeatedly claimed that “some 650,000 smallholders and foreign workers making a living from the palm oil industry” are the worst affected by the EU Parliament’s decision.

So in November 2018, I wrote to ask for “official” data from the Ministry of Primary Industries. I wanted to know exactly how many are Malaysian smallholders vis-à-vis foreign plantation workers, what type of smallholders (independent/family-based , registered member of palm oil smallholders association, etc), their distribution by state and full-time/part-time small-holdings.

I also wanted to know about the foreign plantation workers in Malaysia: where do they mostly come from, their distribution by State and the total numbers, whom do they work for (employer) and how many are employed fulltime and how many are seasonal workers?

On Christmas day, I got “answers” for my questions. They read like some broad figures supplied by one of the Ministry’s prime agency on palm oil. Figures were inconsistent and the facts and figures purportedly were based on a study, but did not give details on who did the research, the title of the study, the date it was published, etc. – details that are important for using in scientific publications.

And until today, I couldn’t get any verification to the figures I continuously sought clarification but asked “to hold”, and no answers yet to some questions deemed “too specific”.

Big companies pressing the smallholders out of the market?

In March 2012, the Iban community of Kampong Lebor in Serian, Samarahan division of Sarawak, had rejoiced over the Kuching High Court judgement affirming the Iban concept of native customary right (NCR) lands. The learned Judge had declared the Lebor villagers rightful owners of about 4,000 ha of lands. The lands were encroached for large-scale oil palm plantations by the Sarawak Land Custody and Development Authority (LCDA) and a private company, Nirwana Muhibbah Sdn Bhd (wholly owned by the then BN State Legislator, Mohd. Naroden B. Haji Majais, and his family.Naroden was also then an Assistant Minister with multiple portfolios in the Sarawak Government). To ward off the plantation edging nearer to the village, the Kg Lebor women and men asserted their rights by removing the oil palm seedlings planted by the company, and replanted on their land with their own oil palm seedlings. The 2012 victory was an extraordinary point in the Kg Lebor community’s 14 years struggle (since 1998) to bring to the fore their determination to defend their NCR rights to lands using the legal process. This could not have come at a better time as their self-planted oil palm were ready for harvesting. But it was shortlived victory. The decision by the courts in recognising NCR lands of Lebor villagers were challenged more than once, including the final appeal by the companies and Sarawak state government to the Federal Court in 2014. In October 2017 the Federal Court overruled the previous High Court and Court of Appeal rulings in favour of the native owners. To my best knowledge, compensation being sought following the federal court judgement is ongoing.

The above Lebor case is not an uncommon experience for indigenous peoples in Sarawak, as well as in Sabah and Peninsular Malaysia who use their NCR lands themselves in a productive way, including cultivating palm oil on small scale for cash income.

Land rights cases such as the Lebor case are aplenty in Sarawak, which were and are represented by PKR-Pakatan Harapan leaders. Yes, land is a state matter but many state land cases involve federal agencies as well, to which it will test Pakatan’s will to resove conflicts based on recognition of NCR lands now that they are in government.

Back to the palm oil and EU: Ahh yes, perhaps the Minister needs to rethink about flying so often to EU to promote palm oil. After all, this increases her personal carbon footprint and increases climate change.

Source : Carol Yong, independent writer


  1. You nailed her! The devil is in the details. She should not be making the same mistake of past government. The welfare of the real people who suffered is the one she needs to address. Trace the money. Why are the crooks who steal from the land and the poor natives still roaming free?

    Comment by Patrine Thoong — August 1, 2019 @ 11:27 AM | Reply

  2. https://fernzthegreat.wordpress.com/2019/05/11/jews-in-kerala-left-for-israel-still-speak-malayalam/

    The Jews came 2, 000 years ago to Kerala together with the Syrians, they brought Christianity.

    Comment by fernzthegreat — May 12, 2019 @ 12:57 AM | Reply

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