Palm oil chief grossly distorts facts about deforestation

Malaysia is one of the world's biggest producers of palm oil, but one of its top palm oil officials is again grossly distorting facts about the crop's role in deforestation.

  Expanding oil palm in Sabah, Malaysia  (photo by Rhett Butler)

Expanding oil palm in Sabah, Malaysia (photo by Rhett Butler)

At a recent conference in Borneo, Yusof Basiron, the dogmatic CEO of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council, argued that 80 percent of Sarawak's forests are "still undeveloped".  He further claimed that "there's no issue of deforestation", according to the Malaysian Star.

Basiron is full of bunk.  A recent scientific analysis showed that less than 20 percent of Sarawak is covered by intact forest.  Most of Sarawak's remaining forests have been heavily logged, and nearly 500,000 hectares of forest was felled for oil palm plantations between 1990 and 2010, according to a recent study.

Sarawak aims to convert nearly a million hectares of additional land to oil palm by 2020, according to the leading environmental website Mongabay.com.  Much of that hand is held under native customary rights, suggesting the potential for large social conflicts in the future.

Basiron is renowned for making ridiculous pronouncements.  For instance, he has argued that oil palm has not caused forest loss in Malaysia -- a laughable assertion

He has also claimed that orangutans benefit from oil palm plantations by feeding on palm fruit, but in fact orangutans are commonly killed as pests in and around plantations -- and the plantations are rapidly replacing the native forests in Borneo and Sumatra that the apes require.

Finally, Basiron has fought efforts to clean up the palm oil industry -- attacking sustainability commitments and zero-deforestation pledges by some of the world's biggest palm oil producers and buyers.  

Palm oil is expanding internationally at a dramatic rate.  It's an important and highly productive crop, but its net benefits are hugely diminished when it's allowed to drive the destruction of the world's most biodiversity- and carbon-rich forests. 

Spreading gross distortions and lies about oil palm -- as is increasingly the habit of Yusof Basiron -- does nothing to improve the credibility of palm oil advocates.