By Teresa Kok

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia--I wish to congratulate my former cabinet colleague YB Datuk Zuraida Kamaruddin on her recent appointment as Minister of Plantation Industries and Commodities (MPIC) which was my former portfolio.
Under the MPIC, among the various commodities, palm oil was and is still the most challenging sector. The palm oil industry has shown significant resilience even in the face of the current Covid pandemic. Last year, palm oil alone brought in RM 73.3 billion export revenue to the country. It is currently trading at an all time high. It has contributed significantly to the national economy.  
However, this industry is now facing serious headwinds from various anti-palm oil lobbies and NGOs. This will require urgent, concerted and protracted efforts from the Ministry and its various agencies in meeting the challenges. 

In line with the same, during my tenure as Minister, I managed to convince the then Cabinet to adopt four proposals, which are namely:
1) to cap the total oil palm cultivation area to 6.5 million hectares;
2) to stop new planting of oil palm in new peatland areas and to further tighten regulations with regard to existing oil palm cultivation on peatlands;
3) to ban conversion of all natural forest reserves, for the purpose of oil palm cultivation; and
4) to make oil palm plantation maps available for public access and information.
These efforts were designed to provide an assurance of the government’s  commitment and seriousness in showcasing to the world that the Malaysian palm oil industry is a responsible industry and is also eco and environment friendly.  And that the industry was adhering to and meeting various strict requirements engrained in national and international standards.
Anti-palm oil sentiments and smear mongering by several groups and NGOs focus on the destructive role of oil palm cultivation, accusing it as the major cause of tropical deforestation, loss of wildlife habitats and endangering several iconic wildlife species. Such anti-palm oil activities have been incessantly on the increase for years. These negativities are being deeply entrenched into the minds of consumers globally. The Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) under the MPIC has been working very closely with palm oil industry players towards this end in countering, with a degree of success, against these anti palm oil NGOs in the West as well as those in Malaysia.
Starting 2020, the MPOB has implemented the collection of an additional RM1 cess for every metric tonne of palm oil produced, from palm oil producers, for the purposes of reforestation and wildlife conservation in Malaysia. This cess order was subsequently gazetted and cess collection is already in progress. For 2021, an estimated RM18.5 million is likely to be collected and streamed entirely to the Malaysian Palm Oil Green Conservation Fund (MPOGCF), managed by the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC).
The objectives of setting up MPOGCF is to provide a steady stream of cess funding to fend off concocted anti-palm oil sentiments centred on deforestation and wildlife habitat destruction. The primary aim of the MPOGFC initiative was to project to the international community that the Malaysian palm oil industry cares about the environment.
Below are the series of environmental projects that were earmarked to be funded by  MPOGCF during my tenure as Minister:
1)    Commencement of the planting of one million forest trees in Lower Kawag, part of the Ulu Segama – Malua Forest Reserve in the district of Lahad Datu, Sabah. It covers an area of 2,500 hectares of degraded forest.  
2)    A program to test the viability of planting more elephant grass and to create an elephant-corridor in the northern region of Sabah, as pygmy elephants have previously died due to their unfortunate encroachments into the plantation areas in Sabah.
3)    Collaborating with the Sabah Wildlife Department to establish and operate the Sabah Wildlife Rescue Unit to better monitor and manage endangered
wildlife including Orang Utan and Pygmy Elephants in Sabah.
4)    Collaborating with Perhilitan in the conservation of Malayan Tigers in Peninsula Malaysia.  
All the above projects were already in place. However, due to constraints brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, these projects and other conservation programs have been disrupted. I hope Datuk Zuraida will move forward and implement all the above mentioned projects to achieve the conservation objectives.  
Promotion of Palm Oil through Love My Palm Oil (LMPO) and Sawit Anugerah Tuhan

During my tenure as Minister, the Ministry had launched the "Love My Palm Oil (LMPO)" campaign to promote knowledge about palm oil and the multiple uses of palm oil in Malaysia. 
This is because many Malaysians were and still are naive about the nutritional benefits of palm oil. They were not even aware that the cooking oil they consumed daily was palm oil and many consumer products found on the local supermarket shelves are also palm oil based. To make matters worse those Malaysians who profess any knowledge about palm oil often expressed many
negative sentiments.
However, the Minister who succeeded me, Datuk Khairuddin Aman Razali had decided to give the campaign a new twist and launched it under a new slogan, which is, “Sawit Anugerah Tuhan”. Unfortunately, this new slogan did not have the desired traction and many of the positives built up via LMPO slowly collapsed. This resulted in the anti-palm oil NGOs gaining and reclaiming lost propaganda ground and further damaging the reputation of Malaysian palm oil.
The MPIC was supposed to partner with the Tourism Ministry to publicise the LMPO campaign during the Visit Malaysia Year 2020 and to use it as a platform, to disseminate knowledge and the benefits of palm oil to the targeted 30 million foreign tourists and to the world collectively. However, the plan was aborted with the change of government in February  2020 and further efforts were dampened by the Covid 19 pandemic.
I sincerely hope that YB Datuk Zuraida will continue the Love My Palm Oil campaign and rekindle the local consumer education campaigns. It is also highly desirable to continue with the various environmental and conservation efforts planned by MPOC and MPOGCF by utilising the financial resources guaranteed to MPOGCF through the RM1 additional cess collection.
On my part, I stand ready to work with her and offer my assistance as needed, in the interest of the industry and the nation.