Field visit to tell a more compelling story on palm oil in Europe

To better understand challenges of sustainable palm oil, several European alliances for sustainable palm oil visited both Malaysia and Indonesia last November, an initiative by the European Palm Oil Alliance (EPOA). The purpose of the visit was to strengthen the links between Europe and Asia, to enhance the knowledge of the European visitors and to experience the production and processing of sustainable palm oil. Received with a very warm welcome by all hosts, the delegation visited various palm oil plantations and met with several palm oil producers, government officials, local NGOs and smallholders.

Plantation practices

The field visit kicked off with an ‘in depth class’ on palm oil production and upstream processing. The visit to Sime Darby’s plantation, oil mill and kernel crush at Carey Island in Malaysia, was for many members of the European delegation the first chance to actually experience the production and processing of palm oil. The delegation visited a palm oil mill and palm kernel crush facilities that showed the different steps needed to separate the oil from the harvested fresh fruit bunch. Participants experienced the harvesting process, were shown the difference between a ripe and unripe fruit bunch and got familiar with some key aspects of plantation management. The delegates of the European organisations for sustainable palm oil had a look at the canal system that retains the fresh water level in the plantation, learned how legume cover crops capture nitrogen from the air fertilising the soil and how barn owls provide an environmentally friendly alternative to control rat populations at the plantation.

Thijs Pasmans, coordinator of the field trip on
behalf of EPOA: "To know how it works in the
field is crucial in order to tell a more compelling,
correct and trustworthy story in Europe".

Important  stakeholders

It was the first time a delegation, representing different European industry associations committed to sustainable palm oil, visited the two main palm oil producing countries. At the field visit to Sime Darby, the delegation was accompanied by the Dutch as well as the Swedish and Belgian ambassadors to Malaysia, using the opportunity to improve their knowledge of palm oil production as well. The Dutch Ambassador to Malaysia invited the representatives of the European organisations to meet with important Malaysian stakeholders and the ambassadors of other European countries at her residency in Kuala Lumpur.

During the discussions the importance of palm oil for Malaysia was highlighted. The meeting provided mutual understanding of work done to improve the perception of palm oil in Europe as well as the challenges producing countries face. There was a clear and united ambition to work together and contribute to a more sustainable palm oil supply chain.

Alignment

At meetings with the Malaysian palm oil organizations MPOB and MPOC, the delegates learned about the Malaysian agricultural industry and the importance of tree crops such as oil palm and rubber and shared views on how to better align on communication on palm oil in Europe. At the MPOB office in Putrajaya the European delegates experienced the efforts that are being made to improve the quality of seedlings, management practices and harvest techniques up to finding new applications and improving processing techniques. The importance of the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) standard was recognised as an important step towards a more sustainable production of palm oil in Malaysia. At the end of the meeting the basic harvesting techniques were shown and delegates could individually feel and taste the fresh oil palm fruits.

NGOs

The working visit to Malaysia also included a meeting at the headquarters of the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in Kuala Lumpur, where experiences were shared between RSPO, WWF Malaysia and the Malaysian Nature Society (MNS), including a technical Q&A on deforestation in Malaysia. All delegates were eager to engage more in the debates and answer environmental and social rights issues. Palm oil production is not the main cause for deforestation worldwide and NGO’s stressed that boycotting palm oil is not the solution. The government classified half of Malaysia as areas that are totally protected or ‘Forest Reserves’, allowing for sustainably managed logging only.

Margot Logman, Secretary General EPOA :
"It was great to see efforts by large companies,
but also smallholders to produce palm oil
sustainably. Sharing these examples will help
change the negative perception of palm oil in
Europe".

Participants

After the two days visit to Malaysia, the European delegation headed to Indonesia to meet and further discuss sustainable practices and the hurdles to overcome. The field visit has enhanced the knowledge on palm oil production and contributed to mutual understanding of the issues concerning palm oil and tell a better story in Europe on how palm oil is already being produced in a sustainable way.

The field visit was supported by the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) and the Indonesian Palm Oil Association (GAPKI).

  • Laure d’Astorg, Secretary General French Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil
  • Laure Grégoire, Spokesperson French Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil
  • Maike Moellers, Secretary General German Forum for Sustainable Palm Oil
  • Benita Heinze, Secretary German Forum for Sustainable Palm Oil
  • Nathalie Lecocq, Director General The EU Vegetable Oil and Protein meal Industry (FEDIOL)
  • Agnieszka Slodowa, Secretary Polish Food and Drink Federation
  • Jelmen Haaze, EU Policy Manager European Sustainable Palm Oil Advocacy Group (ESPOAG) and International Margarine Association for the Countries of Europe (IMACE)
  • Vincent van den Berk, Policy Coordinator Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs
  • Francesca Ronca, Secretary General Italian Union for Sustainable Palm Oil
  • Margot Logman, Secretary General European Palm Oil Alliance (EPOA)
  • Thijs Pasmans, Secretary Dutch Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil, and Secretary Sustainability European Palm Oil Alliance (EPOA)