Dr Yusof Basiron is the CEO of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC), a lobbying group that supports the oil palm industry in both Malaysia and Indonesia.
Dr. Basiron is been working closely with the agricultural ministries of Malaysia and Indonesia, pushing for more tropical forest to be flattened and burned to make way for oil palm expansion. The Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture has recently announced a plan to double Indonesia’s crude palm oil production by 2020.
The negative environmental and social impacts of palm oil have gained major international attention in recent years, and while the evidence has emerged that oil palm is a danger to the world’s tropical forests and forest peoples, Dr. Basiron has continued to be a high-profile defender of the oil palm industry.
He is a colorful character known for his willingness to say just about anything. Here is a roundup of some of his uglier and more inaccurate statements, with referenced responses:
“Orang utans living near oil palm plantations were observed to regularly visit the plantations to feed on loose oil palm fruitlets and benefit from an all year round availability of a healthy food source which is naturally rich in vitamin A and E, giving the orang utans a healthy shining coat.”
The United Nations Environment Program has called oil palm plantations a critical threat to orangutan populations, destroying the endangered primate’s already reduced forest habitats. Orangutans are commonly killed as pests in oil palm plantations; moving and graphic depictions of orangutans killed by oil palm plantations are in the free and download-able film ‘Green’.
“Oil palm plantations have an indirect land use effect of saving ten times more forest area in the importing countries when they import their palm oil from Malaysia. This is referred to as the deforestation avoidance effect.”
No such ‘deforestation avoidance effect’ has ever been demonstrated. What has been demonstrated in peer reviewed journal articles is that the majority of oil palm development occurs on deforested tropical forests, with serious impacts on biodiversity, ecological function, forest peoples, and climate/
“With oil palm as their main crop, farmers in Malaysia and Indonesia are earning US $20 per day presently as compared to US$ 2 per day 30 years ago when oil palm was not a major crop.”
I have personally spoken with hundreds of laborers in Indonesian palm oil plantations, all of whom made no more than USD 2 per day. Thus, after oil palm plantations kick farmers off their land, they pay the farmers poverty wages to work the land they once owned.
Dr. Basiron’s refusal to acknowledge the negative impacts of the industry he represents reminds me of the last efforts tobacco CEO’s made to censor the impacts of their industry on public health. As long as the oil palm industry is allowed to hide from the truth of their actions, they will not act to reduce oil palm’s impacts and increase it’s sustainability. I will continue to follow up on the many statements Dr. Basiron has made regarding palm oil that are full of misinformation and attacks on the vibrant and flourishing NGO movement, both internationally and locally in Indonesia and Malaysia.