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December 14, 2017

Malaysia’s path to gain ground in world market for palm oil


December 14, 2017

LAHORE : Malaysia has stepped up efforts to gain ground in world market to match its potential to produce sustainable palm oil as it counters negative propaganda with scientific evidence to prove its commodity to be rich in fatty acids and vitamins essential for a healthy life in contrast to traditional vegetable oils with tendency to produce trans-fatty acids considered deleterious for human health.

The Malaysian palm oil has the natural texture to provide functionality as solid body for banaspati ghee, while other vegetable oils require artificial process of hydrogenation to transform into solid fat only to produce trans-fatty acids, known to cause cardiovascular diseases by increasing consumer's blood cholesterol, decrease the good cholesterol and also affect the mental development of newborns. Therefore, it requires complete banning of hydrogenation as formulation of vanaspati ghee can be achieved without hydrogenation by using 100 percent palm oil fractions or using blends with other oils and fats in different ratios.

These observations are made by this correspondent following firsthand experience gained during interaction with experts and field visits to palm oil plantations during a recent visit to Malaysia by a group of international journalists from Pakistan, India, China, Netherlands, Russia, Bangladesh, Egypt and Turkey as part of International Educational Programme arranged by Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC), which was supported by its local chapter in Pakistan. The visit coincided with International Palm Oil Congress and Exhibition (PIPOC 2017) held in Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre in connection with centenary celebrations of Malaysian palm oil industry, drawing experts from around the globe to witness Malaysia's efforts on production of sustainable palm oil.

During a meeting with senior management of Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB), presentations during PIPOC 2017 and interaction with various experts, the international journalists were informed that a lot of negative perception about palm oil had gathered pace in recent years through NGOs on behalf of the competitor industry, mainly targeting the issues such as health risks, biodiversity loss, deforestation, threat to wildlife, protection of high conservation value areas and planting on peat lands.

MPOB Director General YBhg Datuk Dr Ahmed Kushari Din and Deputy Director General (R&D) Ahmad Parveez Hj Ghulam Kadir dispelled all these impressions, terming it a massive propaganda to discredit palm oil without supporting their arguments on scientific evidence. The whole negative propaganda is exactly 180 degree opposite to the ground facts as palm oil is scientifically proven to be a rich source of heart-friendly fatty acids and vitamins.

The journalists were informed that Malaysia has 80 percent green cover, including 20 percent agricultural land and 60 percent rain forests, which makes it major carbon sink, fights global warming and ensures protection of flora and fauna of ecosystem. With special focus on protecting the environment, there is absolutely zero burning of palm tree fronds and everything is recycled for various beneficial uses. The palm oil serves around 3 billion people in 150 countries around the globe with top three importers of palm oil include India (9.3 million MT in 2016), China (5.7 million MT in 2016) and European Union (4.2 million MT in 2016).

Earlier, during video presentation, the participants were informed that oil palm fruit was unique oil bearing crop that produces two different oils, namely palm oil from the flesh and palm kernel oil from the seed of the palm fruit, which are widely used in food and non-food products worldwide. The palm plantation is a lucrative option with substantial annual returns as single plant starts bearing fruits after three years of its plantation and gives annual yields till the age between 25 years and 30 years.

Palm oil generally contained a balanced ratio of 52 percent unsaturated fats, 48 percent saturated fatty acids, which can be further categorised as 40 percent monounsaturated oleic acid, 10 percent polyunsaturated linoleic acid, 44 percent saturated palmitic acid and 5 percent saturated stearic acid. Studies on the health benefits of palm oil, which behaves like monounsaturated fats, point towards its anti-cancer properties as fatty acids in its composition can inhibit human breast cancer cells. On the other hand, polyunsaturated oils like corn, soya bean, and safflower and sunflower oils lose their positive nutritional attributes due to their propensity to oxidise during deep frying, which may lead to cancer and liver damage.

Minister of Plantation Industries an Commodities, Putrajaya, Malaysia, Datuk Seri Mah Siew Keong didn't bother to meet the visiting journalists from different parts of the world, who were there to support the Malaysia's efforts to expand palm oil exports around the globe. "We are very disappointed that honorable minister didn't delay his engagements for even an hour and instead preferred to cancel his scheduled meeting with international journalists from around the world," said Nameesh N Rajamane, a food blogger from Banglore, India. The journalists had the opportunity to witness live demonstration of food preparation using palm oil by MasterChef Jochen Kern, director of Berjaya School of Culinary Arts, Berjaya University College of Hospitality. He explained the uses and benefits of cooking in palm oil, saying that humans needed certain quantity of fat in their diet as they could not tolerate a fat-free diet for long periods. However, he said, over-consumption of fats was a classic modern dietary malaise leading to a number of degenerative diseases. "Therefore, moderation is the key, which is also strongly advocated by all health authorities globally," he added. Later, the journalists tasted the food and appreciated its quality.

Palm oil is suitable for food preparations even in deep frying due to its consistency, neutral taste, high oxidative stability and ability to withstand high temperatures during frying. It remains stable at high temperature and has longer shelf life. It is used in household cooking, salads, margarines, confectionary items, ice creams among food items and cosmetics, soaps, detergents, surfactants, pharmaceuticals among non-food items, whereas it is utilised as feedstock for advanced biofuels and energy generation. The carotene-rich red oil removes vitamin-A deficiency and gives vitamin-E tocotrienols and tocophyrols, which makes it as healthy as olive oil.

This International Educational Programme also included a field trip of Sime Derby's Oil Palm Plantation in West State, Carey Island, which provided an excellent opportunity to experience working of Malaysia's palm oil supply chain from farm to market, including harvesting, oil extraction and supply to the market for both indigenous use in Malaysia and export of the commodity to the world.

It was informed that a single hectare of palm oil plantation produced 5 to 10 times more oil than soya bean, rapeseed and sunflower crops. Barn owl controls the rodent/rat population in the dense plantation. Special focus is to protect the forests and biodiversity as palm oil plantation is only allowed on designated agricultural land after replacing the rubber, cocoa and coconut crops.

To protect environment, Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) are introduced to minimise emission of greenhouse gases. The palm oil plantation covers 5.74 million hectares of land; provides employment to 4 million people and involves 650,000 small holders. Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) certification of small holders will help ensure production of sustainable palm oil, but is considered a huge challenge since small holders avoid certification as farmers are not registered because of their fears of tedious process, stringent requirements and financial penalties. The journalists also had the opportunity to meet the one of the small farm plantation owners, I Hariri Sadiman and his wife Rokiah in Jerami Indah Plantation located on the suburbs of new town Putrajaya in Malaysia, who were extremely happy to own and grow palm plantation that was giving healthy returns at the end of year.

However, the scheduled visit plan didn't include any meeting with small holders, who were shying away from getting them registered through MSPO certification. Currently, Pakistan's total annual import of palm oil revolves around 2.8 to 3.0 MT with Indonesia's share of 75 percent and Malaysia's share currently standing at 25 percent; whereas 75 percent of the total import of palm oil is used to manufacture banaspati ghee in the country. However, as far as our local milieu in Pakistan is concerned, the tendency towards obesity and the scale of heart diseases is a multi-factorial phenomenon as sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy eating habits, particularly in urban settings, are contributing to the proportion of cardiovascular diseases, which are further precipitated by smoking, stress and lack of exercise. "We need to create awareness among people to take balanced diet and in moderation and do a regular exercise to prevent obesity and cardiac problems," said Faisal Iqbal, MPOC Regional Office, Lahore, manager, added that it was not rational to blame palm-oil/banaspati ghee for clogging of arteries as the visible fat i.e. banaspati ghee, as well as invisible fat such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, meat, fish, processed foods and many other dietary ingredients combine to make the total sum of fat intake in daily diet.

Keeping in view the health of the consumers in the largest province of Pakistan, Punjab Food Authority carries heavy responsibility to keep its facts right by considering varied points of view before formulating its policies; and it must also take into account the viewpoint of palm oil producers, which are backed by latest research and scientific findings about the commodity, instead of just depending on the arguments from one side sans scientific evidence.

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