The decision by Swiss voters to support truth over fear, opportunity over barriers and small farmers from the Global South was a big win. This did not occur in a vacuum. Over the last several months, senior officials at the highest level in Indonesia and ASEAN have laid down the groundwork for solid public initiatives supporting palm oil in Indonesia and across the region.
Case in point: last month, the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) officially kicked off a $65 million program to support Indonesia “on its path towards a more competitive, resilient and equitable economy.” A key component of this initiative is to “improve the welfare of Indonesian palm oil smallholders and residents of palm oil producing regions alongside environmental interventions to ensure social and environmental sustainability.” This programme will provide the necessary support and capacity building to help fulfil the trade deal, which agrees to “cooperate on improving and strengthening government standards” in the area of ISPO and palm oil.
However, challenges across the European continent persist, namely the Indirect Land Use Change (ILUC) in the EU’s and UK’s renewable programs which arbitrarily targets palm oil and gives a pass to other vegetable oils, or the measures leading up to UK and EU due diligence for ‘imported deforestation’ singling out palm oil. This is especially concerning as it ignores the documented evidence of palm oil’s efficiency and sustainability, both in absolute terms and relative to other vegetable oils, some of which are produced in Europe.
Similarly, some campaigners in the USA are making a big play around labour rights and palm oil, but human rights questions in large sunflower and soya producing countries – namely Russia, Ukraine and Brazil – are ignored.
The double-standard is clear for all to see, and President Jokowi’s comments signal a shift is underway in Jakarta. In early February, President Jokowi stated unequivocally:
“Indonesia will continue to fight against palm oil discrimination. The efforts will be stronger if it is conducted together. Indonesia invites Malaysia to have the same commitment regarding the issue of palm oil.”
The occasion was a state visit by Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, who followed President Jokowi by stating:
“Malaysia will continue to cooperate with Indonesia in this issue and initiate council of palm oil producing countries to save palm oil industry and millions of palm farmers whose livelihood depends on palm oil industry in Malaysia and Indonesia.”
The President’s statements have been taken on by senior officials and industry experts. Executive Director of Indonesia’s estate fund Badan Pengelola Dana Perkebunan KelapaSawit (BPDPKS), Eddy Abdurrachman, stated:
“Our promotion strategy going forward will not just be defensive, but it also will be offensive,” he said in relation to other vegetable oils, noting that Indonesia had not been inclined to criticise other vegetable oils. “At the moment it is always palm that is questioned, but never it is discussed related to other vegetable oils.”
(Selengkapnya dapat dibaca di Majalah Sawit Indonesia, Edisi 114)