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Malaysia

Malaysian palm oil farmers protest ban by European Parliament, claiming it would threaten livelihoods of millions

Palm oil, also a major ingredient in products from food to cosmetics, has long been controversial as environmentalists say it drives deforestation

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 January, 2018, 8:55pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 January, 2018, 8:55pm

Hundreds of Malaysian palm oil farmers protested on Tuesday against a push by the European Parliament to ban the use of the commodity in biofuels, saying it would devastate rural people’s livelihoods.

Waving banners that read “Stop the Palm Oil Ban” and “Palm oil provides food for my family”, the smallholders gathered in downtown Kuala Lumpur and marched to the European Union’s mission to deliver a petition.

The demonstration came a day before the European Parliament votes on an amendment to a draft law on renewable energy that calls for the use of palm oil in biofuels to be banned from 2021, amid mounting worries about its impact on the environment.

The vote is significant as it sets out the parliament’s position for talks with EU governments about the form the renewable energy law will take.

Palm oil, also a major ingredient in products from food to cosmetics, has long been controversial as environmentalists say it drives deforestation, with huge swathes of rainforest logged in recent decades to make way for plantations.

Major multinational companies run plantations but the protesters in Malaysia, the world’s second-biggest producer of the commodity, said a ban would devastate rural communities where many small-scale farmers survive by cultivating the crop.

A ban would threaten the livelihoods of 650,000 smallholders and over 3.2 million Malaysians who rely on the palm oil industry, according to industry group the Malaysian Palm Oil Council.

“The policies that the EU is proposing to introduce will harm Malaysia’s rural communities and reduce incomes for Malaysian families,” said Douglas Uggah Embas, deputy chief minister of Sarawak state on Borneo island, home to many smallholders.

About 1,400 people took part in the demonstration.

A European ban on palm oil in biofuels would be a huge financial blow to Malaysia and other producers.

The use of the commodity in other sectors, such as food and cosmetics, has already dropped in Europe, partly due to pressure from green groups on major corporations, but has been increasing in biofuels.