The Palm Oil Industry Association (POIA) has said in a statement that while it respects the decisions relating to the industry contained in the policy statement of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, it trusts that a pragmatic solution would be provided in respect of the oil palm saplings imported in to the country following a Cabinet decision taken in 2014 by the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
“We appeal to the President and the new government to take into consideration the substantial investments made by the plantation companies in response to the government decision at that time to expand the extent under oil palm cultivation to 20,000 Ha, and seek His Excellency’s intervention to permit planting of these saplings under the specified guidelines,” the Association said.
It expressed dismay at the announcement on 20th August that “the plantation of palm oil trees will be stopped immediately” without an opportunity being provided to the industry to respond to the concerns purportedly behind the government decision.
“The campaign against oil palm cultivation in Sri Lanka is based on untruths, half-truths, misrepresentation and panic-mongering and we are surprised that the government has announced a ban on cultivation without an in-depth study of the Sri Lankan case, thereby overturning a well-considered decision taken by the government headed by then president Mahinda Rajapaksa, to proceed with a highly-regulated limited cultivation of oil palm,” the Association said.
“Sri Lanka’s oil palm cultivation is a case study for guilt-free palm oil, because all the lessons learnt from the mistakes of other countries have been implemented in the slow and measured expansion of oil palm cultivation over the past 50 years. There has been no deforestation, no habitat loss and no adverse environmental or climate impacts scientifically attributable to the crop,” the statement said. “On the contrary, in areas of the Southern Province where oil palm have been grown for decades, the experience has been that rainfall has increased, and the oil palm absorbs more carbon from polluted air.”
It pointed out that in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently took a policy decision to cultivate one million hectares of oil palm after a study of the crop’s benefits.
“We are also puzzled by the rationale implicit in the government’s statements that the ban on cultivation of oil palm is in order to promote cultivation of coconut. It has always been the plantation sector’s position that diversification of crops does not have to be at the expense one crop, as that would defeat the very purpose of diversification,” the POIA statement said, pointing out that the original government decision to permit the cultivation of up to 20,000 Ha of oil palm would never threaten the expansion of coconut or any other cultivation, considering that the extent already under coconut is approximately 450,000 Ha.
“We do not see any conflict between the cultivation of up to 20,000 Ha of oil palm and the expansion of the extents under coconut,” the Association said. “However, if the government’s objective is to have Sri Lanka’s total requirement of edible oil supplied by locally-grown coconut, a simple analysis of yields and the extents required shows that it will take at least 20 years or more to reach that point. In the meanwhile, Sri Lanka will be compelled to continue importing edible oils, for which the country currently spends approximately Rs 22 billion per annum.”
“We urge the government to reconsider the ban and to provide the oil palm industry an opportunity to respond with facts and figures to the concerns that have been advanced by lobbyists against the industry,” POIA President Dr Rohan Fernando said. “This must be done speedily, as plantation companies will sustain a cumulative loss of more than Rs 500 million within two months because 356,000 oil palm plants we imported after obtaining quarantine approval on the strength of the government decision to expand cultivation have been maturing in nurseries for more than three years and will have to be destroyed.”
The Palm Oil Industry Association represents cultivators as well as refiners, processors, manufacturers, marketers and sellers of palm oil and other products of the oil palm, who have cumulatively invested Rs 26 billion in the industry. Sri Lanka has less than 11,000 hectares under oil palm – just over 1 per cent of the extents under tea, rubber and coconut – and plantation companies had been mandated to increase the total area under oil palm to 20,000 hectares under strictly-enforced guidelines that ensure the industry is environmentally non-invasive, before the government back-pedalled on the plan.