ECONOMYNEXT - Sri Lanka has to examine a growing controversy on oil palm cultivation using science and evidence based research and not be driven by emotion Plantations Minister Navin Dissanayake said.
There is growing opposition to palm oil cultivation in some districts with non-governmental organizations and political parties getting involved in protests, claiming that the environment was being harmed by oil palm.
He had recently attended meeting of stakeholders in the Kegalle district along with officials of the environment agency.
Minister Dissanayake said some protestors were being driven by political objectives but there were also others who were genuinely concerned. Others emotional without relying on scientific evidence.
"So much of the criticism is unscientific and emotional," Minister Dissanayake said. "Singhalese and Tamil people tend to emotional."
Officials said even earth slips are being blamed on oil palm by critics.
However oil palm had been cultivated since the 1960s in Sri Lanka but the opposition had been whipped up in recently, officials said.
Disssanayake said more research had to be conducted to determine the impact if any on palm oil on the environment.
The Coconut Research Institute was looking into the matter but it was not really its job, he said.
At the moment he wanted take a step back until evidence was unearthed and guidelines could be devised for palm cultivation because ground conditions were 'adverse'.
Minister Dissanayake said the a policy decision adopted by the Rajapaska administration to permit 20,000 hectares of palm oil in the Kegalle district will be continued under the current administration.
He personally did not believe that oil palm could be a substitute for rubber but it could be used to supplement incomes of plantations, he said.
He said replacing 30-year old rubber plantations with oil palm was different from uprooting young rubber plantations with oil palm.
At the moment rubber prices had eased. Rubber prices moved up and down with global commodity prices.
"But prices will move up again," he said. "There is a future for natural rubber in the long term."
In Sri Lanka palm oil has high price because the government raised import duty on vegetable oils to 'protect' coconut land owners.
The artificially high prices for palm oil was then prompted companies and others to plant palm oil in a typical unintended consequence that state interventions usually have.
The current administration has however reduced the tax on palm oil somewhat, taking away some of the artificial incentive to grow palm oil at the expense of a competitive export crop like rubber.
Sri Lanka also has export taxes on rubber. (Colombo/June01/2018)