ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka has had oil palm for 51 years with no problems, but false accusations against the crop started only five years ago, the Planter’s Association representing regional plantations companies said.
“Oil palm has been cultivated in Sri Lanka’s Southern wet-zone for the past 51 years,..the Association said.
“On average, an oil palm harvester working on the Nakiyadeniya estate – Sri Lanka’s first oil palm estate – have been able to bring home an average wage of as much as Rs 50,000/- per month.
“Such substantial incomes have over time positively transformed the communities around the estate. By contrast, the average wage of a rubber tapper today is Rs. 18,000/- per month.”
The accusations includethat oil palm depletes groundwater and causes droughts, as well as claims that they cause mange in dogs and pushing up the population of serpents.
“By contrast, those actually employed on oil palm cultivating estates and living in the communities directly surrounding oil palm estates remain firmly in support of the crop, owing to the drastic improvements in livelihood and quality of life that these estates have created,” the group claimed.
The global opposition to palm oil came from Malaysia’s practices involving cutting down tropical rainforests to plant oil palm.
However in Sri Lanka only unproductive rubber estates are re-planted with palm oil.
Sri Lanka however as artificial government incentives to palm oil in the form of import duties on vegetable oil. High import duties make oil palm more profitable than rubber or any other crop by keeping domestic prices higher than world prices.
Sri Lanka also had high export taxes (cess) on raw rubber, which also reduces income from the crop to below the global price discouraging the cultivation of any other crop.
Oil palm is also less labour intensive.
The PA says India is already encouraging the cultivation of oil palm.
“A lot of the negative sentiment around this crop is a direct result of the totally unsustainable slash-and-burn methods used to clear virgin forests in Malaysia and Indonesia – practices which are strictly prohibited in Sri Lanka,” the statement said.
“At present our nation is one of a handful of global producers who can make an authentic and verifiable claim to producing oil palm sustainably with zero-deforestation.
By replacing unproductive rubber with oil palm, we are able to do exactly what consumers and environmentalists are demanding globally.
“It will be a tragedy if we allow this unprecedented economic opportunity to go to waste merely to pander to the ignorant and inflammatory claims of vested political and commercial interests that have no basis in objective facts.” (Colombo/Jan17/2020)