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Sri Lanka palm oil industry appeals government ban

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s oil palm industry has called for discussions after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said planting of palm oil trees will be stopped “immediately”, in the wake of claims made by some activists that the crop harmed the environment.

Under a cabinet decision taken during the time of President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2014, palm oil extent was to be expanded by 20,000 hectares.

“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…,” Sri Lanka’s Palm Oil Industry Association said in a statement.

The industry asked to be allowed to plant saplings in nurseries which have been imported to the country.

The association said it sought President Rajapaksa’s “intervention to permit planting of the saplings under the specified guidelines.”

Palm oil cultivation is under fire globally mainly due to cutting down tropical forests in Malaysia and Indonesia.

However in Sri Lanka palm oil is grown in marginal agricultural land of large commercial plantations.

“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…,” the Association said.

The Association said there had been no loss of forests and the oil palm had expanded over 50 years with no habitat loss or climate impacts which were scientifically attributable to the crop.”

“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..,” the POIA claimed.

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Sri Lanka’s meteorologists have said that rainfall patterns have become more volatile in Sri Lanka with generally higher rainfall seen during shorter periods over the past few decades.

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, the Association claimed.

It said oil palm was not grown at the expense of coconut or any other crop.

Plantations firms are keen to grow oil palm due to an unintended consequence of a state intervention involving high import duties on oil vegetable oils to protect coconut farmers.

As a result palm oil is artificially profitable and like other import substitution industries, non-export competitive. (Colombo/Aug24/2020)