Friday, October 7, 2011

Sex, palm oil, ice-cream and orang utan – Part 1

With so much talk about palm oil and its impacts on the rainforests, orang utans, etc, it is time for Monyet King to wallow in. Much of the talk in print media and cyberspace and those spewed by some NGOS (some, not all) is grossly one-sided (in either direction). Most people who do the talking are often camel-brained nitwits (apologies to the camel) who either don’t do their homework or simply cannot (or refuse to) fathom issues outside their intellectual huts.

If you have been to the Kinabatangan area in Sabah, you will quickly learn that large tracts of forests crucial for wildlife have been converted for oil palm. Some orang utan and elephant habitats have been destroyed and rivers polluted. In other parts of the state, what were once biologically diverse landscapes have been turned into sterile mono crop plantations. The situation is not unique to Sabah. Similar damages have occurred in other parts of Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Papua New Guinea, Nigeria, Ghana, just to name a few.  Many NGOs worldwide have been very critical of the palm oil industry, frequently highlighting the loss of rainforests and wildlife.

On the other hand, oil palm has been called the wonder crop. Palm oil is such a versatile product and is used in hundreds of consumer goods (soaps, detergents and cosmetics) and foodstuff including margarine, icecream (yes, ice-cream !!), cookies and chocolates. The crop has substantially boosted the nation’s (and other countries’) economy, lifted many out of poverty and provided employment to millions of people. It is estimated that there are at least 3 million smallholders worldwide growing oil palm. In Sabah for example, the cess earned from palm oil forms a big chunk of the state’s revenue and helps finance crucial development and poverty-eradication projects. The palm oil industry is credited for saving Malaysia during the 1997/98 Asian financial crisis (if not for the palm oil industry, some of you may have had to sell your backsides on the streets of Chow Kit then). In 2009, Malaysia exported RM 49.6 billion worth of palm oil, the tax and cess from which helped build our roads, schools and hospitals. Most importantly, it is an important and cheap source of vegetable fat for many of the world’s poor.

Given the many brickbats and bouquets surrounding the palm oil industry, it is important that we look at the issues holistically and avoid spewing crap that does not help anyone. We need to know what are the drivers, what will happen if we stop palm oil and what can we do to make it friendlier. I have tried to avoid technical jargon and heavy statistics in trying to keep the discussion as easy to understand as possible.

Let’s start with sex. As you read this article, there are millions of people having sex somewhere on this planet. And what are you doing? Sitting in front of a computer, fiddling with your mouse and reading this lousy blog. Ha ha loser.

Sorry for that digression. My point here is the planet’s population is increasing (because people are having sex, lots of them). The current world population is almost 7 billion and is expected to hit 8 billion by 2027 and 9 billion in 2046 (**). That’s a lot of people (many of them pretty dumb too). This year alone, 75 million people would have been added to the world population, majority of them in developing countries – mostly in Africa and South Asia. I think you are smart enough to know that this additional population will have to be fed, sheltered, educated and employed. In Malaysia alone, the current net increase in population is about 500,000 a year – and we need to find ways to continuously feed, shelter, educate, and later employ them. It is very unlikely that the population growth can be stopped in the near-term unless we impose draconian measures like China’s previous 1-child policy or India’s previous forced sterilization or shoot anyone who listens to Justin Bieber.

Point No 1: Population is rising and putting tremendous pressure on land, natural resources and infrastructure. Please switch on your brain and think about how to provide food, housing and education for 500,000 ADDITIONAL MALAYSIANS EVERY YEAR or 75 million additional global citizens EVERY YEAR. [Note ** : the population projection figures may vary slightly depending on the methodologies used by various organizations. The world population may eventually stabilize but that is still a long way to go]

With the rapidly increasing world population coupled with increase in income levels, the world demand for vegetable oils (and most other types of food including roti canai and belacan) will naturally increase. Vegetable oil comprises soya bean oil, corn oil, olive oil, coconut oil, rapeseed oil, palm oil, etc (minyak gamat, minyak atar, minyak enjin, minyak cap kapak not included). The world’s production of vegetable oils increased from 40 million tonnes in 1980 to 133 million tonnes in 2009. The annual demand for vegetable oil is projected to reach 160 million tonnes in 2020. Much of this additional demand will come from developing countries (Africa, South Asia, China).

The global average per capita vegetable oil consumption is now about 24 kg per person/yr. The average consumption rates in the US and EU countries are 52 kg/person/yr and 59 kg/person/yr respectively compared to only 13 kg/person/yr and 12 kg/person/yr in India and Nigeria respectively. History has clearly shown that with increasing income levels, the per capita consumption of vegetable oil will increase. The fellow in India is not going to be eating plain chapati everyday. When he has money, he will want to eat fries, biscuits, pastry, cookies, chocolates and icecream – all which need vegetable oil. It is the same for the fellow in Nigeria, Pakistan, Ghana, Bangladesh, China, Cambodia, Indonesia and many other developing countries. Again it is not easy to stop the rise in demand for vegetable oil. Can you imagine going to Africa and yelling “yo you freakin’ Africans. Stop dreaming about ice-cream and cookies. We will make sure you don’t get it”. Or going to the US and shouting “hey, you moron … quit eating ice-cream or we will get George Bush elected again”.

You might ask what if we simply limited the production of vegetable oil to present day levels ? Very simple, if you limit supply when demand is rising, the vegetable oil price will rise (basic economics) – further exacerbating the inequality between the poor and the rich. If you stopped oil palm, the shortfall in supply will be met by expansion of other crops such as soyabean, corn, etc.

Point 2 : the global demand for vegetable oil will continue to rise. Developing countries in Africa and Asia will be where the additional demand will come from. Curtailing production will cause prices to rise and this will affect the poor more than the rich.

Let me recap.
The world (and Malaysia’s) population will continue to grow. All these additional human beings will need to be fed, sheltered, educated and provided employment (not forgetting entertainment, healthcare, communications, recreation, etc, etc) and this will put tremendous pressure on land. The increasing population, coupled with rising income levels, will lead to substantial increase in the demand for vegetable oils. If this additional demand cannot be met, prices will go up, which will affect the poor more than the rich.

Of course,many of you will say that people should consume less. I totally agree. But how do you convince 7 or 8 billion people to consume less, especially many of the poor who have now the chance to have luxuries (yes, cooking oil is a luxury to many) that they never had before. (Note : the average Malaysian consumes 5 times more vegetable oil than an average African. So do you think you can get Malaysians to reduce their consumption by 80%?).

To be continued
Part II coming soon

Read Part II and Part III here

Part 2
Part 3


Cat-from-Sydney said...

We're waiting with bated breath for the second instalment. No cats are involved, right? purr...meow!

ibnu marzuki al firdaus said...


Monyet King said...

You never know... I think there is a link between the cats and palm oil

Monyet King said...

Ibnu Marzuki
after you lah

semuanya OK kot said...

The constraints are population, climate, technology and politics (including fascism). Adam Smiths's bleak prognosis has merely been postponed. Even the countries having low or negative population growth will be overrun by refugees, as we now see in Europe.

Monyet King said...

I don't think the future is bleak. I think the future will be a better place than the present.

woody said...

having said this and that, it seems, this post is merely talking about 'talking'. Not much for monyets to do, BUT to continue f-king and produce offsprings...

I guess the latest trends would be for the ladies to get slimmer (beauty by today's and most probably future's standards), hence they don't seem to consume a lot in terms of FOOD (but they do consume a lot in terms of exterior 'embellishments', which needs oil too, except, we tackle that one later), maybe could save some for the Africans...NO?

Monyet King said...

Not quite sure what your point is.

Some ladies (and men) are trying to eat less and keep slim. But the bulk of the world's population is comsuming more and more.

HHalem said...

Monyet king:-)

Your office and yr present day house used to be hutan and kelapa sawit, surrounded by so many Monyet species. YES, where your lap-top is now located, the position used to be a pokok petai about 5 story tall. Where your toilet now is, use to stand a 100 year old pokok Jati.
Don't believe me, take the coordinate GPS and compared it with the google stalite image.

At the present rate of war going on between the Monyet and Human (adik beradik monyet), I would think there will be no more room for The King to rules.

Monyet King said...

Human, by virtue of being smarter, have the responsibilty to ensure that all species survive. Humans have that capacibility. Unfortunately, many chosen not to use it.