RI Asked To Effectively Counter Palm Oil Black Campaigns

Indonesia should launch a well-organized campaigns to counter the well-funded black campaigns pursued by the international NGOs amid the growingly tougher competition at the global market of vegetable oils.

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Such move was recommended during the INA Palm Oil Talkshow on Indonesian response on palm oil-related health issues amid the outbreak of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (Covid-19), which was held by the Palm Oil Communication Forum in Jakarta recently. It was addressed by a number of speakers, including Indonesia’s Ambassador to Germany Arif Havas Oegroseno, the foreign ministry’s trade, commodity and property rights director Hari Prabowo, the Southeast Asian Food and Agricultural Science and Technology (SEAFAST) Director Nuri Andawani, and the Indonesian Palm Oil Association (Gapki) Chairman Joko Supriyono, and moderated by Gapki Communication Division Head Tofan Mahdi.

The public discussion was also aimed to counter the advice of the World Health Organization (WHO) which recently asked the general public to avoid palm oil in their diet during the COVID-19 outbreak and use alternatives such as olive oil. The WHO Eastern Mediterranean Regional Office said in a recent advisory that people should consume unsaturated fats found in fish, avocado, nuts, olive oil, soy, canola, sunflower and corn oils rather than saturated fats found in fatty meat, butter, palm and coconut oils, cream, cheese, ghee and lard. The WHO then had corrected the advice after being criticized by many groups from Indonesia and Malaysia, which are the world’s largest producer of palm oil and together controlled 85 percent market share.

As the world’s largest producer of palm oil, Indonesia has never yet launched a well-structured campaigns with the full support of both the government and private sector to counter the black campaigns against the palm oil sector, which has become the backbone of Indonesian economy as it contributes the largest export income and around 16 million jobs to the country.

Arif Havas Oegroseno said that the negative campaigns against the palm oil is predicted to last for long, as the palm oil has been continually commanding a much bigger share at the growingly competitive global vegetable oils market, while other vegetable oils, especially soybean, rape seed and sunflower are continually struggling to maintain their market share amid the global rising demand for vegetable oils.

Palm oil is widely used as raw material to feed foods industries, such as cooking oil, shortenings, and margarine, and non-food industries, such as pharmaceutical products, cosmetics, soaps, detergents, toiletries, candles, lubricants and biofuel.

Havas reminded that the negative campaigns will not stop despite of the correction made by the WHO in its online info-graphic flyers. There is no guarantee that other international organizations will not repeat such fallacy. “The anti-palm oil campaigns are also launched by other international organizations with a strong financial support,” he said.

Havas, who has been working as Indonesian diplomat in Europe since 2010, cited the example of Avril Group of France, which has allocated US$75 million to finance anti-palm oil campaigns.

He said that it is now time for Indonesia to launch a well-organized and well-funded campaigns against the black campaigns launched the international organizations, especially the global environmental NGOs.

”Indonesia’s campaigns should not be just reactive like firefighters to extinguish fires. Our campaigns should be well-organized and launched regularly, and aggressively but smartly, both at national and international levels. The campaigns should be also accompanied with persuasive political lobbies and aggressive promotions to increase investments and trade abroad,” Havas said, adding that so far Indonesian campaigns are hindered by several problems, especially financial one.

Meanwhile, Gapki Chairman Joko Supriyono said that the black campaigns against palm oil industries had negatively impacted the investment climate of palm oil industries. He said that several European and US banks and lately the Japanese banks had decided not to give loans to the palm oil industries. During the last two years, the Japanese banks have no longer provided loans to the palm oil industries due to the mounting pressures from the environmental NGOs and the rising negative campaigns against the palm oil industries,” said Joko.

He underlined the importance of organizing a bigger scale of campaigns, which are well-structured and strongly-funded by all stakeholders, to counter the black campaigns launched by the international environmental NGOs. “I notice that the anti-palm oil campaigns have been increasingly massive and tend to be growingly unbalanced against the palm oil,” he said.

He said that recently the palm oil industries had been attacked with the issues of deforestations and health issues, which are relatively new as a theme of their campaigns. ”The issue of deforestation is relatively new, eight years at the latest. So is the health issue. Regarding the issue of human rights is just in the last two years. That means, contra-campaigns tend to be more progressive than the pro-campaigns,” said Joko. (*)