Palm Oil Communication Challenge Getting Tougher

JAKARTA – The palm oil industry will be facing big challenges at home and abroad this year. The challenges will be posing by negative campaigns and foreign countries’ trade policies to tackle the trading of palm oil products.

“As a result, this year the palm oil industry will be facing tougher communication challenges at home and abroad,” Tofan Mahdi, head of the Indonesian Palm Oil Association’s (GAPKI) communication division, said on Monday, 4 January 2021.

The deputy editor-in-chief of Jawa Pos daily in 2007 said that actually the competitiveness of Indonesian palm oil industry is increasing due to the supportive regulations of the Indonesian government and the global trading condition of vegetable oils.  In responding to the increasing competitiveness, the producing countries of other vegetable oils have been trying to weaken it through a series of campaign strategies, which are pursued massively, systematically and measuredly.

“Palm oil competitiveness has been continually increasing. But its competitors have been continually trying to weaken it. Such efforts have been reflected by various issues of palm oil and trade policies in European countries, such as Switzerland and Britain,” said Tofan.

The change of leadership from President  Donald Trump to Joe Biden will also impact the palm oil trading in the USA. According to Tofan, Joe Biden in his speech underlined the issue of climate change. The President-elect had also stated that he will increase the fund allocation for climate change issues.

Tofan noted that Biden steps will affect campaigns and policies regarding the palm oil trade. “Anti-palm oil campaigns are getting more intense. It has been indicated since the end of 2020 when negative issues of palm oil were expanding to other issues that include palm oil workers. Recently, the Associated Press (AP), an international news agency based in New York, the USA, published a report on workers and suspected sexual harassment in oil palm plantations.

“Attacks against the palm oil are not only from Europe, but also from the USA. The fund commitment for climate change from the new government will push up the NGOs to launch anti-palm oil campaigns. We need to anticipate this issue,” he said.

Tofan said that it is now important to watch out the palm oil issues publicized by the international NGOs as the issues might become the campaign themes of local NGOs in Indonesia. In dealing with such condition, the Indonesian NGOs should maintain their spirit of nationalism.

“They should not take any negative information for granted, especially from the NGOs which are intentionally financed to pressure the palm oil,” said the author of the book titled “Pen on the Sky”.

The negative campaigns against palm oil cannot be countered by the palm oil industrial players alone. They need support and cooperation with all sides to deal with the negative issues.

Tofan said that the palm oil companies under the Indonesian Palm Oil Association (GAPKI) have been pursuing all out efforts to convince other stakeholders, especially in other countries, to support the palm oil industry. “We cannot do it alone. We need the support of the government to launch positive campaigns effectively and accurately,” said Tofan.

He said that the palm oil promotions have been progressing well through the government institutions, such as the oil palm plantation fund management board (BPDPKS). The positive campaigns should be also pursued through a synergy with other ministries, such as the ministry of communication and information (Kominfo), the ministry of research and technology and tertiary education, and the ministry of education and culture.

He said that in launching the positive campaigns, Indonesia needs to change its communication platform, which is previously focused on conventional platform, to the digital one. Advocacy and public awareness are needed in the social media.

“This communication challenge is a homework for the government, especially the trade ministry. The strategies of palm oil campaigns can be implemented more effectively and accurately,” said Tofan, the awardee of journalistic fellowship from the USA foreign ministry.

He asserted the importance of intensifying socialization on positive aspects of palm oil in the palm oil consuming countries. He cited the example of palm oil advantages in terms of land efficiency and nutrition through public information placed on the public places. For example, the campaigns conducted by the Moslem people in Britain that have resulted in positive views. The trade attaches and other diplomats have the important role in explaining the positive developments of palm oil.

“The palm oil has become a strategic commodity which plays an essential role in balancing our trade balance. Such capacity should be maintained by keeping its competitiveness and contribution,” Tofan concluded.