At the Conference of the Indonesian Palm Oil Association (Gapki ) IX in Bandung, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told the audience that palm companies are not hostile toward non-governmental organizations (NGOs). He encouraged palm entrepreneurs to establish partnerships with NGOs in order to improve their image and to prevent their being convicted in the court of public opinion of causing environmental damage. In other words, cooperation with NGOs, whose hobby is branding the palm companies as environmental criminals, could lead to an escape from their negative campaigns.
Environmental NGOs (ENGOs) welcomed what SBY said in the conference. Wirendro Sumargo, Forest Campaigner of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said that Greenpeace is not anti-palm industry, and believes CPO can be produced responsibly. In addition, the Netherlands-based ENGO encourages Indonesian palm producers to commit to azero deforestation policy and responsible production.
Large-scale palm companies are easy targets of negative campaigns staged by ENGOs, whose actions have broad impact on the Indonesian palm oil industry. Now the industry, which is able to absorb three million workers nationally, has a strong association with being a cause of environmental degradation.
The advice from government for palm companies to work with ENGOs is good. However, devolving full responsibility to overcome the negative campaigns launched by ENGOs to the palm company alone is a form of government irresponsibility. The government should contribute to a national effort to fix the palm industry’s image in the international community. This is important since the palm industry has become the backbone of Indonesia’s non-oil exports and has recorded a figure of more than US$ 20 billion each year on the trade balance.
Take a look at the Malaysian Government, which allocated at least 24 million ringgit for the Malaysian Palm Oil Board in an effort to counter anti-palm campaigns in 2011 and 2012. Though the budget did not include specific funding for research and development of palms, Malaysia truly realized and appreciated how much the industry meant to itseconomy so it were not afraid to assist the palm industry in addressing the problems created by ENGOs.
Based on Gapki data, palm production reached 28 tons in 2013. This included a total of 9.2 million tonnes for domestic consumption, while the rest was for export to various countries like China, India, and the European Union. Indonesia is targeted to reach 40.25 million tons of palm production in 2020. If this target is able to be achieved, it means there will be a further increase in revenues from the non-oil sector.
If the Indonesian Government could not allocate a budget to assist opinion building that the national palm industry is not environmentally destructive, it should be aware of itsown advocacy. Do not let the palm industry partnership with ENGOs transform into intervention of government policy and state sovereignty. Moreover, to interfere with the business strategy of national palm companies, which have to think hard to cope with the global palm industry competition, that is full of intrigue.