Award-winning environmental journalist Dr Nafeez Ahmed says that boycotting palm oil could have “devastating environmental consequences.” Writing for The Ecologist, Ahmed outlined why banning palm oil is not a viable solution and he described measures implemented by Malaysia that could have a positive global impact on deforestation. 

Ahmed quoted a study published in the “Annual Review of Resource Economics” that concluded, “Given oil palm’s high land productivity, meeting the rising demand only through other oil crops would entail even more land-use change and natural habitat loss.”

He noted that deforestation in Malaysia has experienced a marked decline. “According to Global Forest Watch, the most likely drivers of this welcome decline include local forest conservation policies such as “increased law enforcement to prevent forest fires and land clearing, and the now-permanent forest moratorium on clearing for oil palm plantations and logging.”

Malaysia’s progress, he further noted, coincided with the implementation of its nationally mandated sustainable certification scheme, Malaysia Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO). Commenting on the EU’s call for “a consistent set of global certification standards,” Ahmed wrote: “The case of Malaysia could provide a test-case for how such a model might work, with wider implications for EU and western engagement with the developing world.”

He further stated, “Success with the MSPO model may well provide a case study of a set of international and national institutional arrangements, policies and legislative instruments which can be used to allow the EU and international agencies to monitor and respond in real-time to the risks of deforestation, while simultaneously working closely with local producers to enforce nationally backed laws which essentially criminalize deforestation.”

Ahmed says in his conclusions, “We cannot survive on this planet without sustaining the planetary ecosystems essential for our survival.”