IKIM, University Malaya, and the Academy of Sciences Malaysia are collaborating on a UNESCO-sanctioned research project on Bioethical Perspectives of Haze in Malaysia. As part of this project, an Expert Group Consultation (EGC) was convened at the IKIM Grand Hall on 18 September 2017.
PAHMI is one of the conferences that I try to attend every year if possible. The subject matter is a close fit with my research interests and the conference is an excellent opportunity to hear and reflect on scholarly views from ‘across the pond’. This year, the conference was held at the Faculty of Humanities, Universitas Indonesia.
I presented a paper entitled “Palm Oil Intensification and Expansion in Indonesia and Malaysia: Environmental and Socio-Political Considerations”. The paper will be expanded into a full-length article for publication, as one of the outputs for the British Academy Project on Evidence-Based Forestry in Indonesia. The Prezi for the presentation can be found here.
ICAS 10 was a very productive academic experience for me. During the convention, I had the opportunity to be part of two panels. The first was a panel organized by the Southeast Asian Studies Regional Exchange Program (SEASREP) entitled Emerging and Continuing Trends in Southeast Asian Studies. I was invited to share my thoughts on the position of Environmental Politics in the field. I shared a paper entitled “Trends in Environmental Studies in Southeast Asia: Transboundary Haze”. The paper offered a rough literature review of Environmental Politics in Southeast Asia and also some recommendations for more inclusion of the area in the syllabi of Southeast Asian studies programmes around the region. The piece will also be included in an upcoming special edition of SEASREP’s Regional Journal of Southeast Asian Studies.
(Please see Phase 1 here).
Phase 2 of our British Academy Project brought us to Leeds, Oxford, and London. The objective of this fiend trip was to meet with experts based in the UK who have done similar research to the one we are planning to undertake under this project, so that we can learn from them possible methodologies, strategies and challenges, as well as link up with possible contacts back in Indonesia.
Below is the full text of a commentary I recently wrote for Vol. 1 2017 of Diplomatic Voice, a publication of the Institute of Diplomatic and Foreign Affairs, Malaysia. You can view the entire publication here.
Our Palm Oil Conundrum
Malaysia’s latitude and tropical weather are ideal conditions for the oil palm tree to flourish. Currently Malaysia is the world’s second largest producer of this ‘golden crop’. We held the pole position until 2008, when Indonesia became the world’s biggest producer, a position they still proudly hold today. Combined, Indonesia and Malaysia produce more than 80% of the world’s palm oil.
Palm oil is one of the most important types of oils and fats available in the world today. Its usability is ubiquitous; palm oil is not only a common ingredient in foodstuffs, but it is also widely used in the cosmetics industry and in cleaning products, and nowadays increasingly for biofuel as well.
The demand for this ‘green gold’ has kept prices high on the commodity markets, and has been credited for bringing about national development and improving standards of living across the board in producing countries. As the world population continues to increase, the demand for oils and fats in the world is expected to continue to rise.
The oil palm is one of the most efficient crops for oils and fats. A relatively large amount of palm oil can be produced from quite a small area of land. For the same quantity, soybean oil production would require almost ten times the land area. This means that less land needs to be exploited to produce a target amount of palm oil, compared to any other vegetable oil.
Palm oil unfortunately has been linked to several environmentally unsustainable practises. These include deforestation, fires and haze pollution, habitat loss for endangered animals, and reduced biodiversity due to mono-cropping. Furthermore, some palm oil plantations have faced allegations of land grabs and human rights violations. The ‘healthiness’ of palm oil for consumption has also been an issue in the past, but this has largely been debunked – palm oil’s safety for consumption is no different than other widely available vegetable oils in the market.
The 2017 US-ASEAN Conference on Legal Issues of Regional Importance was held at Marina Mandarin, Singapore on 8-9 May. It was organised by the US Embassy in Singapore, The Asia Foundation and the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies. I was invited to participate in the conference and speak on the Environment Panel about the Transboundary Haze as a case study of a regionally important legal issue.
The panel was led by Professor Koh Kheng Lian, Honorary Director of the Asia-Pacific Centre for Environmental Law, Singapore. Prof Koh gave an extensive overview of the legal structure for environmental governance in ASEAN. The other panelist was Dr Jay Batongbacal, Director of the Institute for Maritime Affairs and the Law of the Sea, the Philippines. He spoke on the governance of maritime environmental issues, particularly focusing on illegal fishing and maritime sustainability in the region. It was an honour speaking on such an esteemed panel and being able to take part in an important academic discussion on the future of our region.
I was invited by the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (Kuala Lumpur office) to give a presentation on my book, “The Haze Problem in Southeast Asia: Palm Oil and Patronage”. Apart from the book’s major findings, I also provided some analysis of latest developments on the issue, including Jokowi’s approach to haze mitigation and Singapore’s new form of engagement with ASEAN over haze. Other RSPO offices around the world also followed the talk via weblink. The Prezi for the lecture can be found here.