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Decoding Oil Palm: Myths vs Truths

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Smallholder representative Nimal Wijesinghe

By Anumita Ghosh

The contents in this article revolves round a scientific research-backed study on oil palm cultivation in the aftermath of the recent ban in Sri Lanka.

Oil palm is considered to be one of the most competitive vegetable oil crops in terms of productivity. The crop provides five times as much vegetable oil per hectare compared to alternative crops, such as coconut, and sequesters more carbon per hectare than tea and coconut. According to studies conducted by Sri Lankan scientists, per litre of palm oil requires lesser fertilisers and less water than coconut, dry rubber or tea. The crop primarily uses rainwater for cultivation, and there is no evidence of palm oil plantations causing groundwater depletion. Yet, despite a wide range of virtues, the Sri Lankan government has decided to ban palm oil production, ordering replacement of oil palm trees with rubber plantations, on grounds of unfavourable environmental and social impacts.

Myths & Truths

Unfortunately, palm oil has been at the receiving end of a perception that is nurtured based on unfavourable emotions and not facts around it. Claims of oil palm plantations leading to widespread deforestation and damage to ecosystems have hardly any transparent scientific research backing them. In Sri Lanka, oil palm does not replace forest but other plantation crops, primarily rubber or coconut. Therefore, its biodiversity performance needs to be compared with these crops, and as found in various studies, the differences in biodiversity between oil palm, rubber, tea and coconut plantations are neither significant nor conclusive.

In an attempt to break the myths around palm oil and its production, Solidaridad has released the “Myths and Truths of Oil Palm”, a research-based scientific study that provides information and assessments on palm oil through an in-depth literature review on research findings by over 15 leading scientists from top universities and research institutions across Indonesia, Malaysia, India and Sri Lanka. A result of extensive research, the publication vividly portrays the social, economic and environmental impacts of oil palm production.

Research highlights

Sri Lanka annually imports 180,000 to 220,000 MT of vegetable oil. This can be met with 50,000 ha of oil palm or 271,000 ha of coconut. Oil palm yields 4 to 5 times oil per ha.

Oil palm plantations have served Sri Lanka for over 54 years, starting around 1968 Palm oil is in many aspects healthier than coconut oil Currently, profits generated per ha/ year; Oil Palm LKR900,000, Coconut LKR280,000, Rubber LKR70,000, Tea LKR45,000 The daily wages per month for workers; Oil palm worker LKR30,000 – LKR50,000, Tea estate worker LKR25,000, Rubber tapper LKR18,000

No evidence has been found of soil and water resource degradation in the oil palm growing estates in Sri Lanka

A worldwide study which included Sri Lanka has shown that in Sri Lanka, the water footprint of coconut oil 10,548 m3water/ton, palm oil 3,946 m3water/ton.

Setting the tone

The launch was organised on 19 January 2022 in a hybrid event with scientists, government ministries and departments, research institutes, private sector, community organisations, media and other participants from Sri Lanka joining the event physically. Panelists and participants from India, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Netherlands and other parts of the world attended the event virtually.

Among the panelists, Dr. Shatadru Chattopadhayay, Managing Director, Solidaridad Asia, began the session on a strong and positive note, highlighting the socio-economic impacts of the crop.

“Stop condemning palm oil while adulating other oils, especially when we know that palm oil provides livelihoods to thousands of communities,” he mentioned, setting the tone of the session.

Professor Maja Slingerland from the Wageningen University of the Netherlands, who is also the study reviewer and editor, spoke at length on the impacts and opportunities of oil palm cultivation in Asia.

Research scholar, Dr. Ranjith Mahindapala, presented the audience with the key findings and recommendations from the publication. The panelists also included Manjula De Silva, Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, Sri Lanka; Mrs. Musdahlifah Machmud, Coordinating Ministry for Economic Affairs, Indonesia; Atul Chaturvedi, Solvent Extractors Association, India; Dr. Ahmad Parveez Ghulam Kadir, Malaysian Palm Oil Board, among others.

One of the panelists, Ms. Margot Logman, Secretary General of the European Palm Oil Alliance (EPOA), delivered an argument through her presentation stating: “Only alternative to palm oil is sustainable palm oil”. She urged for an urgent call to action in support of oil palm cultivation.

“We need to tell the complicated truth about sustainable palm oil, not a simple story. We need to win the trust of consumers with facts, and not emotions, in support of palm oil in Europe,” Logman said.

Logman’s call for a perception makeover of the crop was echoed in the smallholder representative Nimal Wijesinghe’s address to the audience. The president of the Haritha Derana Smallholder Association in Sri Lanka narrated how the small farmers in the region had developed misconceptions about oil palm primarily because they did not grow it and were not aware of the truths about the crop. “On learning about the higher profit and income of oil palm cultivation over other crops, they asked me: Can’t we grow this crop?” he mentioned.

Wijesinghe’s appeal to the authorities marked the perfect denouement to the session as he urged, “Give this crop to the smallholder; give it to the person who owns half an acre of land…the person who can grow only 25 trees. That would be the real Samurdhi (prosperity; also, the name of a government welfare scheme for low-income families in Sri Lanka).”

Anumita Ghosh is a Senior Editor and communication professional at Solidaridad Asia – an international sustainability organisation, and can be reached at anumita.ghosh@solidaridadnetwork.org



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Wing Commander (Retd.) D. Pradeep S. Kannangara elected president, Industrial Security Foundation

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The Industrial Security Foundation (ISF) which acts as the sole organization in Sri Lanka to represent the Private Security industry having incorporated by an Act passed in the Parliament, Act No. 51 of 1999, elected Wing Commander (Retd.) Pradeep Kannangara as its President for the years 2022/2023 at its 30th annual General Meeting which was held at the PIM Auditorium in Borella. Wing Commander Pradeep Kannangara was appointed President while 14 other members were appointed to the Executive Committee, strengthening the ISF in order to drive and uplift the standards of the private security industry in Sri Lanka.

He has served on the ExCo consecutively since 2012 under four different presidents where he held the positions of Senior Vice President during the last three consecutive years. He has also been a committed member of the ISF and was awarded prestigious coveted FISF title due to his many valuable contributions to the organization and the Private Security Industry in Sri Lanka in 2012.

Wing Commander Kannangara’s journey into private security began after a successful career in the Sri Lanka Air Force for over 24 years where he served in many capacities finally being the Officer Commanding of the Special Air Borne Force. A recipient of the Ranasura Padakkama (RSP) Gallantry award for his bravery, sacrifices and service to the nation by the President of the Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka in 1990. He holds a Master’s in business management from the Edith Cowan University, Perth, Australia too and serves as a Board Director in AB Securitas (Private) Limited in Sri Lanka and AB Securitas Bangladesh Limited.

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Kitchen & Bedroom reaffirms its partnership with Häfele Sri Lanka

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(L-R) Pawan Singh- General Manager Sales & Marketing at Hafele Sri Lanka, Jurgen Wolf- Managing Director Hafele South Asia, Dr. Sacquaff- Group CEO Kitchen & Bedroom, and Manish Mahajan, Director Sales Hafele South Asia

Kitchen & Bedroom, a name synonymous in the interior designing and furniture sector in the country recently celebrated its long-standing partnership with Häfele Sri Lanka during the latter’s 12th year anniversary celebratory event, reaffirming its ambitious plans to further strengthen and explore the numerous opportunities available here.

Häfele Sri Lanka, part of Häfele India which is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Hafele Global network, is a technology partner for various projects and initiatives of Kitchen & Bedroom. Both the companies operate in the interior design space, sharing their cumulative knowledge and expertise to provide extensive and personalized solutions catering to domestic requirements.

‘We take great pride in our association with Häfele Sri Lanka having exchanged and collaborated on many projects both commercial and household. We share similar values such as providing high quality, sustainable, functional and customized solutions to our customers, and most importantly to guide them through every aspect and step of the project and how best we could bring out their desired design,’ said Dr. Sacquaff, Kitchen & Bedroom Group CEO.

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DSI strengthens its islandwide presence with three new showrooms

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Amid the prevailing economic hardships faced by Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka’s premier footwear brand DSI recently expanded its islandwide presence in the country with the opening of three new showrooms in Kahawatta, Akuressa, and Chavakachcheri, with the aim of offering greater access to its diversified product range to a wider customer base.

Gracing the special occasion, the showrooms were declared open by D. Samson & Sons (Pvt.) Ltd. Managing Director Thusitha Rajapaksa, in the presence of Director Asanka Rajapaksa, General Manager Pradeep Samarathunga, National Sales Manager – Retail Sales Naleen Weerawardana, invitees, and well-wishers.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Thusitha Rajapaksa stated: “We are excited about expanding DSI wings to three new locations. Despite the ongoing economic conditions of the country, we took a call to take a proactive measure to expand our islandwide presence. While it has been a challenge, the commitment and hard work of our team has made it possible to serve our loyal customers better, and we are confident that we will be able to continue these efforts in the future as well.”

DSI is renowned for its well-trained staff who offer exceptional customer service. The three new DSI showrooms prioritize providing a unique service and customer support to make purchasing further convenient for the customer.

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