At the first Rio Earth Summit in 1992, the Government of Malaysia made the unprecedented pledge to preserve at least 50 per cent of the country’s forest cover in perpetuity, ensuring that the tropical nation would preserve its incredible environmental endowment. This pledge followed decades of successful economic development, and the recognition that the country’s economic development policy holds the potential of leading Malaysia down the path to high income status. In fact, Malaysia’s small farmers reflect the critical balance that can be achieved through economic development alongside environmental conservation. According to the Brundtland Commission’s report, “Our Common Future,” sustainable development is achieved when said development “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." And Malaysian small farmers in the palm oil sector have been achieving this balance throughout the country. Through cultivation of small plots of land and cooperation in government small farmer schemes, environmental stewardship is being advanced hand in hand with economic development.
For instance, the Sarawak Land Consolidation and Rehabilitation Authority (SALCRA) which oversees more than 50,000 hectares of small farmer oil palm plantations actively supports environmental conservation. SALCRA supports the preservation and rehabilitation of riparian reserves, preservation of high conservation value forests and ensuring that small farmers practice low-impact, environmental cultivation practices.
Unfortunately, calls by Western Environmental NGOs (WENGOs) to require costly certification of small farmers is an inappropriate repudiation of these environmental practices, despite already meeting elevated environmental standards. Rather than applauding the practices of these and millions of other small farmers, WENGOs are actively advocating that costly auditing be imposed on these producers and that only WENGO controlled certification systems are acceptable. While industrial scale oil palm plantations are able to afford costly RSPO certification, for which the scheme was established, multi-million dollar WENGOs are demanding the same of small farmers.
Sustainable development and environmental conservation can only be achieved through balance between economic development and conservation – a balance that has to date been a cornerstone of Malaysia’s economic development and empowerment of small farmers. And despite the misguided cries of WENGOs in support of crippling certification requirements, Malaysia’s small farmers continue to maintain the highest environmental standards while contributing to Malaysia’s economic prosperity. Truly, the industrious Malaysian small farmer is a true steward of the national environment.