The significance of palm oil to the Malaysian economy can be judged from the fact that about 76% of its agricultural land is planted with oil palm. This is simply because oil palm gives the highest revenue per hectare per year to farmers. Now imagine the value of the industry when the biomass (waste) that comes out of oil palm processing and harvesting is monetised says Tan Sri Dr Yusof Basiron.
It is not an exaggeration to suggest that Tan Sri Dr Yusof Basiron is at the frontlines defending the RM80 billion palm oil industry of the country against the lobbyist of competing oils and fats industry (soya, corn, canola). From conducting regular media interviews with trade publications, wire agencies, the national press, appearing on radio and TV stations to posting videos on youtube.com, the chief executive officer of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council, or MPOC in short, is involved in promoting global acceptance of palm oil while shooting staring down biased accusations against the Malaysian palm oil sector.
He also keeps an active blog and is a regular keynote at various global Palm Oil-related conferences.
Chief among the negative campaigns are the ones initiated by western environmental NGOs who claim Palm Oil causes widespread rainforest destruction as well as habitat destruction of the Oran Utan and other wildlife habitat.
As Yusof tells Down Jones newswire a few months ago, “We undertake a lot of initiatives to overcome the negative perception created by these NGOs.” This is an important battle because Malaysian palm oil is exported to more than 150 countries globally – making it a critical commodity in terms of meeting global demand for a variety of sectors ranging from food to beauty to household items.
But Yusof now also has his eyes set on promoting a new revenue stream from palm oil – the biomass or waste that is left after the oil is extracted from the fresh fruit bunches of the palm oil tree and the fronds and trunk of the tree are cut.
Indeed, in past interviews he has declared: “The future lies in exploiting the biomass that is produced in huge quantities, ten times more in terms of volume than the palm oil that we produce, as an associated product of the industry. This huge amount of biomass can be converted into an energy source or even into fiber products like furniture parts. This could create an even bigger industry for the future.”
But while that biomass future looks enticing, the reality is that Malaysia is starring from a near zero base because it has been swimming in the profits of palm oil and has neglected to commercially exploit its biomass. But the introduction of the National Biomass Policy 2020 has changed that and put biomass squarely in the forefront of new efforts to monetize even the waste from palm oil.
As Yusof notes, with the proper technology to extract further value ie pallets, biofuels and biobased chemicals, this could bring in RM100 billion worth of revenue for the country while addressing global needs in terms of fuel, food and fiber.
“Some of our palm fibers are being used in car seats right now. Imagine how many car seats there are in the world that will need a continuing supply of fiber in the future. The world’s [fossil fuel-based] resources are going to deplete, but our resources are going to grow. Whether we are talking about bio-fuel, renewable material, fiber, or energy sources, when fossil fuel becomes depleted, we will be there,” Yusof says. And this thanks mainly to the oil palm tree. It looks like Malaysia’s golden plant is going to become even more valuable in future
Photo credit: Flickr user Tina Negus