Swiss Farmers Desperate for Trade Protection against Palm Oil

Nasaie, an oil palm small farmer in West Aceh Regency, Indonesia, joined the Replanting Program launched in 2017. The program aimed to improve not only the smallholder’s welfare but also the ecological quality by promoting sustainable practices among the smallholders.

The boycott of palm oil (PO) is the biggest obstacle to sustainability. This is borne out by fact and demonstrated by the most credible scientific research. The most recent, entitled “Environmental, Economic, and Social Consequences of the Oil Palm Boom” (Annual Review of Resource Economics), explains that PO is the nutrient that strikes the best balance between food security on the one hand and environmental sustainability and the protection of biodiversity on the other. This is also confirmed by the most important international NGOs, who are now convinced that the only alternative to palm oil is certified sustainable palm oil.

This explains the serious commitment of the producing countries, who are working hard to combine economic and social growth with sustainability and environmental protection. It is in Europe’s interest, and its moral duty, to support us in this huge effort, because protecting the environment is advantageous for everyone in Europe. Sustainability is a recent European objective: history shows us that it was not a top priority in the past.

For this reason, as palm oil producing countries, we face a further challenge: remedying centuries of devastation. 

Yet many Europeans continue to promote a boycott of palm oil. On the one hand, the European Commission rightly requires the production of raw materials with zero-deforestation certification. On the other, many European organisations are waging a trade and ideological war against PO. The alleged lack of sustainability of our production chain – disproved by facts and figures – is an excuse these organisations cling to in order to combat the success of palm oil, confirmed by the growing demand.

The list of those boycotting us for commercial reasons is a very long one, and includes not only competitor oils who have nothing near our average level of sustainability, but also companies that produce and distribute food, cosmetics, biodiesel and many other products. They all use false information to boycott PO, using the NGOs that have declared a sort of holy war on the oil palm, despite the fact that the main causes of deforestation and loss of biodiversity are to be sought elsewhere.

They’re now joined by the farmers of the famously neutral Switzerland, which is no longer so neutral: they have launched a referendum (with 56,000 signatures) to boycott PO. The aim is to ensure the failure of the bilateral trade agreement between Indonesia and Switzerland. This explains why they have the support of many Swiss NGOs, but this is just an excuse: the real reason – which the Swiss farmers have recognised publicly, if not explicitly – is that too much PO is coming in from Asia, causing major difficulties for local producers of rapeseed oil. The problem is the versatility of our PO.

The Swiss are not fighting to save the planet; they’re waging a trade war: it’s about protectionism. If they were really concerned about the planet, they’d be working alongside us to improve the sustainability of our production chains, strengthen the role of small producers and identify increasingly efficient production standards.

We’re no longer surprised or offended by this type of action, but we are worried about it. This boycott is bringing our daily work to a halt, and threatening to discourage the efforts of our many producers, who feel they have been deceived by Europe.

However, those who should be even more worried are the citizens of Europe, who risk being deprived of the benefits of a safe, sustainable, affordable ingredient, in favour of oils whose quality we do not dispute, but whose sustainability, and in particular price, is highly debatable. And what people in Europe should be most concerned about are the continual lies they are being told as an explanation for the boycott of palm oil. 

It’s the Europeans that have most to lose from this boycott, not us.