SINGAPORE (May 13): While the proposal by Teresa Kok, Malaysia’s minister of primary industries, to cap oil palm plantations in Malaysia at 6.5 million hectares by 2023 grabbed headlines in March, some environmentalists were uncomfortable with the target. This is because with a total oil palm planted area of 5.85 million hectares as at Dec 31, 2018, there is still room to expand by another 650,000ha.

“I believe this figure itself will not give stakeholders an assurance that deforestation will be curbed. We have not yet done the math, but it is well possible that the cap is near the limits of total land available for plantations. And when this is planted, there is not much suitable area left for plantations anyway,” says Niels Wielaard, director of Satelligence, a Dutch company that provides satellite data analytics services.

Nevertheless, he commends the minister for urging the Malaysian palm oil sector to make plantation boundary maps public for greater transparency. (Plantation companies in Malaysia have said in the past that maps are considered state secrets and classified under the Official Secrets Act 1972.)

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