The Palm Scribe

Why Palm Oil Continues to Get a Bad Rap in Europe

Palm Oil in Hand
Photo: AFP

To many in Europe Palm Oil is evil incarnate. The oil that anoints deforestation and putting the world’s tropical forests under stress.

There are those working hard to change this perception. Their good intentions to educate and assure Europeans that palm oil being exported to Europe are sustainably produced, however, often have the efficacy of shooting themselves on the foot.

So it was that on Wednesday this week that the Belgian Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil  took the initiative to promote sustainable palm oil supply chains in Europe. With the COVID pandemic still ranging worldwide they, of course, organized an international webinar.

News of the webinar drew great interest in Indonesia, the world’s top palm oil producer, exporter as well as consumer.

Indonesian policy makers, academics, producers and others in the industry were obviously keen to communicate the steps it has taken to ensure Europe and the world at large that the palm oil produced for export was sustainable.

Alas they could not participate in this webinar. The reason: the organizers used a webinar platform called Accelevents, which bases its streaming of speakers on Vimeo, that is blocked in Indonesia – unless you used VPN.

The result was that the palm oil players in Indonesia were locked out of the webinar.

To their credit, the Indonesian side tried really hard to get in the webinar. In chats with the organizer, they asked for a way where the Indonesians can participate.

The response?  Not a let us explore alternative platforms or ways to bypass the technical difficulties but a simple, arrogant: It’s OK, we’ll send you a recording of the webinar after the sessions.

And with that, the palm oil players from Indonesia – the largest palm oil producing country and therefore a crucial dialogue partner in any discussion about sustainability – were locked out of the webinar.

Indonesia-based players who tried to log in to the event only saw a blank screen, devoid of any sound.From the comments in the event’s page in Accelevents, which remained visible to everyone, it looked like the Indonesians can at least take consolation that the webinar sucked technically.

The chat column was filled with complaints of low or bad audio levels, echoes, and even presenters having failed to unmute their microphones while others were talking.

In this day and age where technology enables connectivity like never before and therefore offering the promise of greater dialogue, it is a shame that the humanware behind such well meaning and potentially beneficial events are mired in arrogance or ennui.

Sadly, however, this lackadaisical attitude is all too common in the industry that has a great story to tell about how important a crop palm oil is as the world faces a shortage in vegetable oils and how, ironically, palm oil, grown sustainably, should be the crop of choice for everyone concerned about deforestation and the environment.

More from Bhimanto Suwastoyo.
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