Yield of oil palm on peatland can be doubled

Workers stand near palm oil fruits inside a palm oil factory in Sepang, outside Kuala Lumpur, February 18, 2014. REUTERS/Samsul Said/File Photo

KUCHING: Oil palm yield on peatland can be doubled by undertaking mechanical soil compaction.

This is one of the findings from scientific research carried out by the Sarawak-based Tropical Peat Research Laboratory, according to Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem.

He said this changed the economics of agriculture on peatland.

“This mechanical compaction has also brought the unintended benefit of reducing susceptibility of peat fire outbreaks,” he added when opening the 15th International Peat Congress.

Adenan said the laboratory had established via scentific research that carbon dioxide emissions (CO2) from peatland with oil palm plantations were half those claimed by some uninformed parties, and that CO2 emissions from these plantations were actually lower than those from undisturbed peatland or forests.

He said that these vital scientific facts combined with proper enforcement and good governance had enabled the Sarawak government to formulate informed and sound policies pertaining to agriculture on peatland.

The laboratory, which was set up under the Chief Minister’s Department in 2008, aims to develop scientific, technical knowledge and clear understanding on the sustainability of oil palm cultivation on tropical peat.

According to Plantation Industries and Commodities Minister Datuk Seri Mah Siew Keong, the laboratory was given RM39.1mil from 2008 to 2015 to undertake research activities in collaboration with the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) towards developing best practices and other measures to ensure the suitability of oil palm development on peatland.   

Adenan said about 1.6 million hectares (ha), or 66% of Malaysia’s 2.43 million ha of peatland, was located in Sarawak, and that many rural farmers were involved in small-scale oil palm cultivation on peatland.     

Mah, in his speech at the ceremony, said about 27.5% of the country’s 2.43 million ha of peatland had been cultivated with oil palm.

He noted that planting oil palm on peatland was subjected to much scrutiny from environmental organisations, as well as ethical consumer advocacy groups for various reasons.

These, he pointed out, include allegations of oil palm development contributing towards the degradation of peatland, deforestation, the loss of biodiversity, greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.

“In order to address these issues, the Government will continue to ensure that the industry complies to the existing rules and regulations, including good agriculture practices and adopting a sustainable approach in development.”

Mah said MPOB had developed guidelines for the “Development of a standard operating procedure for oil palm cultivation on peat” as a guidance on oil palm cultivation on peatland.

Malaysia currently has 5.64 million ha under oil palm estates.

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