Sustainable practices in the palm oil industry

  • Living
  • Sunday, 07 Sep 2014

A file photo showing plant tissue, comprising palm fronds from old trees that have been cut down, left in-situ in a Sime Darby plantation; the practice allows the material to be recycled back into the soil.

SIME Darby Plantation Sdn Bhd has been very conscious about not burning old trees from as far back as 1985, when it instituted a zero burning policy; instead, the company fells trees that have reached the end of their life cycle.

Tang Men Kon, the company’s head of plantation sustainability and quality management, explained at the conference that oil palm trees aged between 25 and 30 years are cut down and chipped to make way for replanting; the chips are left in situ to allow the plant tissue to be recycled back into the soil, thereby improving soil fertility.

“We also practice zero deforestation of primary and virgin forests and ensure that there is no new developments of peatland where Sime Darby is concerned.

“Also, none of our plantations are on state forest lands.

“As a founding member of the RSPO (Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil), we achieved our certification in 2008. Today, we are the largest (global) producer of certified sustainable palm oil, as our strategic operating units in Malaysia are 100% certified while in Indonesia, we are 92% certified,” Tang said, adding that other certifications, like the International Sustainability & Carbon Certification and the RSPO Supply Chain Certification Systems, came in 2010.

Sime Darby Plantation produces 2.4 million tonnes of crude palm oil annually, with some two-thirds certified as sustainable.

Other green efforts that the company undertakes include sustainable land use and management; this includes preserving natural forest and wetland areas as well as river and riparian boundaries within their estates.

During replanting, slopes with gradients of more than 25 degrees are left as they are, with their forest cover intact.

“In 2008, we also committed to planting 1 million indigenous and endangered forest tree species on our estates – over 320,000 have been planted thus far,” said Tang.

“Proper irrigation, drainage, water gates and flood pumps are helping to maintain an optimal water table for the trees.

“In addition, we also constructed bunds in coastal estates to prevent any influx of floodwater during heavy rainfalls.

“Piloting composting is also something we have been doing as a mill waste management initiative for our mill waste since 2007. Empty fruit bunches and palm oil mill effluent, or POME, can be combined into compost mix to replace inorganic fertiliser – we have four open-system composting plants and another 22 closed composting plants to do that.

“At the same time, the empty fruit bunches are recycled back into the fields as mulch, while POME is treated to bring its biological oxygen demand (BOD, which refers to the amount of oxygen required by microorganisms to break down organic matter) down to a permissible level before it is applied back on the land,” continued Tang.

The aim of the company, he said, is to have carbon emissions slashed by 25% by 2016 and 40% by 2020. So far, 11 biogas plants are in various stages of implementation, which can eventually be used as power generation or combustion in preventing the release of methane into the air.

Related stories:

Implementing a national standard for the palm oil industry

Addressing palm oil concerns

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