THE palm oil business can no longer ignore the call to embrace sustainability more thoroughly. As the consequences of the climate crisis grow, businesses worldwide are investing in climate mitigation measures.
Tree crops like the oil palm are viewed as a natural sequester of carbon (one of the greenhouse gases responsible for global warming and, thus, climate change), especially carbon dioxide which plants absorb for photosynthesis. However, within the crop ecosystem, the potential for carbon emission also exists. Rotting vegetation and crop residues within the oil palm plantation undergo microbial degradation, emitting greenhouse gases such as methane, which is 21 times more damaging than carbon dioxide.
Carbon farming, which involves minimising the release of such greenhouse gases, is proving to be agriculture’s way to be truly green. This has attracted the attention of the palm oil business as it struggles to achieve sustainability.
The threat of climate change is truly impacting oil palm farmers. They have to deal not only with productivity issues along with other agronomic challenges but must also adopt sustainable practices. There are valid reasons for the close scrutiny that agriculture comes under when assessing climate change mitigation measures. This is because growing crops and raising livestock account for nearly 50% of the planet’s habitable land. Emissions produced by the sector are also significant, accounting for about 25% of total greenhouse gas emissions.
No wonder there is an increased interest in carbon farming among oil palm growers. However, farmers must be sufficiently motivated to make it work. The carbon credit market, which operates on the pollution offset principle, is one platform to consider. Farmers who engage in sustainable practices can earn tradable carbon credits. Farmers must show evidence to claim the carbon credit. The measurement of the sequestered carbon must be shown as proof. This is where a reliable technique, agreed by all parties, is necessary.
Satellite imagery is increasingly used as a measurement technique to provide that evidence. The data obtained is deciphered using artificial intelligence to calculate the biomass and carbon sequestration value of the palms. It is also less labour- and time-intensive than field sampling.
Planet.com, an American Earth imaging company, conducts daily imaging of the planet so its satellite data can supply more data points to increase the effectiveness of modelling. Planet.com has participated in such projects in Europe to develop and commercially launch a platform that facilitates large-scale zero emission aspirations by measuring and monitoring the carbon sequestration of regenerative agriculture.
There is no reason why the palm oil business in Malaysia cannot do the same to generate data for sustainability project monitoring. The data can then be used to train machine-learning models on crop health, application of fertilisers, use of pesticides, water, and tillage to monitor the impact of regenerative agriculture management practices on carbon storage. Satellite imagery can be the game changer as the palm oil sector strives to show its commitment to sustainability.
PROF DATUK DR AHMAD IBRAHIM , Tan Sri Omar Abdul Rahman Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation Policy tudies,UCSI University
Source : The Star