No New Oil Palm on Peatland Debate Hots Up

Sarawak planters on the losing end as most of their estates are on peat soil

PLANTING oil palm on peatland has been a heavily debatable topic among oil palm planters and Western NGOs for quite some time but this issue is set to excalate to new levels this year.

Oil palm planters in Indonesia and Malaysia, primarily in Sarawak, are now challenged by a new criterion set by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) under its principles and criteria that prohibit its members (plantation companies/growers) to set up new oil palm plantations on peatland in order to obtain the RSPO certification.

A mechanism, the GHG calculator, has been put in place by the RSPO to gauge the amount of carbon emissions emitted from the “peatland” estates of the specific plantation company designed for the involved planters to “repay their carbon debt”.

Meanwhile, the world’s largest crude palm oil (CPO) producer, Indonesia, is expected to extend its two-year moratorium (which expires on May 20) to halt the commercial use of a total 65.2 million ha of its primary forests and peatland in an attempt to curtail deforestation and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Given the two scenarios, how will oil palm planters and even smallholders heavily involved with cultivation on peat soil fare under such depressing circumstances?

For Sarawak-based oil palm planters, many claim that they have been fighting a lonely battle on this issue without the full support of the Malaysian Palm Oil Association and government agencies.

They maintain that imposing a moratorium on planting oil palm on peat soil was economically and socially unacceptable especially to the rural community.

So far, 400,000ha of peat soil in the state had been planted with oil palm and these small holdings and plantations provide employment for 40,000 people.

In fact, oil palm cultivation in Sarawak currently accounts for over 1.2 million ha of arable land and has proven to be productive in optimising use of designated agriculture areas.

One could not simply wipe out plantations with over 25 years of oil palm cultivation in peat areas in Sarawak as these estates had proven to be as productive as those planted on mineral soil, said Sarawak Oil Palm Plantation Owners Association.

Furthermore, Sarawak planters have the Tropical Peat Research Laboratory Unit to thank for successfully turning the once unproductive virgin peatland into valuable palm oil plantation (resource) for the state.

The unit spearheaded by its director Dr Lulie Melling had dispelled the myth that palm oil yield was low when cultivated on peat soil. In fact, oil palm plantation on peatland can yield 25 tonnes of CPO per ha given proper management when compared with the yield from mineral soil of about 18 tonnes per ha.

Presently, some 400,000ha of peatland in the state has been planted with the golden cash crop.

Lulie had said it was hypocritical of Western NGOs to criticise Sarawak’s utilisation of peatland for oil palm when the UK had already deforested 80% of its forests and the Netherland’s about 175,000ha of peat soil had shrunk to only 5,000 ha.

Deputy news editor Hanim Adnan is most puzzled by the different stand taken by diferent states in Malaysia over the issue on the cultivation of oil palm on peatland.


Source : The Star

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