Category Archives: 2019 Vol 31 Sept

QUANTIFYING TOTAL CARBON STOCK OF MATURE OIL PALM

The carbon stock of oil palm is an important indicator of environmental and agronomical impact of oil palm. Measuring variations in oil palm biomass with age, geographical region, and plantation management are necessary to accurately predict carbon stock across ecosystems. However, quantification of total carbon stock for mature oil palms is not well described. Here, we determined above- and below-ground biomass of mature palms planted on mineral soil in Sarawak, Malaysia using both destructive and non-destructive methods. Based on allometric equations, older palms constitute a greater total carbon stock, with the largest contributions from trunks and roots. Total carbon stocks assessed per the non-destructive method were 50.7 Mg C ha-1, 44.4 Mg C ha-1, and 72.1 Mg C ha-1 in 11-year old, 21-year old, and 29-year old palms, respectively. Our results show that trunk biomass increases with the age of palms. Root biomass was substantially higher in older palms. Using the destructive method, total carbon stock of the 21-year old palms was approximately 51.3 Mg C ha-1. Differences between the two methods may be attributed to unaccounted palm components using the non-destructive method. The inclusion of unaccounted palm components, such as spears, cabbage and trunk bole would increase total carbon stock of 21-year old palms to approximately 48.0 Mg C ha-1. This suggests that the non-destructive method may effectively estimate carbon stock, given specific corrections and assumptions. This study demonstrates a field applicable approach for quantifying the total carbon stock of oil palm to assess the impact of oil palm plantation on the ecosystem carbon balance.

PALM KERNEL SHELL BIOCHAR PRODUCTION, CHARACTERISTICS AND CARBON SEQUESTRATION POTENTIAL

Properties of palm kernel shell (PKS) biochar were studied to identify its potential for soil amendment and carbon sequestration. In this study, slow pyrolysis of PKS was conducted using the Biochar Experimenters Kit at final temperatures 400ºC – 600°C and holding times 30 – 90 min with a heating rate of 7.3 ± 0.6°C min-1. Samples were characterised using CHNS/O analyser, Brunauer-Emmet-Teller (BET), leaching column for cation exchange capacity (CEC), energy dispersive X-ray (EDX) and Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) spectrometers. The C content increased from 46 wt.% to 73 wt.% after pyrolysis, while hydrogen (H) and oxygen (O) contents decreased due to dehydration, decarboxylation and demethanation. The molar H/C and O/C ratios of PKS biochar ranged from 0.32-0.54 and 0.08-0.21, respectively, suggesting high stability in soil. PKS biochar at 500°C (90 min) exhibited the greatest carbon sequestration potential of 0.63 kgCO2/ kgPKS. The pH was between 9.3 to 12.0, while CEC increased from 3.00 to 4.44 cmol kg-1 only for biochar at 400°C (60 min). The BET surface area and total pore volume increased from 106 m2 g-1 and 0.01 cm3 g-1 (raw) to 329 m2 g-1 and 0.31 cm3 g-1 (biochar) at 600°C (60 min) whereas water holding capacity increased from 2.23 g(H2O)/10 g to 6.21 g(H2O)/10 g at 500°C (30 min), respectively. Plant nutrients were retained in PKS biochar (400°C and 500°C). PKS biochar can potentially sequester carbon and improve nutrient and water retention in acidic low-fertility soils.

TRANSFORMATION OF OIL PALM INDEPENDENT SMALLHOLDERS THROUGH MALAYSIAN SUSTAINABLE PALM OIL

Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) is the national standard in Malaysia which seeks to promote sustainability of the oil palm industry. It was launched in 2013 and the implementation of the certification scheme started in 2015 on a voluntary basis. The targeted mandatory implementation for the whole industry is 31 December 2019 with effect on the 1 January 2020. With the mandatory implementation of MSPO, the industries have prioritised their commitment towards sustainability, including smallholders. In Malaysia, independent smallholders play a vital role in the palm oil industry and occupy over 16% of total oil palm land area. This article looked at the transformation of independent smallholders based on an amended conceptual transformation model developed and review from some of the MSPO audit findings among the independent smallholders. It was observed that there is an enhancement in the three elements of sustainability which are environment, social and economy among the smallholders through implementation of MSPO, thus, suggesting further strengthening the transformation of the smallholders by improving the management system of the smallholders.

A CASE STUDY INTO THE SUSTAINABILITY JOURNEY AND BIODIVERSITY CONSERVATION PROJECTS IN SARAWAK BY SARAWAK OIL PALMS BERHAD

Sarawak is the largest state in Malaysia with an oil palm cultivation area of 1.56 million hectares which accounts for 27% of the total cultivated area in Malaysia. This case study focuses on the sustainability initiatives and outcomes by Sarawak Oil Palms Berhad (SOPB), a Sarawakian oil palms plantation company incorporated in Malaysia. This study shares SOPB’s past experiences, present operational practices, its adoption of industry sustainability standards and certification schemes such as the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) and International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC) and SOPB’s future plans, in particular, biodiversity conservation efforts while juggling the competing goals of People, Planet and Profit.

ANALYSIS OF THE UNCERTAINTIES OF THE INCLUSION OF INDIRECT LAND USE CHANGE INTO THE EUROPEAN UNION RENEWABLE ENERGY SOURCES DIRECTIVE II

Indirect land use change (ILUC) occurs when vegetable oils which were previously used for food are now also used as fuels, which compels more land to be cleared to fulfil this additional demand. This article analyses the uncertainties and biasness of the inclusion of ILUC into the European Union Renewable Energy Sources Directive (EU RED) II especially towards palm oil. The consideration of a feedstock globally instead of regions penalises sustainable producers of a feedstock. Loading a detrimental projected deforestation percentage on palm oil based on limited publication with high uncertainties is not acceptable. Disregarding the increasing forest cover in Malaysia now at 55.6% due to Malaysian government pledge and intervention to maintain at least 50% of the country as forest cover seems unfair. Projections were based on historical data which contradicts developments and improvements which never follows historical data or events. In terms of oil yield, palm oil is 5.56, 10.53 and 7.84 times more productive than rapeseed, soyabean and sunflower oil, respectively. To substitute one million tonnes of palm oil which can be produced in 250 000 ha yr-1 will require soyabean, rapeseed and sunflower oil 2 632 500, 1 390 000 and 1 960 000 ha yr-1 respectively which will increase the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the land use change and ILUC for these crops as well. National sustainability certifications need to be supported by EU to fill the gap and to be recognised to certify the low ILUC risk and additionality. Generally, many components of the Commission Delegated Regulation are very restrictive to palm oil and are presented without clear scientific evidence which appears to be targeted at disqualifying the use of palm oil as biofuel. This can be construed as a form of trade protectionism and more politically driven rather than science.

AN ECOSYSTEM SERVICES ANALYSIS OF OIL PALM AND ALTERNATIVE LAND USE SYSTEMS ON PEAT IN MALAYSIA

In this article, we assess the potential of alternative land use systems using non-drainage peatland species which could eventually phase out or partly replace oil palm plantations on undrainable peatlands. We have used the ecosystem services approach to analyse what scenarios using drainage-free peatland species could be suitable alternatives for oil palm cultivation on peat and how these scenarios compare to oil palm plantations in terms of selected ecosystem services. Our results indicate that alternative paludiculture systems will provide more direct and indirect ecosystem services than oil palm plantations on peat. We also found that stakeholders were aware of issues with growing oil palm on peat, and that there was a general intention for sustainable use of peatlands amongst several groups of stakeholders. Replacing oil palm with alternative systems such as paludiculture in Malaysia is not yet realistic. The most important impediments are a lack of knowledge on potential of non-drainage peatland species and its associated value chains, as well as the technical difficulty for smallholders to implement such a system. We recommend starting experimental plantings with paludiculture systems to further test species performance, life cycle analysis, growth, intercropping limitations and possibilities, yields and improvements in the value chain.

MAPPING THE CHARACTERISTICS OF TROPICAL FOREST PEAT AND CULTIVATED PEAT UNDER OIL PALM PLANTATION IN SARAWAK, BORNEO

This study attempts to establish and map the characteristics of peat soil under oil palm plantation and forest ecosystem. Peat soil from oil palm plantation and forest was collected for analysis at the depths of 0-15 cm, 100 cm, 200 cm and 300 cm. The plantation peat was found richer with exchangeable calcium and potassium likely due to the fertilisation and liming practices at the estate. The carbon dioxide (CO2) flux was detected higher at the plantation with elevated emission recorded near the drainage canal. As the depth increased, moisture was evidenced to surge with declining bulk density, indicative of less decomposed underlying peat. The E4/E6 values, however, did not reveal any statistical difference in peat soil from different land use and depths. The carbon-to-nitrogen (C/N) ratio was found lower in the cultivated peat suggesting reduced nitrogen stores. This was likely associated with the plantation management practices, resulting in enhanced mineralisation of nitrogen. The C/N ratio was evidenced to increase with increasing depths in both plantation and forest, indicative of lower humification degree for the horizon peat. It was concluded that the soil characteristics differed between land use and depths with spatial variations within each land use.

RANCHING AND CONSERVATION OF BIRDWING AND SWALLOWTAIL BUTTERFLY SPECIES IN THE OIL PALM SYSTEMS OF PAPUA NEW GUINEA

Despite its small size (<200 000 planted hectares, 0.4% of the national surface), the oil palm industry in Papua New Guinea is accused of destroying wildlife habitats, notably for iconic insects such as birdwing and swallowtail butterflies. Two subspecies of butterfly (Ornithoptera priamus bornemanni and Papilio ulysses ambiguus) endemic in West New Britain were used in a study aimed at developing a model, low-maintenance butterfly farm for conserving and propagating iconic species within the oil palm estate environment. Food sources of both the larval and adult stages were identified and investigated for their suitability to produce an abundance of butterflies. Large numbers of O. p. bornemanni were produced when the larval food plant (Aristolochia tagala) was grown at high density. For P. u. ambiguus, the presence of specific nectar-producing plants was sufficient to attract the insect from the wild to breed in the farm. Suggestions for establishment of butterfly farms are provided and it is recommended that the oil palm industry enhance conservation of iconic butterflies by establishing butterfly farms on the estates and increasing butterfly food sources in targeted restoration and conservation areas.

THE DIVERSITY OF UNDERSTOREY BIRDS IN FOREST FRAGMENTS AND OIL PALM PLANTATION, SARAWAK, BORNEO

Much of the Bornean rainforest has been converted to oil palm plantation. This has resulted in forest fragmentation, which in turn has led to changes in avian assemblages in these fragments. This study: (1) examines the diversity of understorey birds at the edge, in forest fragments, and in neighbouring oil palm plantation; (2) compares the bird assemblages along distance gradients from the forest edge; 3) identifies the species common to both forest and oil palm plantation; and 4) examines seasonal variation (dry and wet season) in bird diversity. Understorey birds were mist-netted from November 2013 to April 2015 (22 680 net-hours). A total of 342 individuals comprising 58 species from 25 families were captured. Sampling effort did not yield an asymptotic species accumulation curve and an estimated 77% of all species were captured. Species diversity was greatest at the edge compared to the forest interior and oil palm interior. Species composition differed along the forest-oil palm gradient, with some species confined to the edge, oil palm and forest habitat. Those edge species that also occurred in the oil palm plantation were relatively abundant. Regular surveys of avian assemblage will aid monitoring of habitat quality and change, as well as ecosystem functionality and the maintenance of vital ecosystem services that benefit both native vegetation and oil palm.

THE ROLE OF FOREST FRAGMENTS IN SMALL MAMMAL CONSERVATION IN AN OIL PALM PLANTATION IN NORTHERN SARAWAK, BORNEO

In recent decades vast areas of Bornean rainforest have been converted to monocultures, particularly to oil palm. This study describes and compares the diversity and persistence of small mammal species in fragmented forests within an oil palm plantation. Small mammals were trapped over 44 sampling days using mist-nets, harp traps, and cage traps. A total of 39 species of small mammals were trapped, represented by 22 volant (bats) and 17 non-volant species. These species were represented by 29, 15 and 26 species, and controlling for sampling effort by rarefaction, 19, 15 and 14 species of small mammals in high conservation value (HCV) forests, forest edge, and in oil palm plantation, respectively. Species diversity was greatest in the HCV forests (H’ = 2.22), followed by oil palm plantation (H’ = 1.11), and then edge (H’ = 1.07). The smaller HCV forest (116 ha vs. 990 ha) contained more species than the larger forest (25 vs. 17 species). We attribute this to differences in species relaxation rates and the possibility that species density compensation has occurred in the smaller forest. This study demonstrates the conservation value of small forest fragments in oil palm plantations to maintaining native species diversity and the ecosystem services they provide.

ENHANCING SUSTAINABLE OIL PALM CULTIVATION USING COMPOST

Increasing interest in the sustainability of oil palm cultivation has led to greater use of oil palm waste as a substitute for inorganic fertiliser and to improve soil health. Waste materials from oil palm mill process include palm oil mill effluent (POME), decanter cake and empty fruit bunches are co-composted. Co-composting these wastes would not only solve myriad of environmental issues, it could potentially improve soil quality and fresh fruit bunch production for sustainable palm oil production. Therefore, a field experiment was initiated to study the effects of compost and inorganic fertiliser on soil chemical properties and fresh fruit bunch yield of oil palm planted on a sedentary soil in Peninsula Malaysia. Application of either compost or fertiliser alone increased fresh fruit bunch yield, from 23.24 to 25.49 or 25.55 t FFB ha-1 yr-1. Soil chemical properties such as soil pH, organic C, total N and P, available P, exchangeable cations (K+, Ca2+ and Mg2+) and cation exchange capacity were significantly increased by the application of compost, making compost an effective organic material and nutrient source for improving the health of soils under oil palm cultivation.

SOIL BACTERIAL BIODIVERSITY IN DEVELOPMENT OF SECONDARY LOGGEDOVER FOREST TO OIL PALM PLANTATION IN MINERAL SOIL OF BELAGA, SARAWAK

Conversion of forest to oil palm typically results in significant land changes within the soil, for example, extensive damage to the top soil, soil compaction and erosion. Such changes are often related to reductions within the biodiversity and abundance of the soil microbial communities. By using 16S rDNA and denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis, we investigated the microbial composition between oil palm plantations, at various stages of planting in mineral soil of Belaga, Sarawak in Malaysia, and forest ecosystem (biodiversity strip). Bacterial composition within biodiversity strips of secondary logged-over forests was mostly dominated by unclassified bacteria, Acidobacteria, and Actinobacteria followed by α-Proteobacteria whereas oil palm management areas were most commonly consisted of unclassified bacteria, Firmicutes, β-Proteobacteria, Actinobacteria, Acidobacteria and Chloroflexi. In a newly developed oil palm plantation, pH factor with the addition of fertiliser during land clearing altered the bacteria composition, affecting several phyla especially Acidobacteria, and with increasing pH, the population showed an abundance of Firmicutes, β-Proteobacteria, γ-Proteobacteria, Chloroflexi, and Bacteroidetes. Shifts in the bacterial community of the oil palm plantation, especially with the increasing number of the phylum Firmicutes, β-Proteobacteria, Bacteroidetes and the decreasing number of α-Proteobacteria caused by the slight increase of pH values indicated that changes of soil properties introduced by field management (e.g., fertiliser application) somehow affects bacterial composition. Nevertheless, the method of intercropping oil palm with black pepper and pineapple, during oil palm aged 4.5 years, showed increasing emergence of minor phyla from Gemmatimonadetes, Planctomycetes, Chlamydiae and Cyanobacteria, which contributes to the diverse variations of new phylum to the microbial diversity of the oil palm area indicating this method as a sustainable system for the oil palm management. Overall, there is a need for further research in using sustainable methods such as a suitable intercropping system that can positively improve soil fertility and a balanced long-term usage of biofertilisers and chemical fertilisers, which can enhance the biodiversity of the bacterial community and contributes to the sustainable development of oil palm plantations.

PROSPECTS IN SUSTAINABLE CONTROL OF OIL PALM PESTS AND DISEASES THROUGH THE ENHANCEMENT OF ECOSYSTEM SERVICES – THE WAY FORWARD –Review Articles

The oil palm environment in Malaysia is rich in many ecosystem services which can be beneficial to control pests and diseases. Some examples are the soil microbes which consist of entomopathogenic fungi and bacteria which can be exploited for insect control, especially bagworms, rhinoceros beetle and termites. The bagworms (Lepidoptera: Psychidae) are currently severely infesting oil palm plantations in Malaysia. The Integrated Pest Management (IPM) of bagworms includes aerial spraying of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), cultivation of beneficial plants and fixing of natural pheromone traps. The rhinoceros beetle (Coleoptera: Scarabaeidae), can be managed with the soil fungus Metarhizium and the Oryctes nudivirus (OrNV). The subterranean termite (Isoptera: Rhinotermitidae) can be controlled with two entomopathogenic fungi, Beauveria bassiana and Metarhizium anisopliae which perform similarly as an insecticide. The soil microflora, rich in soil antagonists, can be useful for the control of Ganoderma disease. The Integrated Ganoderma Management (IGM) approach is advocated, which aimed at minimising disease incidence in replanting and prolonging the productive life of the infected palm. Birds are also examples of ecosystem services which can be further exploited for the control of rodents and also insect pests. There are several endemic nocturnal and diurnal bird species inhabiting the oil palm plantation which have the potential to control pests, especially rats and bagworms. This article deliberates on some of the endemic ecosystem services in Malaysia which have been exploited towards the management of major pests and diseases in oil palm. The enhancement of existing and introduced ecosystem services would ensure better management of pests and diseases for the sustainable cultivation of oil palm.

BAGWORM (Lepidoptera: Psychidae) INFESTATION IN THE CENTENNIAL OF THE MALAYSIAN OIL PALM INDUSTRY – A REVIEW OF CAUSES AND CONTROL –Review Articles

In the sixties, the cause of outbreaks for leaf-eating caterpillars, particularly bagworms (Metisa plana and Pteroma pendula) and nettle caterpillars was shown to be applications of synthetic organochlorine insecticides. These disrupted the prevailing strong natural balance between the pests and their insect natural enemies, parasitoids and predators. These disruptive insecticides have long lasting contact residues and are lethal to the free flying natural enemies. Halting application of these pesticides caused many outbreaks to terminate quickly. Selective pesticides which were then brought in, killed the pests and relatively spared the enemies (integrated control). Such pesticides, in the form of lead arsenate (stomach acting), and trichlorfon (fast fading residues) were used in large scale application to suppress continuing infestation. Trunk injection (TI) which was later developed uses a suitable systemic organophosphate insecticide which is injected into palm trunks and kills only insects that eat the leaves. From the mid-sixties, outbreak became less common, but started to increase again in frequency and severity in the nineties. Formulations from Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt), and synthetic pyrethroids, such as cypermethrin and deltamethrin, were added to the range for regular use. Clean weeding could possibly reduce the survival of adult parasitoids by removing their shelter and floral food source. In parallel, oil palms in Sumatra had severe outbreaks of leaf-eating caterpillars in the 1950s and 1960s, associated with DDT dusting. When DDT was replaced by trichlorfon, parasitoid numbers increased and pest infestations became insignificant by the late sixties. In the nineties, fogging of synthetic pyrethroids caused new pest outbreaks, which more recently saw reduction in pest problems when control measures were restricted to selective applications. Despite awareness of the risks, ‘minor build up’ or ‘infestation in the locality’ may encourage ‘precautionary’ treatment. Disruptive application may be against other pests, and often outbreak can be traced back to this. A good example is Oryctes where synthetic pyrethroids are often applied in full cover sprays, and leaf-eater infestation commonly follows. In fact, there are very effective procedures to avoid significant Oryctes damage in young palm plantings without risky applications. There is an indication that some sectors are moving towards a cycle of outbreak, chemical knockdown, and re-outbreak. An investigation is suggested to put a significant area of palms onto a programme of entirely selective measures. Application would be based on action thresholds, but of equal importance is ‘no application if they are not reached’. The ultimate aim is effective and sustainable regulation of the population size of bagworms and other pests.

INTEGRATED BALANCED FERTILISER MANAGEMENT IN SOIL HEALTH REJUVENATION FOR A SUSTAINABLE OIL PALM CULTIVATION: A REVIEW –Review Articles

Oil palm cultivation occupies a large planting area in Malaysia and is one of the most profitable commercial crops contributing to unprecedented socio-economic development in the country. The crop, however, requires high uptake of macronutrients and some relevant amounts of micronutrients largely supplied by agrochemical-based fertilisers. The overuse of fertilisers endangers the ecosystem with possible effect on the environment especially on the soil health and its microbial diversity. With oil palm replanting in its fourth generation, the practice needs to be sustainable yet economic without compromising the yield and this is the challenge being faced by the industry. This article discusses the importance of fertilisers, types of fertilisers (inorganic, organic and microbial-based products) and balancing the effects with agrochemicalbased fertilisers in oil palm plantations through balanced integrated fertiliser application. This could be one of the most effective sustainable strategies in improving the soil health by enhancing the biodiversity of microorganisms and community composition in soil towards a balanced ecosystem. Sustainable soil health management system has the capacity to produce higher yields while maintaining if not improving the soil health. Finally, the article addresses future recommendations that highlight soil health which is also the current focus of modern agriculture.

LEARNING TO LOVE THE WORLD’S MOST HATED CROP –Review Articles

The 2019 Inter-governmental Panel (IPCC) Report on Climate Change and Land highlighted the urgency and scale of the environmental impact from human-induced landscape change. Palm oil has historically had a particularly negative reputation for driving deforestation, biodiversity loss, greenhouse gas emissions, social exploitation and damaging health. In the eyes of many in the West, it is regarded as the world’s most hated crop. However, palm is highly productive compared with other crops and produces 40% of the worlds edible oil from only 5% of vegetable oil producing land and 0.4% of agricultural land in total. It has the potential to meet future demand for oil with minimum additional environmental and climate impact compared with other sources of vegetable oil. The related high value density has the potential to move millions of vulnerable smallholder farmers out of poverty. Given the conclusions of the IPCC Climate and Land Report, it is therefore important to re-examine the crop’s reputation in light of the accumulated evidence and to properly understand the full impacts across the environmental, health, social and economic factors. We present a comprehensive review of the benefits and risks of the crop across these dimensions and provide a new synthesis. We conclude that while oil palm has had a significant negative impact on habitat and biodiversity, it plays a minor role compared with poaching, illegal logging and threats from climate change. There are important opportunities for the industry to reverse this damage. Its reputation for negative health impacts are not backed up by the scientific evidence and indeed there may be health benefits from substituting some oils in the diet with oil palm. Positive social and economic impacts are most obvious in areas where proper market-led economies are in place, but there can be significant negative social impacts in less developed areas. We conclude that much of the reputation of palm oil is not based on a balanced interpretation of the scientific evidence. Provided future development is zero deforestation, does not occur on peat, uses methane capture technology at the mills, empowers indigenous smallholders and supports the regeneration of secondary forest, we conclude that oil palm can be the most environmentally, socially and economically sustainable means to meet future demand for vegetable oil. Indeed, with pro-active collaboration with relevant non-government organisations, oil palm can be part of the solution to reversing the degradation of tropical forest biomes.