SUSTAINABLE OIL PALM CULTIVATION IN MALAYSIA – ARE PEATLANDS A SUITABLE CHOICE?
Ghulam Kadir Ahmad Parveez,Kho Lip Khoon Timothy Charles Hill, Teh Yit Arn, A Kushairi

Abstract
Malaysia has fully nurtured oil palm cultivation since its first commercial planting in 1917 till it became the most important economic crop. Located in the most suitable climate zone for oil palm, significant expansion of its cultivation was recorded, including replacing other less competitive existing crops such as rubber, cocoa and coconut. However, its expansion was limited due to availability of arable land as well as its commitment to the pledge at the Earth Summit in 1992, to keep at least 50 per cent of its land as forest cover. Being one of the mega biodiversity countries, the protection of Malaysia’s forestland cannot be compromised. Increasing the productivity within the existing available land, through planting of DNA-tested high yielding breeds and clonal materials, as well as accelerating replanting of unproductive palms, could be an alternative to overcome this limitation. Another option is to convert managed peatlands, which have already been converted for use by other cash crops. However, oil palm cultivation on managed peatlands needs to adhere to strict drainage management in order to mitigate negative environmental and climate impacts, given that peatlands contain vulnerable soils that can function as net carbon sinks. By ensuring that water tables are maintained within MPOB best-practice guidelines, growers can ensure that oil palm plants are able to reach their maximum potential yield while minimising peat carbon loss and soil subsidence. Furthermore, drainage can also stimulate GHG emissions, particularly enhanced emissions of soil carbon dioxide (CO2); careful water table management within MPOB guidelines can reduce this efflux. Even though soil CO2 emissions during earlier stages of plantation establishment may be high, net emissions decline as plantations reach maturity. A collaborative study between MPOB and UK partners on peatlands issue related to drainage and conversion in this complex ecosystem have been carried out. Preliminary results show that CO2 emission over a newly drained and planted oil palm estate was indeed releasing CO2 emission. These CO2 emissions progressively reduced over the year following planting. Responsible use of existing managed peatlands for oil palm requires growers to follow more stringent water table management, in order to minimise environmental and climate impacts, as stipulated in industry best practice guidelines and the National Action Plan for Peatlands.
21 June, 2019
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