Wednesday, April 16, 2008


21 papers presented at International Palm Oil Sustainability Conference

The first International Palm Oil Sustainability Conference (IPOSC) concluded yesterday with l more papers presented, dealing with various interesting topics in making the palm oil industry less damaging and more environmental friendly. Eight papers were presented on the first day of the Conference on Monday. Yesterday, three sessions were held with each discussing specific topics starting with Palm Oil and Wetlands, followed with Wildlife Conservation and Environmental Care and Carbon Balance of Palm Oil. The first session dealt with issues relating to development of wetlands for palm oil cultivation, It discussed about the question of whether a wetland should be developed or not, which one to be developed, how to develop them and what are the effects, and most importantly how to mitigate and minimize them. First to be presented was the work by Param Agricultural Soil Survey Malaysia Managing Director Dr S Paramananthan entitled “Tropical Lowland Peats: To Conserve or Develop Them”. Paramananthan’s paper reviews the extent of the tropical lowland peats, particularly those in Indonesia and Malaysia. It reviews the current understanding of the structure, ecology and characteristics of these tropical lowland peats. The paper introduces tropical lowland peats as a fragile wetland ecosystem that according to environmental groups, stores large quantities of carbon both in their above ground biomass and in their underlying organic soil materials, However, due to increasing population pressure and the need to eradicate poverty, many of these areas, particularly in Indonesia and Malaysia, have been lodged and cleared for pulp and oil palm plantation over the last 20 years. These activities change the peat lands from being a sink to becoming a source of greenhouse gases and therefore contribute to global warming. Paramananthan highlighted in his paper that failure to understand the variation of above ground biomass and soil properties in a lowland peat system often results in misunderstanding and overestimation of the carbon sink. He noted that most estimates of carbon loss are wrong as they failed to understand that drainage results in major subsidence but minor decomposition. It also recognized that failure to understand the carbon cycle in these peat swamps also results in overestimates of carbon loss on development, It stresses that each peat swamp unit is unique and needs to be assessed to determine if it should be conserved or developed and presents a framework for this evaluation and assessment. It also suggests for immediate moratorium on alienating new peat areas and those alienated areas which are not yet developed be put on hold. In the meantime, a programme to collect data need to be initiated while a national peat land policy should be formulated. The second paper, prepared by the Director of Malaysia Wetlands International, Sarala Aikanathan, discussed the findings of the Workshop on Minimizing Impacts of Palm oil and Biofuel Production in South East Asia on Peatlands, Biodiversity and Climate Change held on Oct 31 last year. The workshop jointly organized by several global environment and conservation movements, was aimed at providing a platform for information and experience sharing on the nature and impacts of development of peatlands for palm oil plantation. Among the findings include that Peatlands in South East Asia are globally important carbon stores, and undisturbed peat swamp forests remove more C02 from the atmosphere than they release. The meetings also concluded that peatlands developed for oil palm plantations lose their stored carbon through Green House Gas (GHG) emissions with the rate of net loss depending on the peat type and management conditions. Three options were suggested for reducing emissions from peatlands, namely improved water management and fire prevention in existing plantations, conserving and restoring peat swamp forest, and development of sustainable oil palm plantations in severely degraded peatlands. The third and the last paper in this session was Sustainable Development of Deep Tropical Peat Soil for Agriculture Use in Sarawak by Lab Jau Uyo of the Sarawak Department of Agriculture. Lab explained why planters faced problems at their oil palm estates in deep peat even though they were using practices recommended by the industry. His paper identifies that tropical peats in Sarawak are different and the same practice that works well in other states does not apply well there due to its different type of peat soils. He suggested that the solution is to really understand the type of peat the estates are dealing with so that appropriate management measures can be adjusted to take into consideration the peculiar characteristics of the peat within the estates. Six other papers were presented in the second session dealing with wildlife conservation and environmental care approaches that can be integrated into palm oil cultivation. The third session discussed about carbon balance in palm oil estates. Four papers were presented in this session.