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Sarawak’s young oil palm industry needs most attention

Thursday, 18 August 2016

KUCHING: The oil palm industry in Sarawak is young when compared to those in Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah and therefore needs the most attention due to the unique circumstances of the soil conditions here.

Sarawak Oil Palm Plantation Owners Association (Soppoa) said about 1.5 million hectares have been planted with oil palm in the state, including in peat, mainly due to dwindling available arable land.

“It is estimated that peat areas cover over 1.6 million ha throughout the state. As stated by Minister of Plantation Industries and Commodities Datuk Seri Mah Siew Keong at the 15th International Peat Congress (IPC) 2016 on Tuesday, the government would continue to emphasise sustainable development of oil palm planting, especially in peat land and to ensure that such developments will not lead to environmental and ecosystem degradation,” a Soppoa spokesperson said in a statement yesterday.

He said that planting oil palm in peat was a challenge that required more inputs in terms of preparations of the land as well as research as peat could be of different types and therefore needed different inputs like fertilizers, pesticides and equipment.

“A number of research activities into oil palm cultivation have been on-going in Sarawak. It is conducted primarily by Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) taking various aspects like growth, pest and diseases, productivity and emissions like Green House Gas (GHG).

Another institution that conducts scientific research in oil palm cultivation areas is the Tropical Peat Research Laboratory (TPRL), a state agency that specialises on peat studies.

“It should also be noted that most plantation estates in Sarawak also conduct research activities on their own and in collaborations with MPOB/TPRL on a number of scientific initiatives,” he said.

On research grants for Sarawak, the spokesperson said the Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities (MPIC) and MPOB had approved an extension of an ongoing scientific research project, ‘Ecosystem Carbon and Nitrogen Dynamics of Tropical Peatland’, on peat ecosystem sciences with RM7.5 million.

“This will enable the research to continue from 2017 to 2020, extending the original project which started in 2014 in collaboration with University of Aberdeen, University of St Andrew in the United Kingdom at Sarawak Oil Palm Berhad’s estate in Sebauh, Bintulu. With the extension, the grant will total RM15 million of research fund allocated to Sarawak (2014 – 2020) to better understand peat resources in the state.

“More importantly, the research will provide invaluable information on peat and enable better sustainable management of peat in oil palm estates.”

Another ongoing project, ‘Greenhouse gas emissions and carbon pool study’ at Lambir Estate in Lambir, Lambir Hills National Park and MPOB Belaga Research Station in Kapit under TROPI Sessang has been allocated RM2 million for the 2011-2016 study period.

“This study in Sarawak augurs well for such scientific activities into better understanding of the mineral and peat areas where oil palms are planted. The three different sites of scientific studies in Sarawak show the commitment of MPOB to further build up on knowledge of planting oil palm in mineral soils and peat which will further contribute to global understanding of peat resources,” the spokesman said, adding that in total, over RM20 million had been allocated to Sarawak for scientific research into mineral and peat areas from the MPIC/MPOB towards better understanding, management and conservation of resources.

“Another RM39.1 million has been allocated for TPRL (2008-2015) from MPIC/MPOB for scientific research on peat areas where oil palms are planted. These cover comparison studies between oil palm planted areas and those without as well as other soil studies and gas emissions which will provide better understanding of the interrelationships between land and the environment.”

The spokesman also said a project conducted in collaboration between Nagoya University, Japan and MPOB-SOPB, entitled ‘Balancing development of oil palm plantations with conservation of tropical forest ecosystems’ at Lambir Estate for the 2016-2019 period had been allocated a grant of US$500,000 by Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology.

“The research aims to fill the existing and critical knowledge gap by examining energy and materials cycling in oil palm plantations with the goal of finding optimal strategies for sustaining both oil palm cultivation and the environment.

“On this note, Soppoa would like to express its thanks to Datuk Seri Mah on the extension of RM7.5 million for the project in Sebauh, Bintulu, MPOB, Japan and the state government for their support in the research activities being carried out to further understand the mineral soil and peat here for the sustainable management of oil palm cultivation.”

The palm oil industry in Sarawak contributes RM1.93 billion (2011-2015) in sales tax to the state with over RM26.34 billion in investments and employment for over 103,000 people.

Taken from The Borneo Post