Palm oil BMP: Eliminating burning

Zero burning for new plantings

Since 1989 Good Hope Plantations in Malaysia has found that eliminating burning is practical for replanting or new oil palm plantings. With this method, useful parts of trees are harvested and the remainder are left on the ground where they can be spread out to provide protective ground cover, or piled into rows to prevent runoff and erosion.

The main issue of concern with zero burning is that it might lead to the infestation of beetle pests and stem rot disease. Ploughing, pulverising debris, or planting legumes minimizes this risk.

Benefits from zero burning

The main benefit derived from zero burning in Malaysia is that nutrients tend to be released more slowly during decomposition so that they can be utilized by newly planted trees. This reduces per-hectare inorganic fertilizers needed at the time of planting (e.g., nitrogen by 738 kilograms, phosphorus by 205 kilograms, potassium by 848 kilograms, and magnesium by 487 kilograms).

The organic matter also improves the soil and when used properly, can help with terracing and the reduction of runoff.

One study found that in 1993 the zero burning technique reduced costs for establishing plantations from 1,070 to 1,415 ringgits (the Malaysian unit of currency) when compared with plantations where burning was used.

This is primarily because zero burning reduces the fallow time needed by eliminating the need to dry the cleared forest material for burning. Thus, producers get a portion of a crop that much faster. This method also exposes soil far less than other methods, and it lets replanting occur gradually throughout the year whenever there is sufficient rainfall for the seedlings.


Source: Adapted from "World Agriculture & Environment" Clay (2004)
 / ©: Alain Compost / WWF-Canon
Burning oil palm plantation. Palangkaraya, Central Kalimantan (Borneo), Indonesia.
© Alain Compost / WWF-Canon

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