Palm oil BMP: Integrated pest management

Integrated pest management (IPM) should be adopted in oil palm plantations to ensure that the least harmful method of pest control is used and pesticide application is kept to a minimum.

Total pesticide toxicity allowance

In some instances, pesticides will be necessary to insure profitable yields. Palm oil producers should be encouraged to evaluate the types of pesticides they use in order to increase the efficiency and reduce the environmental impacts of use. This would allow for the identification of specific chemicals and application practices that should be discouraged or even banned.

Only pesticides that are approved in the country of production and the country of consumption should be used. In general, the least toxic and least persistent pesticide should be used to address each problem.

One way to achieve this is to develop an overall point system in which producers are given a "total pesticide toxicity allowance" to be used for all needs. In general, however, chemicals should be used only as the last resort.

The equipment for applying these chemicals should use as little as possible with effective targeting while minimizing drift.

Understanding pests

One of the best ways to develop an appropriate IPM system is to undertake a census of the main pests. This should include an understanding of the pest's life cycle and its natural enemies.

The next issue is to understand what levels of infestation cause economic losses. These would be the action thresholds, and no pest control would be required until infestations reach these action thresholds.

Owls are effective predators of rats, the main mammal pest in oil palm plantations. Owl boxes can be established and monitored for occupancy. Snakes can also be introduced or encouraged.

If poisons are used, it is important to choose chemicals that are not toxic to predators that may inadvertently consume poisoned rats. Maintaining adequate populations of predators will reduce the need for poisons.

Effective IPM measures

Integrated pest management is already being used by some palm oil producers to reduce the use of pesticides. Workers on the Golden Hope Plantations Berhad in Malaysia have been using IPM measures since the early 1980s. They have found that the following IPM measures reduce pests significantly:
  • Close monitoring of disease and pest infestations allows them to be more easily controlled with or without few chemical inputs,
  • Planting species that support or attract natural enemies of oil palm pests helps minimise pest problems,
  • Proper shredding and rapid decomposition of old trees suppress the pest Oryctes rhinoceros (Rhinoceros beetle) from breeding,
  • Use of a biological control, a native baculovirus, to attack Oryctes rhinoceros has been proven 80-95% effective,
  • Growing thick legume cover crops helps suppress pests from breeding in the debris, and
  • Encouraging barn owls and snakes helps to reduce rat populations.

It is clear that some of the IPM practices have to be adjusted as other management practices shift. For example with zero-burning policies, additional control measures are needed to keep pests such as beetles and bagworms in check. These and other IPM efforts should be further documented and as appropriate shared with other producers and government officials.


Source: Adapted from "World Agriculture & Environment" Clay (2004)

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
Donate to WWF

Your support will help us build a future where humans live in harmony with nature.