Palm oil BMP: Planting on degraded lands

Instead of primary forest, oil palm plantations can be established on former pastures or degraded agricultural lands.

Economic sense?

Whether it makes sense to plant oil palm on degraded agricultural land depends on how the cost of rehabilitating these areas compares to the cost of establishing plantations in natural forests.

In many places the sale of timber and pulpwood subsidises the expense of clearing forested areas for plantation establishment.

However, payments for environmental services might tilt the balance in favour of rehabilitating degraded lands instead.

Reducing global carbon emissions

For example, rehabilitation of degraded lands may offer significant carbon sequestration potential.

Oil palm plantations are reported to sequester as much as 15 metric tonnes of carbon per hectare per year. If such plantations can be established without destroying forest or releasing carbon already in the soil, then such sequestering would be a significant contribution toward reducing global carbon emissions.

Countries with carbon-reduction commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, for example, or companies that have made voluntary commitments to reduce or offset their greenhouse gas emissions, have shown interest in "buying" the ecosystem service of carbon sequestration.

However, much more research is required to ensure that the carbon would remain sequestered when the plantations are replanted (World Rainforest Movement 2001).

Other income sources

In Malaysia there are attempts to integrate other crops (such as food crops, cocoa trees, or coconut palms) within oil palm plantations, as well as livestock such as cattle, deer, sheep and buffalo. These practices should be evaluated as possible ways to diversify producer income while reducing environmental impacts. For example, the manure from livestock is an excellent source of nitrogen, which could be used to reduce the amount of purchased nitrogen fertiliser.

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

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