Environmental efficiencies and controversies: yield intensification in smallholders oil palm production systems of South-East Asia.

Project: PhD

Project Details


Palm oil from the oil palm (Elaeis guianensis) has in recent years become the world’s most important vegetable oil when it comes to production quantity (USDA, 2011). Since 1980s the area under oil palm plantations has increased by over 2100 per cent and now cover an area of over 147 thousand km2 (FAO, 2010). Most of this expansion has occurred in south-east Asia. Oil palm expansion has created many environmental controversies and the main environmental problems arising from Oil palm expansion are related to habitat conversion, threats to habitats for endangered species, air pollution, soil degradation, erosion, use of pesticides and fertilizers. However, compared to other major oil crops, palm oil has lower production costs and it produces about eight times more oil per hectare (Basiron, 2007; Yusoff and Hansen 2007). It is also a major driver of economic growth and a source of alternative fuel. Despite the high production, the most important technical challenge to the palm oil sector is the large productivity gap between the actual and achievable yields of palm oil. In 2008, the Malaysian national oil yield was 4.08 tonnes per ha (Mohd. Basri, 2009) while the average yield in Indonesia was 3.51 tonnes oil per ha (Rosediana Suharto 2009). Considering that current planting materials are capable of producing around 10 to 11 t/ha (Breure, 2003), this yield gap is one of the biggest challenges for the industry. Addressing this gap issue around 35% yield increase has been demonstrated over thousands of hectares using Best Management Practices (BMP) to quantify and eliminate yield gaps for yield intensification in mature oil palm plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia (Donough et al., 2009). The environmental aspects of the BMP in plantation stage involves soil and nutrient management especially use of large amounts of chemical fertilizers. Since the average rainfall of Indonesia is around 2000-4000 mm and the average temperature is also very high, the use of large amount of fertilizers and organic mulch could trigger high GHG (N2O, CH4 and CO2) emission. Therefore besides fertilizer amount it’s also important to focus on the fertilizer type and timing of application along with other important factors that could affect GHG flux in the field like, fluctuation of temperature during a day (diurnal effect), soil type and moisture content of the soil and seasonal variation. Moreover to establish BMP as a sustainable management system the environmental efficiency of BMP practices need to be compared to the standard estate practice which is yet to be investigated. Similarly, efficient utilization of organic residues like Empty Fruit Bunch (EFB), Palm Oil Mill Effluent (POME) and Decanter cake (DC) can be a potential alternative of chemical fertilizers while can act as a possible source of GHG emissions (CH4, N2O) due to their interaction with huge rainfall, high temperature, quality and utilization systems which demands further investigation for sustainable oil palm production. Furthermore, it has been assumed that the more intensive plantation management systems like BNP has much higher C accumulations than smallholder’s traditional oil palm production practice because of the faster growth and establishment of the oil palm trees. Although no scientific basis to support that claim was found which demand further investigation. The main objective of the current project is to investigate the degree of environmental sustainability of current successful BMP practices and also provide a basis for certification of the green house gas emission of the smallholder’s palm oil production as a function of management practises. The research, however, will deeply focus on the following aspects: i) investigate GHG emissions (N2O, CH4 and CO2) from BMP and standard estate practice conditions, ii) compare the impact of EFB, POME and DC as organic residue on emissions in BMP field, iii) examine the soil Carbon stock in BMP fields and reference fields iv) find out the livelihood impacts of smallholder oil palm commercialization.
Effective start/end date17/09/125/10/22


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