Impact of Oil Palm related issues on the Environment
1) Deforestation: 'Oil palm is expanded through the removal of forests'. Much of the land planted to oil palm has been logged before clearing for oil palm. Area expansion of oil palm accounts for a very small part of the total forest reserve depletion. Globally at 8.5 million ha, oil palm has the lowest land use compared with over 58 million ha of land used for soyabean.
2) Biodiversity: 'The oil palm cultivated as a monocrop is responsible for loss of biodiversity when it replaces native vegetation.' Oil palm is a perennial with 25 years of productive life. The oil palm plantation has a wider range of ground vegetation and fauna species and is found to have maintained equilibrium in the ecosystem during the 25 years. Because of the higher productivity of oil palm when compared with the annual oil seed crop like soya bean, rapeseed and sunflower oil palm therefore spares further destruction of forests and reduces the conversion of less forest to become land for cultivation when compared with other lower yielding vegetable oil crops. Oil palm therefore has a definite positive effect on loss of biodiversity when compared with destruction of large land area for cultivation of lower yielding oilseed crops.
3) Sustainability: 'Oil palm with large quantities of fertilizers and pesticides used are not sustainable.' On the contrary oil palm through land use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) activities such a good agricultural practice (GAP) like nutrient recycling by returning mill residues like palm oil mill effluent, empty fruit bunches and frond spreading is able to use nutrients more efficiently than in other vegetable oil crops. Likewise oil palm GAP integrated pest management (IPM) results in low pesticide usage because the biological control through practices such as barn owl to control rat, and biopesticides like Metarhizzium fungi and virus to control Rhinocerous beetle grubs, Bt virus for control of bagworms, Trichoderma to control Ganoderma, etc, avoid use of chemicals. The reduced use of chemicals makes oil palm cultivation highly sustainable.
4) Traceability: 'The large quantities of chemical used contribute to the contamination of chemicals in the palm oil.' On the contrary the low quantities of chemicals used efficiently actually reduced the probability of contamination of the oil. Often the fact is ignored in that when fresh fruit bunches are sterilized and processed, the pesticide, if ever they are present, are found in the aqueous phase which is separated out as effluent with 95% water while the oil phase is devoid of any pesticide residues.
5) Indiscriminate burning: 'Oil palm plantations are major contributor to forest fires and periodic haze'. As part of the oil palm good agriculture practice (OPGAP), zero burning had been introduced into the plantation and enforced since 1987 under the Environmental Quality Act (EQA) 1974. Replanting now involves chipping the old oil palm trunk and fronds and the residues are placed in the inter-rows as a biomass mulch to slowly release nutrients for the newly replanted oil palm crop. The OPGAP will pave way for sustainable production in the field.
6) Oil palm destroys carbon. 'The oil palm plantation with its use of fertilizers, pesticides, diesel, etc is a net emitter of CO2.' On the contrary, carbon sequestration through well managed LULUCF practice accumulates more carbon over its 25 years of life cycle, and at the same time improves the livelihood of thousands of workers by increasing the carbon sinks and improving the sustainable use on natural resources available in the local community. Further with use of more efficient boilers in mill processing there is greater energy efficiency and the excess energy is helped in reducing the use of fossil fuels and thereby reduces GHG emissions.
7) Oil palm is destructive to the local community: 'Indigenous people are displaced from their land as a result of the expansion of oil palm areas.' On the contrary in Malaysia oil palm is a major contributor to the rural employment and economy through the plantations and small holder schemes. Many children of the initial land scheme settlers are qualified and trained professionals working in other jobs resulting in labour shortages that dictate employment of foreign labour.
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