Palm Oil Cultivation On Peatlands Ruins Environment?

Bogor — The use of peat lands in Indonesia for cultivation of oil palm trees is more sustainable if compared to that in Europe, where the peats are burned as energy source or used as raw material for certain industries.

DR. Edwin Syahputra Lubis, a researcher of soil fertility and biology at the Palm Oil Research and Development Center (PPKS), said that basically oil palm growers in Indonesia are required to implement the principles of sustainability in using the peatlands for oil palm cultivation to optimize productivity and protect the peatland ecosystem as required by the government regulations. “But despite the fact, Indonesia and the oil palm growers are still accused as being the sinners who are asked to be responsible for the global environmental destruction,” said Edwin Syahputra Lubis, who is also the director of PPKS, as reported recently by the Palm Oil Agribusiness Strategic Policy Institute (PASPI), a research and development institution focused on oil palm plantations.

He was referring to the government regulation (PP) No.57/2016 on the use and protection of peatland ecosystem, which obliges all growers to comply with all of the sustainability principles in using the peatlands for oil palm cultivation. The PP stipulates the ecosystem of peatlands for two functions, namely environmental conservation function and oil palm cultivation function.  Its implementation has been also determined through the agriculture ministry regulation (Permentan) No.14/2009 on the technical guidelines to use peatlands for oil palm cultivation.

According to him, the right way of using the peatlands for sustainable oil palm cultivation is by applying the right plan and technology, and by considering the socio-economic condition of the people living around the peatlands.

He said that there are a number of important factors that should be considered in using the peatlands to ensure its sustainability as an ecosystem. The most important among them is the water management.

“In terms of water management, it should be strictly and thoroughly implemented. Otherwise, it could result in low production of oil palm plantations and the damage of the peatland ecosystem. If the water level is too low, then it will increase subsidence and the risk of fire. Its depth should be kept effective at 40-60 cm piezometer. With the right water management, peatlands can be used to increase oil palm plantation’s productivity, minimize subsidence and carbon emission, prevent dryness that will then prevent fire. Growers can also apply a technology of early water detecting application called EDS-Gambut which is developed by PPKS,” he said.

DR. Winarna, an agronomic researcher of PPKS, said that not all kinds of peatlands are suitable for oil palm cultivation. “Growers need to identify the characters of the peatlands before using them for oil palm cultivation. By knowing their characters, they can decide the right way and technology to manage the peatlands for oil palm cultivation,” she said.

She said that the reality of oil palm plantations in Indonesia’s peatlands contradicts the negative campaigns by the green NGOs who accused that the use of peatlands for oil palm plantations has damaged the environment and increased carbon emissions. “Growers use the peatlands based on the sustainability principles. Their cultivation is based on the technical standard designed by PPKS based on a series of research and development,” she was quoted as saying in a report prepared by PASPI. (*)