KUALA LUMPUR (Nov 6): The planting of oil palm on peatland may not be as unsustainable as studies suggest, according to a paper presented by Malaysian Palm Oil Council senior fellow Dr Yew Foong Kheong at the Oil and Fats International Congress 2014 (OFIC 2014) today.
Yew said publications which found planting on peat soil to be unsustainable did not take into account the different classifications of peat soil.
"A lot of inferences made on tropical peat are based on knowledge drawn from temperate peat...Based on that, a lot of statements made on [tropical] peat may not really be true as the two types display different characteristics," he said.
Yew also said arguments which said planting on peat would result in a loss of biodiversity and a reduction in natural wildlife could also be challenged as peat swamp is not the natural habitat for animals such as Sumatran tigers and elephants.
"In Malaysia, there is already sufficient reserves for wildlife, so why the great concern? Peatland is not the natural habitat for these species, which are often the ones highlighted by non-governmental organisations when they raise their concerns," he said.
"There has already been an allocation of gameland reserves in Malaysia for the protection of these endangered species," he added.
On the concern that clearing peatland to make way for the oil palm plantations could cause a loss in carbon stock, Yew said it was unavoidable and was something that would happen whenever land clearing took place, not just in peat swamps.
"However, if the land is planted with oil palm, the rate of carbon stock replenishment is much higher than if the land were planted with crops such as rapeseed or soybean," he said.
Meanwhile, Yew said many planters did not like to plant oil palm on peat as it was expensive.
"Planting on peat has its own problems. The development cost is double that of planting on mineral oil, so if someone has a choice they would choose to plant on mineral soil. However the yields of oil palm on peat is commendable," he said.
Yew said peatland planting could be sustainable, if measures such as increasing productivity per hectare, introducing sustainable practices and more research on water management were carried out.
OFIC 2014, which started on Nov 5 and will end tomorrow, is jointly organised by the Malaysian Oil Scientists' and Technologists' Association and Oils & Fats International, in collaboration with the Malaysian Palm Oil Board. The Edge Media Group is the media partner.