Oil Palms and Deforestation

Oil palm plantation. Source: Wikimedia.

A typical oil palm plantation. Source: Wikimedia.

Palm oil plantations and deforestation/reforestation.

A few suggestions or possibilities that could reduce the impact of deforestation caused by the establishment of oil palm plantations.

Vast areas of rain forest have been and are still being cleared for oil palm plantations, particularly in Malaysia and Indonesia. This destroys the habitat of many endangered wildlife species, including orangutangs and tigers. The worldwide demand for palm oil is unlikely to diminish, and so this is a continuing problem. You may also be interested in visiting the page “Deforestation and Cattle Ranching”. Your ideas and input are welcome.

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Palm oil plantation deforestation poster. Deforestation in Borneo, much of which would be due to oil palm plantations. The maps and projection may or may not be accurate (David Clode). Poster: Saynotopalmoil. Poster found on Pinterest.

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Plant breeding

A plant breeding program to develop palms which produce significantly more oil in less space would reduce deforestation. The Directorate of Oil Palm Research in India would be one possible place for this work to be done, but they may need more funding (which could come from donations from conservation organizations, or crowdfunding – there’s an opportunituy for an activist).

Reforestation by adding trees and other plants to plantations

Trees

Seed pods of Sesbania grandiflora. The tree is easy to grow from seed. Photo: David Clode.

Seed pods of Sesbania grandiflora. The tree is easy to grow from seed. Photo: David Clode.

Trees that are not very competitive, and preferably have the advantage of fixing nitrogen (and so reduce the cost of adding nitrogen fertilizer and offset the cost of planting, and potentially increase the oil yield per hectare) could be grown in every second space between the palms. When these trees have aged and are dying, or getting too big and competitive, then new trees can be planted in the other alternate spaces, and so on, indefinitely. The trees may provide shelter from extremes and so increase productivity, in much the same way as trees do in coffee, cocoa and tea plantations.

Palm oil plantations are often in wet to waterlogged peaty and swampy locations, commonly with acid soils. This severely limits the choice of suitable trees and understorey plants.

A few trees which may be suitable

Sesbania grandiflora – probably one of the best choices, and indigenous to SE Asia where most oil plam plantations are. The trees are nitrogen-fixing, fast growing but short-lived, provide edible flowers for human consumption, nectar for wildlife, and the leaves are fodder for livestock. The wood is not good for fire wood, but could be turned into biochar and incorporated into the soil in small scale farms (a potentially saleable product). Photo below:

Sesbania grandiflora. FAO.org.

Young Sesbania grandiflora trees. FAO.org.

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Sesbania grandiflora. A very fast growing nitrogen fixing tree which tolerates waterlogging, and is sometimes grown on bunds around rice paddies in SE Asia. Photo: David Clode.

Sesbania grandiflora. A very fast growing nitrogen fixing tree which tolerates waterlogging, and is sometimes grown on bunds around rice paddies in SE Asia. Photo: David Clode.

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Sesbania sesban

Native to Africa, and one of the fastest growing trees on earth (but short-lived). Nitrogen fixing, nectar, fodder, but the flowers are not edible. Photo below:

Sesbania sesban - a fast-growing, nitrogen fixing African tree, popular in mixed improved fallows.. Photo: banana-tree.com.

Sesbania sesban – a fast-growing, nitrogen fixing African tree, popular in mixed improved fallows. Photo: banana-tree.com.

Albizia chinensis

Another nitrogen fixing and adaptable SE Asian native, and may need to be removed before it becomes too large and possibly competitive.

Cattle eating the foliage of Albizia chinensis. Photo: World Agroforestry.

Cattle eating the foliage of Albizia chinensis. Photo: World Agroforestry.

Casuarina spp.

Fix nitrogen, provide seeds for birds such as parrots, and usually good fuel wood and possibly biochar. Some species are tolerant of waterlogging, and some species could be used as a wildlife corridor of taller trees acting as a windbreak, however, species such as C. junghuhniana and C. cunninghamiana are probably too big and competitive.

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Additional tree species for drier plantations

Oil palm plantations which do not have prolonged periods of waterlogging could have a much wider selection of trees, and the more different species, the more biodiversity. Also, the addition of more plant species can provide fodder for livestock as well as nectar and pollen for bees for a honey industry.

Gliricidia sepium. Commonly grown in cocoa plantations and called Madre-de-Cacao (Mother-of-Cocoa) N-fixing, Nectar for wildlife, fodder, good fuel wood. Photo below:

Gliricidia flowers.

Gliricidia sepium pea flowers attract insects and birds for nectar.

Albizia spp. N-fixing, nectar for wildlife.

Acacia spp. N-fixing, pollen and nectar for wildlife, timber, fire wood. Preferably selected from provenances which are tolerant of waterlogging. Possibly Acacia flavescens, A. crassicarpa, A. mangium. However, acacias may prove to be too competitive and allelopathic, reducing the productivity of palms, and the grasses/other understorey plants beneath them.

Trees could provide fuel wood, which would reduce wood collection and therefore habitat destruction in the natural forest.

Adding plants that can grow on the trunks of oil palms

The trunks of oil palms are a good place to grow climbers and epiphytic plants, and commonly have a variety of ferns and other species growing on them.

Epiphytic ferns growing on the trunks of oil palms. Photo: David Clode.

Epiphytic ferns growing on the trunks of oil palms. Photo: David Clode.

Some plants that could be grown on trunks of palms for human food, stockfeed, for additional and diversified income sources, and to improve wildlife habitat and biodiversity, are listed below:

dragon fruit – human food, fodder, pollen for insects, habitat.

Vanilla – human use

pepper – human use, fruits for wildlife

passionfruit in less waterlogged sites – human use, nectar and fruits for wildlife.

orchids – cut flower industry and for wildlife

bromeliads – for wildlife habitat, flowers and plants for sale

There are multiple epiphyte species which could be suitable for wildlife habitat or other purposes.

Any plants or animals in the plantation could provide more food and so reduce the occurrence of slash-and-burn agriculture impacting on the rain forest.

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Palm oil deforestation. Rainforest Action Network

Palm oil deforestation. Photo: Rainforest Action Network

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Dragon fruit.

Dragon fruit.

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Dragon fruit. Shannon Drive, Bayview Hts, Cairns.

Dragon fruit.

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intercrop_pepper-jpgdopr

Pepper vines growing on the trunk of an oil palm. Photo: Directorate of Oil Palm Research, India. http://www.dopr.gov.in.

Piper sp. (Pepper vine). Photo: David Clode.

Piper sp. (Pepper vine) growing up a tree. Photo: David Clode.

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Livestock

Keeping livestock in palm plantations could reduce poaching in the rain forest for bush meat.

In oil palm plantations, which are generally shady with wet soils, some possible fodder/pasture species for livestock include Desmodium heterocarpon subsp. ovalifolium and Guinea grass cultivars ‘Embue’ and ‘Petrie’. Dragon fruit could be suitable for some livestock (pigs, goats, cattle?).

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Corridors

Governments could form legislation which requires that corridors of forest be retained, which criss-cross plantations.

Your input

If you have any practical and constructive ideas that could reduce the negative environmental impact of oil palm plantations, please add your own comment below, or email me: daveclode@hotmail.com.

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Resources

PROSEA No11 Auxilliary Plants.

http://www.tropicalforgages.org

Hopefully more to come.

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