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Biology

What is the sustainable approach in the control of insect pests in oil palm plantations?

One element of sustainable insect pest control in oil palm plantations is the combination of agronomic practices and biological control technologies.? For example, the chipping of the oil palm trunk into small pieces during replanting would facilitate the quick/drying of the oil palm debris, rendering unsuitable for rhinoceros beetle breeding.? Similarly, the planting of leguminous cover crops on rotting oil palm trunk chips could reduce the conduciveness of the chips to the breeding of pests. Various biological control technologies in insect pest control have been adopted by plantations. This includes the use of pheromone, biopesticides based on fungi (i.e. Metarhizium), bacteria (i.e. Bacillus thuringiensis) and virus (i.e. Oryctes virus). The planting of beneficial plants such as Cassia cobanensis and Turnera subulata provides food and shelter for the establishment of insect natural enemies of the insect pests.

How can biological control conserve insect biodiversity?

Insect biodiversity can be conserved by keeping the oil palm plantations and its surrounding areas less disturbed and minimized chemical usage. Biocontrol agents are generally host specific and will not affect non-target organisms. In addition, the planting of beneficial plants would provide food and shelter not only to the natural enemies of the insect pests but also to other insects in the plantation, thus increasing insect biodiversity.

How does Integrated Pest Management (IPM) contribute to sustainable pest control?

Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is the key to sustainable pest control. The objective is to adopt cultural, biological, mechanical, physical or other less-hazardous strategies to minimise the use of pesticides. IPM is therefore the careful consideration of all these available pest control techniques and their subsequent integrated use to improve ecological balance. This will discourage the development and spread of pests and diseases whilst reducing pesticide usage only when that is necessary, whenever the pests / diseases exceed a certain economic threshold level. This will also minimize risks to health and the environment.

What is the role of biofertilizer in sustainable oil palm planting?

Biofertilizer or 'microbial inoculants' is defined as a preparation containing live or latent cells of efficient microorganisms (e.g. Nitrogen (N2) fixers, plant growth promoting rhizobacteria (PGPR), mycorrhiza, etc.) for improved plant growth. Biofertilizers reduce the use of inorganic chemical fertilizers (e.g. muriate of potash (MOP), rock phosphate, etc.) and require less application and are more economical. It is also an environmentally friendly approach in creating sustainable oil palm planting.

Can oil palm produce good yields on peat?

The FFB yields of oil palms planted on deep peat are comparable to the yields of the palms planted on coastal mineral soils. With the provision of good land preparation, water management, optimum planting density and sufficient fertilizer application, the FFB yield of more than 30 t/ha/yr is attainable. The FFB yield of 30t/ha/year from oil palm planted on peat at the MPOB Research Station Sessang, Sarawak, had been achieved at the 4th year of harvesting.

What is the best water level to be maintained for oil palm plantations on peat?

Efficient and sufficient drainage systems and water management are the key factors towards the success or failure of planting oil palm on peat. It is advisable to maintain a 40 – 70 cm water table on peat. This will ensure sufficient moisture for good palm growth and remove excess water during periods of high rainfall. It also helps to decrease the rate of subsidence and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Drainage has to be improved when the water level rises to less than 25 cm from peat surface. However, when the water level drops to more than 75 cm from the peat surface, there is a need to prepare for water retention. Over draining will accelerate peat subsidence and irreversible drying.

What are sustainable oil palm plantation practices?

The concept of sustainable oil palm plantation practices must meet the universally accepted criteria of benefiting the 3 Ps – People, Planet and Profit. Oil palm cultivation in Malaysia has long advocated sustainable cultivation practices through good agricultural practices (GAP). Such activities include (i) recycling organic materials – pruned fronds, empty fruit bunches (EFB), mill effluent and decanter solids as well as surplus shell and fibre - into the field, (ii) planting appropriate legume cover crops as early as possible after the field clearing to prevent Oryctes breeding in the felled palm trunks. The legumes also improve the fertility of the soil, (iii) integrating with pest management (IPM) to reduce pesticide usage through biological control practices such as the breeding of barn owl for rat control, application of Metarhizium and Oryctes virus for Rhinoceros beetles control, Bt for bagworm control, Trichoderma for Ganoderma control, etc.

How do plantations qualify as a sustainable palm oil producer?

The plantations must meet the RSPO’s principles and criteria that have a set of environmental, social and economic standards to be met, in order to be certified and recognised as a producer of sustainable palm oil.

What is the best weed control strategies to help reduce the occurrence of herbicide-resistant weeds?

Rotation of herbicides is recommended as one of the methods to prevent or delay the development of herbicides resistance. This can be done by avoiding use of the same herbicides with the same mode of action, year after year. Herbicides belonging to the different chemical families may also have the same mode of action. The type and rate of herbicides used in the past and its mode of action should be recorded and referred to when planning future herbicide rotation. The use of tank mixtures also help in managing herbicide resistance.

However, tank mixing of herbicides with different modes of action is not always an effective resistance strategy, as the control spectrums of the different herbicides in the mixture must overlap, or else the resistant weed species can become dominant. Hence, herbicide mixtures should be carried out judiciously.

How can we control weeds with minimal environmental risks?

Systematic weed control is necessary to maximize oil palm productivity, by reducing crop competition with weeds, while preserving the soil and controlling erosion. Intensive weed control in the cultivation area will expose the soil surface which would lead to soil erosion. As this would affect soil fertility, blanket or prophylactic spraying should be avoided. Maintaining the natural ground cover, planting beneficial legume cover crops together with appropriate selective weeding are necessary in order to prevent soil erosion and conserve soil fertility. Thus, for sustainable oil palm planting, it is encouraged that a combination of manual, mechanical, biological and chemical control is conducted as an ‘Integrated Weed Management System’.

What measures are being undertaken to protect the environment in terms of unplanned liquid/oil spillage from farm machinery in the workshop or storage area?

In order for mechanization to be sustainable, a number of initiatives have been practiced to reduce the impact on the environment. One of the examples is by preventing liquids (diesel, hydraulic oil, lubricant oil, etc.) from being spilled onto the ground as this may be detrimental to the environment and may possibly cause injuries to the workers. A standard operating procedure was established whereby a pan has to be placed underneath each tractor/machinery when not in use, to enable the collection of any spillage or the dripping of used oil. The used oil is to be then placed in a well-capped container before going to scheduled waste recycling/management.

How can mechanization contribute to a better working environment for the plantation worker?

Improving the livelihood of the workers is one of the objectives of mechanization. With a well-managed mechanized operation, there would be lower burden to the workers as the machines (e. g. grabber, mechanical spreader, high lift trailer, tracked machine etc.) would replace manual work. Additionally, with the use of proper ‘Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)’ during field mechanized operations, the occupational safety and health of the worker would be safe guarded, thereby minimizing injuries at work.

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