In response to the devastating fires and haze last year, the Government of Indonesia imposed a moratorium on new palm oil development earlier this year. Many have welcomed this development seeing it as necessary to curb deforestation. As a result of the moratorium, the industry will now have to look at how to get more out of the land that is already being cultivated rather than relying on opening new land to get more revenue. GAR/SMART fully supports the moratorium – indeed, we were focused on efficient sustainable production before the current moratorium.
GAR/SMART believes that scientifically-based approaches and methods and the use of new technology is key to enhancing productivity and achieving sustainable palm oil. This is the central principle in our Yield Improvement Policy which is now an integral part of the GAR Social and Environmental Policy (GSEP).
One of these approaches involves the use of a precision agriculture system. In our head offices in Jakarta and Singapore, we can use satellite technology to monitor estates grid by gird.
We have state-of-the-art monitoring centre known as War Rooms which serve the various businesses in the Sinar Mas group including GAR. This monitoring plays a critical role in the prevention and management of forest fires using images from NASA’s satellites (Terra/Aqua MODIS) and hotspot detection data by the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry (KLHK) through its program called “Sipongi”. For weather monitoring, we use MTSAT-2 and Himawari data (Japanese Meteorological Agency) by the Meteorology Climatology and Geophysics Council (BMKG) and Global Forest Watch. Satellite imagery allows us to monitor all our estates spread across 11 provinces in Indonesia.
Other equipment such as drones with cameras is used to check the condition of our oil palm trees. This allows for more efficient monitoring of the health of our plantations.
GAR’s R&D and biotechnology centres act as innovation hubs, developing high-yielding seeds, better Integrated Pest Management approaches and training our staff and smallholder farmers in the latest best agronomy practices such as the timely and precise application of fertilisers. Over 400 smallholders were trained by our dedicated R&D arm, SMARTRI in the last couple of years. These smallholders can then spread the lessons learned to their neighbours.
As a sign of its commitment to using R&D to continuously improve, GAR spent over US$21 million on its R&D activities in 2014 and 2015. This focus on R&D and technology was lauded in a Morgan Stanley report on GAR earlier this year.
But while we seek out the best new gadgets and technology to boost our productivity we do not forget that we are one of the largest and longest-operating plantation companies in Indonesia. Ultimately, achieving the best results is down to the people working on the ground, using their deep know-how as farmers and combining that knowledge and experience with the latest technology.
“As a grower, harnessing the passion and discipline of our people is also equally important. Many of our younger employees in our estates get excited when there is a new technology. Technology helps us to be at the forefront of industry leadership, and it’s important that we continue to develop more innovative and sustainable ways of managing our estates. We should balance this with the basics in good agronomy practices – we should check every tree (to help the oil palm grow well) and do what we are supposed to do every single day,” says The Biao Ling, GAR’s Managing Director Operations 1.
You can read more about our innovative approaches to sustainable palm oil in our SR2015 here.