In last week’s blog on Sustainable Development Goals or SDGs and the GSEP, we looked at SDG 15: Life on Land – Sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss and what GAR was doing on the ground to promote this goal. In particular, GAR supports orangutan conservation through its partnership with Orangutan Foundation International (OFI).
Preventing soil degradation through R&D
On another front, GAR is using R&D to help prevent soil degradation. Degradation can happen for various reasons – one of the main causes is the conversion of land covered with natural vegetation into agricultural land. This can lead to soil erosion which then leads to more degradation.
According to WWF, soil erosion leads to increased pollution and sedimentation in streams and rivers, clogging these waterways and causing declines in fish and other species. Sustainable land use can help to reduce the impacts of agriculture and livestock, preventing soil degradation and erosion and the loss of valuable land to desertification.
As a palm oil grower, we are highly dependent on good soil fertility and condition as this ensures healthy optimum growth of our palm oil trees. We also need to ensure that the soil is not depleted or lost through erosion as this can affect our future.
Our research arm, SMART Research Institute (SMARTRI) is aware of the challenges of maintaining optimal soil conditions. Some 80 researchers work at SMARTRI and amongst other things, they are working on minimising nutrient, soil and water losses. SMARTRI conducts research to devise best practices to reduce these losses while conserving our soils from erosion.
SMARTRI researchers working on solutions for sustainable palm oil
One low-tech, sustainable solution they have found is to reuse oil palm fronds as soil cover.
Palm fronds are periodically pruned and instead of throwing them away, we have found that used properly as cover on the ground, they can reduce water run-off by between 25 to 65 percent. Similarly, soil losses could be reduced by up to 70 percent, while nitrogen losses (which affects soil fertility) can be reduced by up to 40 percent.
Every part put to good use: palm fronds can be recycled to cover and protect the soil in our plantations.
GAR also implements best agricultural practices that maintain and enhance soil fertility. The objective is to minimise the quantity of fertiliser applied, whilst maximising yields and reducing the pressure to clear land as well as reducing the risk of soil degradation as a result of oil palm farming.
The use of fertilisers is tailored according to the texture of the soil and its capacity for retaining nutrients; they are also not applied during periods of heavy rain and with appropriate intervals between applications.
SMARTRI is collaborating with the University of Cambridge, UK, on a Biodiversity Ecosystem and Function in Tropical Agriculture project (BEFTA) in Sumatra. The project aims is to provide practical solutions for improved biodiversity management and sustainable palm oil production.
In the next blog on SDGs and GSEP, I’ll be taking a look at the partnerships that GAR is involved in to drive change and achieve sustainable palm oil production.