Indonesia: Firms promote best practices on North Sumatra peatland

Apriadi Gunawan The Jakarta Post 11 Jun 16;

A number of oil palm plantation companies in North Sumatra claim that they implement sustainable agricultural practices in peatland areas. The claims have come about in response to public concerns over the destructive impacts of the industry’s excessive expansion over the past years.

Earlier this year, the government pledged to impose a moratorium on new oil palm plantation licenses on the back of weakening global demand for palm oil as well as massive deforestation fueled by the overexpansion of oil palm plantations in the world’s top palm oil producing country.

The anticipated moratorium will also pave the way for the government to restore up to 2 million hectares of damaged peatland as it plans to move the country away from a dependency on palm oil to other crops that are more suitable to the characteristics of peatland.

Responding to the plan, some industry players said they welcomed the proposed policy but also underlined their ongoing efforts to promote sustainable agricultural practices in peatland areas.

Syukri Noviar, unit manager for PTPN IV Meranti Paham, a part of state-run plantation firm PT Perkebunan Nusantara (PTPN) IV, speaking to reporters who recently visited the company’s plantation area in South Labuhan Batu regency, North Sumatra, said most of the company’s oil palm crops were cultivated on peatland as they yielded good quality products compared to those grown in mineral soil.

“We have been growing oil palm on peatland for about 50 years, and the result has been great because the land is very fertile,” Syukri said, adding the company cultivates oil palm crops on 3,750 hectares of peatland and on 1,010 hectares of mineral soil.

Yields produced by oil palm crops planted on peatland reach 24 tons per hectare of land. The results are higher than those generated by oil palm crops planted in mineral soil, Syukri said.

“We booked a net profit of Rp 62 billion [US$4.7 million] last year. Every year, our profits increase due to the implementation of peatland management,” he added.

If used properly, oil palm crops cultivated on peatland are also highly resistant to peatland fires, said Mardani Tampubolon, unit manager of PTPN IV Ajamu, another PTPN IV subsidiary. He added that the company had also implemented supervised water management systems in their plantation areas to maintain soil fertility.

Meanwhile, PT Socfin Indonesia manager Bambang Setia Hidayat said his company had been planting oil palm on peatland for over 70 years, referring to peatland as “the most suitable place” for the crop.

According to calculations from the Office of the Coordinating Economic Minister, the country can meet its target of producing 40 million tons of crude palm oil (CPO) by 2020 sustainably without expanding existing oil palm plantations. Indonesia’s CPO production in 2015 was estimated to be 31 million tons, up from 27 million tons in 2013.

Erwin Harahap, an agriculture science professor at the University of North Sumatra, said oil palm crops provided economic benefits and also environmental benefits as the crops were capable of fertilizing the surrounding soil.

“Oil palm is the only crop that is able to grow on degraded and nutrient-poor peatland,” Erwin said. (vny)

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