UP is committed to being a leader in sustainable agricultural practices and is aware of the footprint it leaves on the environment and our Group therefore constantly strives towards reducing variables that impact the environment negatively. Focus on reducing GHGs, energy, water and waste in line with the concept of the circular economy is therefore a vital part of UP’s environmental policies.
Global plantation development has contributed significantly to economic development and prosperity, however, deforestation and other unsustainable practices have many negative consequences for people and the environment and as a Group we therefore are fully committed to protect forests, peatlands, and human and community rights.
As an important part of our sustainability journey we work closely with our suppliers, contractors, customers, trading partners, scheme smallholders, other growers, traders, processors, NGOs, Brand manufacturers and other industry stakeholders to take part in transforming the industry as well as create further awareness on the importance of sustainable palm oil production.
In addition to our focus on continuous improvement to minimize waste and our overall carbon footprint our Group has through investments and a dedicated Group Sustainability Committee introduced policies to break the link between palm oil and deforestation. We fully adhere to the principles & criteria of the MSPO, ISPO and RSPO as well as our commitment on No Deforestation, No New Development on Peat and No Exploitation of People and Local Communities (NDPE) which are embedded in our Environment & Biodiversity Policy and Human Rights Policy.
Conservation & Partnership
Efforts undertaken by the UP Group to conserve jungle reserves and wildlife sanctuaries as well as promoting green corridors as part of our commitment to the environment.
Adjacent Protected and Conservation Areas
Our Kumai Estate in PTSSS is approximately 2km away from the famous Tanjung Puting National park which is known to have a large diversity of forest ecosystems, including lowland forest, freshwater swamp forest, tropical heath forest which is called “Kerangas”, peat swamp forest, mangrove forest and coastal forest.
Tanjung Puting was originally declared as a game reserve in 1935 and a National Park in 1982. It covers a total area of 415,040 hectares. The best-known animals in Tanjung Puting are the orangutans, made famous through the long term efforts of the Orangutan Research and Conservation Program (predecessor to OFI), based at the landmark camp Leakey research station.
Tanjung Puting is also the habitat for proboscis monkeys as well as clouded leopards, civets, Malaysian sun bears , mouse deers , barking deers , sambar deers and the wild cattle known as banteng. Tanjung Puting hosts over 230 species of birds, including hornbills, deep forest birds and many wetland species.
Endangered and Protected Species
UP has a policy of “zero tolerance” to the killing of endangered and protected species, herein also orang-utan, Pongo pygmaeus. Staff that are directly or indirectly involved with the killing of and/or solicitation of killing, trading and harvesting of endangered and protected species, be it plants or animals-will be dismissed immediately. To the best of our knowledge, illegal killing and capture of orang-utans has not taken place at any of the properties under the legal management /jurisdiction of UP.
Biodiversity and Partnership
Conservation of jungle reserves and wildlife sanctuaries as well as promoting green corridors are examples of our commitment to the environment. To date, United Plantations has set aside more than 7,500 Ha of land for conservation purpose representing approximately 15% of our total planted area in order to encourage biodiversity and wildlife on our estate. In Indonesia, UP has set approximately 40% of its land concession for the purpose of conservation.
Riparian reserves are maintained to preserve flora and fauna, provide wildlife corridors, ensure water quality and prevent erosion. In order to develop effective conservation strategies, we need the assistance of experts in these fields who have established a series of collaborations and partnerships. One such partner is Copenhagen Zoo (CPH Zoo) which was initiated in 2007 and officially established on 1 October 2010, through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between UP and CPH.
In order to better manage our large conservation areas, UP set up its Biodiversity Department (BioD) under the purview of Dr. Carl Traeholt, our Group’s Chief Environmental Advisor a month later. It marked an important milestone for the Company’s target of producing certified sustainable palm oil in Indonesia and being able to document the environmental integrity of its Indonesian operations.
The Biodiversity team consists of a Division manager with solid natural resources management experiences, supported by five subject specialists and five field staff. This is supplemented by additional contract-workers when the need arises. The team is responsible for mainstreaming environmental concerns into standard operational procedures and focus on activities primarily within the following areas:
- Biodiversity (Fauna and Flora)
- Habitat and Ecosystem
- Forestry and rehabilitation
- Hydrology and Limnology
- GIS and Mapping
- Integrated Pest Management
- RSPO and ISPO
- Protection and Monitoring
- Community Outreach
One of the key components in making the BioD a success which is our common goal was to develop internal capacity to manage and conserve UP’s ecological resources, and to make first-hand information about biodiversity assets easily available. This is possible with the current BioD consisting of Dr. Carl Traeholt, our Group’s Chief Environmental Advisor, Mr. Bjorn Dahlen, Environmental Advisor. Mr. Muhd Silmi, Manager BioD and essential topic specialists, such as a limnologist, a forester/botanist, zoologist, herpetologist and database officer. These subjects’ specialists are supported by two chief rangers and a number of ranger assistants, as well as a native tree nursery manager.
Along the years since the establishment, this Department has undertaken an impressive amount of activities in support of the company’s commitment of producing sustainable palm oil. In the past, many exciting activities and accomplishments have been reported. For example, the Biodiversity Division has worked with leopard cats, Prionailurus bengalensis, as predator of rats to replace the environmentally detrimental chemical control.
Biodiversity Department’s activities
Since 2011, the BioD had undertaken an impressive amount of activities in support of the company’s commitment of producing sustainable palm oil and conserving the natural environment. In the past, many exciting activities and accomplishments have been reported. For example, the Biodiversity Division has worked with leopard cats, Prionailurus bengalensis, as predator of rats to replace the environmentally detrimental chemical control.
The work with the Sumatra cobra (Naja Sumatrana) and king cobra (Ophiophagus Hannah), the world’s largest venomous snake has not only produced some amazing results, it has also attracted one of the world’s best known and respected herpetologists, Romolus Whitaker, who continues to grace UP/PT SSS in Kalimantan and offer support and capacity building.
The Biodiversity Division has also undertaken numerous camera trap surveys, bird and tree surveys to document the biodiversity within the company’s conservation areas. The BioD has recorded many of Borneo’s endangered species to date, among them Asia’s only great ape, the orangutan, Pongo pygmaeus.
While these are exciting and inspiring stories about exotic species, the BioD is far more than that. An entire host of other activities commenced right from the modest beginning in 2011, including developing a GIS database that incorporates literally all the team’s recorded data, be it from camera trap pictures, radio-tracking locations, number of tree seeds collected, time and place of illegal logging or recovery of aquatic fauna. Most of these stories can be found on our website.
Biodiversity activities during 2020 in PT SSS
In 2020, the emergence of and rapid spread of the COVID-19 affected almost every country on earth. Domestic and international travels were put on hold, and countries went into lockdown across the world causing
delays in trade, services and manufacturing output. Despite the hard times, our BioD Division continued to work near normal capacity throughout 2020.
The Division continues to focus on wildlife conservation and management within the UP/PT SSS landbank, to further enhance environmental focus throughout the operations in line with the company’s goals of producing sustainable palm oil. While many urban based activities have been hit hard by COVID-lockdown, the BioD team was less affected, because most activities took place in conservation areas with few other people present.
During surveys, the team encountered very few humans, but fortunately a lot of biodiversity, which meant that the team could continue to carry out its duties without compromising the company’s COVID-19 safety protocols.
The number of vertebrate species recorded in PTSSS continued to increase in 2020. To date, the BioD has recorded a total 485 different vertebrate species, consisting of 71 mammal species, 208 bird species, 58 reptile species, 25 amphibian species and 123 fish species. In addition, 322 plant and tree species were identified in PT SSS’ conservation areas. The total number of species is expected to increase significantly in the future when more surveys are completed with the maturing of rehabilitation areas.
In summary for year 2020, the team added a total of 86 new species to the list, consisting of 10 reptiles, 3 mammals, 45 fishes, 3 amphibians as well as 25 birds. This is the highest number of new annual addition recorded in PT SSS.
The BioD division continues to monitor the diversity of birds in Field 86 rehabilitation area. This is to gauge if rehabilitation efforts deliver the expected results. We had chosen to monitor understory bird species, because these are very sensitive to habitat disturbance, relying mostly on dense tree canopies for their daily activities. Due to these variety of birds being elusive in behavior, we use mist nets for bird capture, a process that commenced in 2015 and has been repeated annually using the same method every year.
In 2020, the BioD team recorded four new species in the area resulting in the cumulative number of bird species continuing to increase. To date, a total of 32 bird species have been recorded from the area, which is an incredible positive trend and a strong evidence that rehabilitation actually works, even for many sensitive species. The BioD team is proud to document this positive trend and aim to continue the effort until Field 86 is considered “rehabilitated”.
In addition to birds, a few trees in the Dipterocarp family (Shorea balangeran) set their first fruit (seeds) in 2020. This is a marvelous milestone that began 10 years ago with harvesting initial seeds, propagating them in nurseries, outplanting the seedlings, caring for the seedlings until they have become large enough to grow on their own. What is equally important is that Shorea balangeran is considered a rare species today and listed as “vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List due to overharvesting of it for its valuable timber. The long conservation process also contributes far beyond the boundaries of PTSSS, as Field 86 will become an important “seedbank” for future natural seed dispersal, an ecological process that is incredibly important for “natural” rehabilitation in other relevant areas.
Efforts to propagate jungle tree seeds for our rehabilitation activities
Propagating native Borneo fruit trees has been the main challenge pursued by the team in our nurseries in Lada and Runtu Estate. These trees are very important for the rehabilitation as they will be providing food sources for a lot of animals in the conservation areas of PTSSS. At the onset of rehabilitation 10 years ago, the main goal was to plant fast growing species to create a level of canopy to prevent excessive soil erosion and subsequent loss of minerals and nutrients.
At this point in time, the BioD team has begun to either add or replace existing trees with fruiting trees, thereby enriching the forests to the benefit of wildlife. During 2020, we planted 18,075 jungle trees in our rehabilitation areas with an additional stock of 18,614 seedlings in our nurseries.
In 2020, we prioritized to propagate fig species that are attractive for many bird species as well as primates. Some species are considered “strangler figs” and is named for their pattern of growth upon host trees, which often results in the host’s death after 150-200 years. Although fig trees can easily be propagated from a pot, their seeds are eaten by birds and often defecated onto branches of host trees, where they sprout by setting out roots that will eventually reach the ground. To accelerate this otherwise long process, we propagate fig trees on coconut husk that is then deployed on a host tree in a conservation area. At the time of writing, we have 500 fig trees on coconut husks in our nursey ready to be “planted” in a conservation area. The BioD team has also setup a sample plot where trials are made concerning which propagation technique is most effective, including different kinds of host trees.
Fish survey in conservation areas
In 2020, BioD conducted extensive fish survey in three types of habitat i.e. peat, brackish and fresh water bodies that form part of the river and lake systems in PT SSS conservation areas. This survey added 45 new fish species to an already extensive species list. To date, the BioD team has recorded a total of 123 species of fish in PT SSS conservation areas and, while this is in itself impressive, the team expects the number to increase when more intensive surveys are undertaken in the near future.
The BioD team is very pleased with the high fish species diversity in PTSSS’ water bodies, as it reflects that plantation activities have improved significantly in the management of fertilizer and pesticide application, as well as the mitigation actions put in place to prevent contamination of the estates water ways.
Some of the fish recorded are commonly used by local communities as diet supplements as well as alternative household income by selling their catches or part there of at the local market. The positive impact of PTSSS’ conservation areas on local community livelihoods cannot be underestimated. As long as the areas remain well managed and protected, they become refuges for many fish species and are important spawning grounds for many species, thereby becoming sources that can continue to supply fish to water bodies in and beyond the property of PTSSS.
First sighting of endangered species Irrawaddy Dolphin
During the 2020 fish surveys, the BioD team had the extreme fortune of sighting an Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris) foraging in the Jergendul river, a tributary to the Kumai river. This rare creature is listed as “Endangered” on the IUCN Red list. The dolphin was actively foraging for fish at the edge of the mangrove conservation area along Jergendul river, Lada Estate Division II. Lada Estate’s mangrove conservation area measures approximately 1,100 Ha, which is an important fish spawning ground, especially due to its closeness to the sea.
For dolphins to forage in rivers at Lada estate is another testament to how the integrated estate management and conservation is producing positive conservation results. The Irrawaddy dolphin is both the largest mammal species and species in general recorded in PTSSS’ properties, and the BioD team is delightful over this sighting and to realize that this endangered species utilizes our mangrove conservation area.
The elusive Bornean ground cuckoo
The elusive Bornean ground cuckoo, Carpococcyx radiceus, is a large terrestrial species of Cuckoo in the family Cuculidae. It is endemic to the island of Borneo and generally widespread across the island’s humid forests. Unfortunately, large parts of its preferred habitat are being lost from extensive agricultural and urban development activities and, from being common in the past, it is now listed as “Near Threatened” on the IUCN Red List and is only recorded in “good natural habitat”.
The species has been recorded occasionally in PT SSS’ conservation areas, where it forages the forest floor for insects and fruits, often following feeding frensies of bearded pigs, Sus barbatus, and Malayan sun bear, Ursus malayanus commonly found in our conservation areas. The species remain elusive and poorly known and its respective habitat have become a top priority for conservation managers across Borneo.
Saving critically endangered species
Fishing has always been a very important livelihood component to local communities. Despite the loss of traditional natural fishing grounds from excessive urban and agricultural development activities, fishing continues to contribute to community livelihoods in communities neighboring PTSSS. With our conservation areas often the only natural habitat left in a sea of agricultural and urban landscape, conserving these areas has become even more important.
Concurrently, with the loss of natural habitat surrounding PTSSS, the pressure to utilize resources in PTSSS’ conservation areas has increased significantly during the past decade. This has put increasing resource demands on the BioD team to patrol and manage the areas sustainably and as safely as possible. The team understands that no amount of patrolling and fencing can keep hungry humans out of the area and while “trespassing” into private property is illegal, it is unrealistic to keep local communities from using some of these resources.
Therefore, the BioD team has taken an integrated approach, where communities are generally allowed entry for subsistence purposes, provided they comply with “sustainability rules” set out by the BioD team. These rules prohibit, for example, fish bombing, using fish poison, logging and hunting. In certain areas, the use of fish nets is also prohibited, and during extreme dry periods, areas may be temporarily closed due to the high risk of causing bush fires.
In general, this approach has worked well and the BioD has built up a very good relationship with many adjacent communities which is an important factor that translates positively to the rest of PTSSS management. There is, of course, always a risk of “bad apples in the basket” and illegal activities and unwanted incidents happen simply due to violating the BioD rules and/or by pure chance. One such cases involved a regular fisherman who accidentally hooked a Malaysian giant turtle (Orlitia borneensis). This is an extremely rare and fully protected species in Indonesia and listed as “Critically Endangered” on the IUNC Red List.
There are only a few large reproductively mature individuals left in the wild and nesting grounds are few and far in between. There is a very high risk that this ancient species will be functionally extinct within the next two decades and the presence of a mature individuals in PTSSS’ conservation areas is akin to finding conservation gold. A fishing method that BioD prohibits is deploying line and hook overnight.
The reason for this is that it often results in the injury or deaths to species like turtles, otters and water birds, usually by drowning. Although the fisherman knew he had broken the rule, he reported the incident of having captured the Malaysian giant turtle instead of selling it for a very high price on the black market. The turtle’s flesh is very highly sort after both locally and in China. Quick response by the BioD team unhooked the turtle, treated the minor wound and released it back into its habitat.
Orang Utans and their babies
Despite the relatively extensive conservation areas in PTSSS(7,500Ha), it remains too small to sustain genetically viable orangutan populations. However, it provides sufficient habitat for a number of individuals to thrive as well as reproduce actively in the area as long as they are left undisturbed. From the onset, PT SSS implemented a “no kill” policy of orangutan and did not consider them as a pest for the plantation. And, the positive conservation results of this strategy are emerging now.
For the past 10 years, the BioD team has conducted regularly awareness programmes internally with company employees as well as externally with communities who live adjacent to our conservation areas. Company staff and communities are aware of not disturbing orangutans when they encounter this animal. The result is positive i.e. there has been no reported conflicts with orangutans in neither PTSSS conservation areas nor inside the plantation land.
Whilst this is extremely positive, more focus on orangutan will be afforded in the near future, because orangutan conservation management in fragmented habitat requires habitat enrichment, landscape connectivity and possibly either reintroduction or replacement of a number of individuals to ensure genetic diversity and resilience. Only then, when such processes are undertaken smoothly in collaboration with the local authorities, will it be possible for our BioD to report “successful orangutan conservation accomplished”.
The BioD have continued to record and monitor orangutans. Whereas we have yet to capture on camera a picture of a large breeding male, we know that they must be around. The reason for this is that, almost every year the team has recorded a female orangutan with a baby. The fact that both mother and baby on the pictures appear healthy is a good sign, since it provides evidence that PTSSS’ conservation areas are home to reproductively active orangutan population(s). The BioD team will be focusing on habitat enrichment activities and, together with the local authorities, attempt to secure connectivity between, particularly, Tg Puting national park and PTSSS’ Kumai Estate.
Monitoring bio-indicators in various water bodies
Streams, rivers and wetlands in and around PT SSS land areas play important roles in supplying both humans and wildlife with ecosystem services. The diversity of water plankton is often neglected in general conservation efforts, but they happen to be one of the best bio-indicators for water quality. This is mainly because they form one of the most fundamental lower part of the food chain that almost all other living creatures are dependent on. A good plankton diversity is a sign of good diversity of other species too, which in turn can be used to predict an area’s ecological health.
The BioD team has monitored plankton diversity in Lada and Kumai estate and use it to evaluate water quality. As of today, 106 species of plankton have been recorded to live on the surface water, indicating that the water quality in Lada, Kumai and Runtu Estates can be considered slightly polluted. Whereas this is considered “good” in a plantation context, the BioD will strive to reach a “not polluted” category in the future. Meanwhile, more work needs to be done to identify the potential source(s) of pollution and/or residual ecological factors from the original land preparation activities.
Leopard cat monitoring
Since 2015, the BioD team has monitored leopard cat population in Lada Estate, using 40 units of camera traps deployed in an 800 x 800meter grid system. In the first three years, the relative abundance of leopard cat increased peaking in 2018, however, in 2019 and 2020 data showed a significant drop with 2020 being the lowest on record.
Whereas it is not yet clear what has caused this downwards trend, it appears too significant to be simple statistical variation. It may be caused by dry season forest fires, decreasing habitat suitability, higher predator pressure (e.g. illegal hunting, increasing population of pythons), drop in prey density (e.g. chemical treatment of rats), diseases and/or other reasons. Nevertheless, leopard cat population continues to be high, with at least 2-4 individual/km2 compared to natural forest habitat (less than 1 individual/ km2).
The BioD team already knows that leopard cats are very effective rat predators. Rats constitute almost 75% of the leopard cats diet and an adult cat will often consume 2-3 rats per day.
A significant drop in prey availability, or a significant increase in predator pressure are the most common causes that can alter a predator’s population density. The BioD team has observed active Empty Fruit Bunch treatment in the study area that could easily cause disturbances and a temporary drop in the cat population. In addition, the number of reticulated python, Malayopython reticulatus, appear to have increased significantly.
Pythons are the most significant predator of adult leopard cats and they will do their best to avoid contact if possible. In 2021, the BioD will set up a comparative study to assess what may have caused the drop in leopard cat population. Hopefully, this biological controller of rats can be restored to its full potential.
The work with the sumatran cobra (Naja Sumatrana) and king cobra (Ophiophagus Hannah), the world’s largest venomous snake has produced some amazing results. It has attracted one of the World’s best known and respected herpetologists, Romolus Whitaker, who continues to grace UP/PTSSS in Kalimantan and offer support and capacity building every year. The Biodiversity Division has also undertaken numerous camera trap surveys, bird and tree surveys to document the biodiversity within the company’s conservation areas. The BioD has recorded many of Borneo’s endangered species to date, among them Asia’s only great ape, the orangutan, Pongo pygmaeus.
Biodiversity Division’s Activities in the Past Years
While these are exciting and inspiring stories about exotic species, the BioD is about far more than that. An entire host of other activities commenced right from the modest beginning in 2011, including developing a GIS database that incorporates literally all the team’s recorded data, be it from camera trap pictures, radio-tracking locations, number of tree seeds collected, time and place of illegal logging to recovery of aquatic fauna. Most of these stories are rarely told, however some of these will be revealed in the following.
To date, the BioD has recorded a stunning 68 species of mammals, 183 bird species, 48 reptiles, 22 amphibians, and 78 fish in PT SSS conservation areas. This is expected to increase significantly in the future as many more surveys are completed. In 2019, we found an additional 7 species which consist of 2 reptiles, 1 mammal, and 4 birds to the list bringing it to a new record in PT SSS.
Our Biodiversity Division continues to monitor the diversity of birds in rehabilitation areas Field 86. The monitoring purposes is to see the rehabilitation effect on the diversity of birds. We monitored understory birds which mostly use tree canopies for their daily activities and tend to be elusive in behavior. By use of mist nets, the monitoring started in 2015 and every year the same method has been applied in that rehabilitation location. The result is really interesting. We found that the number of bird species cumulative increased every year. In 2019, cumulative number of birds has reached 28 species. It means that there is a positive trend of an increasing number of bird species that use the rehabilitation areas as their habitat. We are proud of the fact that the rehabilitation program has proven to be a success and provides an increasingly comfortable habitat particularly for birds. In addition to birds and as highlighted during 2018, we were also thrilled to identify the clouded leopard that has started to use the rehabilitation areas. We hope for further progress in the years ahead.
Bird diversity at an increasing trend along the year.
The aerial photos of the rehabilitation areas in field 86, Lada Estate Div II.
Efforts to propagate jungle tree seeds for our rehabilitation activities
The jungle trees nursery in Lada Estate and seed of fruit trees
Propagating the native Borneo fruit trees is the main program in our nursery site which is located in the Lada and Runtu Estate. The fruit trees are very important in providing food sources for a lot of animals in PT SSS conservation areas. Under our rehabilitation programs, we are enriching the forests with these important fruit trees. During 2019, we have planted 8492 jungle trees in our rehabilitation areas. As of todate, we have a stock of 34,685 jungle tree seedlings in our nursery. Not just fruit trees, we also prioritize to propagate the trees from the Dipterocarpaceae family or commonly called Dipterocarp trees. The Dipterocarp trees or Meranti which is their local name are diminishing due to high demand for wood extraction, mainly illegal logging. As of todate, we have around 4000 Dipterocarp tree seedlings which consist of 4 different species. In the next few months the seeds will be ready for planting in our rehabilitation and conservation areas.
Sprouted seeds of the Tengkawang trees, one of the species of dipterocarp trees. In the past before palm oil production expanded, the native people of Borneo used the tengkawang seed to extract oil for cooking purposes.
The value of the wetland Pangkalan Durin
The Pangkalan Durin wetland area of 28 Ha is located in Lada Div I. Historically the Pangkalan Durin wetland was owned by some people in the village or Desa of Pangkalan Durin. In 2012, the group of people offered the areas of wetland to PTSSS to be planted with palm oil trees under the Plasma scheme. Due to the conservation qualities of the land the Company together with the BioD offered the owners of the land to buy it or offer them a similar land area size to be planted with oil palm under the Plasma scheme in another location. After some negotiations, the Pangkalan Durin wetland area of 28 ha was bought and converted to a permanent conservation area which has given a lot of value for biodiversity conservation and ground water management.
The wetland has become a paradise for many water birds. In particular during the dry season where water birds like Whistling duck, Yellow bittern, Egret, Waterhen, Moorhens and Purple heron can be found. The most impressive and pleasing finding in the Pangkalan Durin wetland area was the presence of a group of Storm stork (Ciconia stormi) which is an Endangered species criteria in reference to IUCN Red List. At least 4-5 individual storm storks were recorded during the dry season from September-November 2019. It was a meaningful decision that was taken by the company to protect this particular wetland and convert it into a conservation site
The Storm stork (Ciconia stormi) hanging around in the Pangkalan Durin wetland area.
The Leopard cat monitoring
Since 2015 we have started monitoring leopard cats in Lada Estate using 40 units of camera traps spread in a 800 x 800 meter grid system. Every year We keep track of their abundance and population. The abundance of leopard cats increased as well as their population. Although the data in 2019 showed a drop of abundance of leopard cats, we think it is due to a change in capturing probability.
Installation of collar for radio tagging of leopard cat
We assume the dry season which caused smoke in the air and heat might have changed the leopard cat activity pattern. The leopard cat density is considered very high in the oil palm estate with at least 2-4 individuals/km2 compared with the conservation forest which mostly houses less than 1 individual/ km2. We have observed that the leopard cats are very effective when hunting rats. Our observation data from the cats fitted with radio telemetry indicated that one individual leopard cat can eat 2-3 rats per day. The leopard cats are smart and intelligent, they can hunt the rat on the ground, under heap of palm fronds, and in the oil palm trees. We also recorded many photos from our camera traps showing leopard cats carrying the rats after a successful hunt. It is our clear opinion that Leopard cats in oil Palm plantations are excellent means of biological control to reduce the rat population
Leopard cats with their meal (rat)
Monitoring of bio-indicators in various water bodies
The water bodies like streams and rivers around the land concession of PTSSS play an important role to ensure the future conservation of wildlife and even human beings. The diversity of the water plankton is sometimes neglected as a holistic part of conservation efforts. Bio indicators like plankton can reflect how the practices of the palm oil business affect the area’s water quality.
We have monitored the plankton diversity on Lada and Kumai estate and used that as reference to evaluate water quality. As of todate, 106 species of plankton have been recorded to live on the surface water. Based on Diversity Indices of plankton, the quality of the water in Lada and Kumai Estate is considered fairly good. The existence of plankton is very important for aquatic life and will continue to be monitored going forward.
The plankton diversity indices in the Lada and Kumai Estates are used as indicators of water quality.
Research conducted on Smooth Otter
PTSSS has around 1200 Ha of mangrove forest under its conservation areas in Lada Estate. The mangrove forest is a habitat for at least 3 species of otter, like the Small clawed otter (Aonyx cinerea), Smooth otter (lutrogale perspicillata) and Hairy-nosed otter (Lutra sumatrana). The presence of the otter in the mangrove conservation areas is a good sign of the state of the mangrove forest itself. In 2018 we had conducted research using camera traps in the mangrove forest areas. The interesting result was that we found the presence of the Lutra sumatrana in our mangrove conservation areas.
The status of this species is considered as an Endangered species criteria in reference to IUCN Red List. We have published the short note of “First Record of Hairy-Nosed Otter (Lutra sumatrana) in Southern Central Kalimantan, Indonesia” in the reputable “IUCN Otter Spec. Group Bull. 36 (2) 2019. We published our story about Lutra sumatrana and its presence in the Southern part of Borneo. The last reference only recognized that the Lutra sumatrana only was distributed in the Northern part of Borneo like Sabah and Brunei.
Smooth otter (lutrogale perspicillata)
Attended seminars about conservation and sustainability
The BioD staff actively participate in local and international forums in the form of seminars and conferences during the year. The purpose is to share our knowledge of conservation and learn from others other practitioners, academicians and thereby to improve the conservation effort in PT SSS. In 2019 our BioD attended the Song Bird seminar and Sustainable Palm Oil seminar in Copenhagen at the 28-29th May 2019 which was hosted by Copenhagen Zoo. The BioD also attend the 29th International Congress for Conservation Biology (ICCB), Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. We presented our research paper on leopard cat study using radio telemetry in the oil palm landscape.
Attending conference on conservation of Biodiversity in Copenhagen, Denmark and Kuala Lumpur
Socialization on the importance of conservation to the local community surrounding PT SSS is on our routine agenda . We share information about the conservation efforts conducted by the company. We also encourage the local community to support the program because the value of conservation is not just for the company, but also for the community who live around the areas as well as the future generations of people. We present many pictures and videos, and use simple sentences to explain the importance of conservation and the value of it. By doing that, we hope the community will continue to be our partners and to further understand the efforts taken to protect the conservation areas and actively take part in protecting the conservation areas with us. We also made painting competitions with conservation themes with kids in elementary school as part of their familiarization towards conservation efforts and its importance. Because they are the ones who will own the environment in the future.
The Group has strictly adhered to the NO new development on peatland regardless of depth policy since 2010. The management plans are in place and being implemented on existing plantations on peat. The total land bank of United Plantations Berhad as of 31 December 2020 is 63,074Ha. The total planted area under oil palm is 46,645 Ha of which Malaysia has 37,566 Ha and 9,079 Ha in Indonesia. In Malaysia the total peat area is 4,627.24 Ha and in Indonesia it is 784 Ha, i.e total peat is approximately 5,411.24Ha equal to approximately 11.6% of our total oil palm planted area.
Our Research Team has re-assessed the peat area at our newly acquired brownfield plantation, Tanarata Estate, where there was a reduction in the peat hectarage. This is in line with the latest peat inventory which has been submitted to RSPO Secretariat.
Water management is particularly important on the acid sulphate and peat soils. These soils are fragile and if over drained, they will rapidly deteriorate. On the acid sulphate soils, the water level should be maintained up to the jarosite layer, submerging the pyrite (FeS2) and preventing it from oxidizing to sulphuric acid, which can cause a steep drop in the pH.
Weirs for Moisture Conservation
To conserve moisture during these periods, a series of weirs are constructed across the collection drains to hold back water and raise the water-table to within 50-75 cm from the surface. To regulate the height of the water table, wooden planks are slotted into the desired level.
The density of weirs varies with the soil type, slope, rainfall and cropping system. On the average, one weir is provided for every 40 to 60 hectares or every 600-1000 m along the collection drain. Assisted by the water gates at the discharge ends of the main drains, the weirs are very effective in minimizing the adverse effects of the moisture stress.
United Plantations has recently engaged an external consultant to undertake a peat drainability study in our Malaysian operations to better understand the hydrological characteristics of our peat areas.
Monitoring of meteorological parameters
Weather stations have been set up at strategically important locations throughout our Group. These provide a large amount of micro-climatic information critical to, particularly, make accurate fire-risk predictions.
Being able to predict the risk of fire allows the management in each estate to implement proactive measures, to prevent and minimize the risk of fire, as well as to be on high alert with firefighting equipment, in case of fire outbreak.
For more information, please click here to view our Standard Operating Procedure on peat soil management.
We, at UP, are committed towards energy reduction and promoting renewable energy. The implementation of green technology has resulted in reduction of fossil fuel usage and thus reduced greenhouse gas emissions. The fossil fuel consumption in all of our operations is closely monitored as part of Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) study.
Biomass Reciprocating Boiler
The first Biomass Reciprocating Boiler (BRBI) was successfully commissioned in 2006 and supplied green steam to Jendarata Palm Oil Mill as well as the Unitata Refinery, thus playing a crucial role in reducing the fossil fuel consumption at the refinery.
Since then the company has built and commissioned another 7 biomass reciprocating boilers with the latest unit at UIE (M) installed in 2019.
Biomass boilers in our mills are also equipped with VORSEP dust particle minimizing system, and an automatic fuel feeding system with greater energy efficiency, reduced dust emissions and a lower labour requirement.
Biogas to Grid Project
Since the UIE biogas plant began operation in 2010, the biogas generated at the mill was either flared or used as a substitute fuel in the mill boiler. In 2020 a total of 7,176 MWh of electricity was generated from the biogas plants and sold to the grid which is a 60% increase from the previous year.
Photovoltaic Cell Pilot Project
A pilot project was initiated in 2020 to evaluate the feasibility of photovoltaic cells to produce green electricity from sunlight to offset electricity consumption from the grid. Located on the roof of the Tissue Culture Laboratory, these battery of cells are expected to generate 525 kW/ day with the option of selling electricity unutilised by the laboratory to the grid.
Conversion to Energy saving T5 Fluorescent lamps
As part of our efforts to improve energy efficiency and to reduce wastages, there is an on-going exercise to replace the existing T8 fluorescent lamps with the newer T5 lamps.
Some advantages of the T5 tubes are:
- A 25% gain in luminous efficacy vis a vis T8 lamps
- Light output that is closer to natural light spectrum which is beneficial to human health
- Less heat emitted during operation, with potential saving in air conditioning costs
- Minimal (5%) degradation in lumen output over the life of the lamp as opposed to 20% degradation for the T8 lamps
- Does not require replacing existing fixtures
To date 99% of the T8 lights at the Unitata refinery and another 60% of the lights in several estates which numbered in excess of 4,000 lights have been converted to T5 lighting, resulting in an energy saving of 92.5kW. Going forward the Company is also actively exploring other energy efficient measures.
Integrated Pest Management and Chemical Usage
Conducting our operations under the best principles of agriculture and to reduce chemical and pesticides usage thereby minimising the impact to the natural environment.
UP has a strong commitment to Integrated Pest Management (IPM), and in line with the Principles and Criteria of the RSPO we are continuously working on reducing the usage of pesticides. Our employees’ safety is a top priority and in this connection all sprayers are trained extensively and are required to use full Personal Protective Equipment.
According to CropLIfe International, a global federation representing the plant science industry, 42% of crop production throughout the world is lost as a result of insects, plant diseases and weeds every year in the tropics crop losses can reach as high as 75%.
Careful use of pesticides can deliver substantial benefits for our society through increasing the availability of good quality and more affordable priced food products. However, pesticides are inherently dangerous and it is in everyone’s interest to minimize the risk they pose to people and the environment.
IPM, means a pest management system that in the context of the associated environment and the population dynamics of the pest species, utilizes all suitable techniques and methods in as compatible a manner as possible and maintains the pest population at levels below those causing economically unacceptable damage or loss.
Our commitment towards continuous improvements has resulted in minimizing the usage of pesticides in relation to other major oil seed crops, primarily through Good Agricultural Practices and improvement in planting materials. Today, UP’s use of pesticide is 4-6 times lower per tonne of oil produced compared to Rapeseed farmers and about 32- 44 times lower compared to Soybean farmers.
Establishing Beneficial Flowering Plants
To date a total of 296,252 broadleaf flowering plants have been planted in our plantations to encourage parasite and predator activities which is a vital part of our IPM programme. There has been a steady increase in the number of beneficial plants which were planted in our Malaysian and Indonesian properties over the last few years to function as shelter and food source for the beneficial insects.
However due to replanting activities in most of the Malaysian estates as well as the loss of beneficial plants to flood, beneficial plants numbers have set back for some years although numbers are expected to further rise in the coming years.
Surveillance and Monitoring of Pest Outbreaks
The key to minimizing both the economic impact of pest and environmental impacts from excessive use of pesticides is by regular surveillance and monitoring. Treatment is only carried out when the damage exceeds established critical thresholds. Several census gangs are deployed on each estate to survey the extent of pest infestation. This is coupled with regular aerial reconnaissance in order to track and preempt pest build-up thereby more effectively treating potential outbreaks.
Use of biological pesticides and pheromones
First line treatment against leaf pests i.e. Nettle Caterpillar and Bagworm is by biological treatment in the form of Bacillus thuringiensis. The use of pheromones to trap Rhinoceros Beetles thus reducing the dependency on chemical pesticides is also adopted on all estates.
Besides trapping out the beetles, pheromone traps also provide management with statistical information of the severity of the beetle problem and supplements the chemical spraying operations to minimise beetle damage.
Overpopulation of rats, beetles and various kinds of weeds can have a profound negative impact on production yield. UP Group attempts to minimize the usage of chemical control-agents where possible, and the BioD undertakes a number of research projects to maximise the usage of biological control agents where possible. For example, leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis) is one of the key-predators of rats and other small rodents, and preliminary studies on the effect of these cats as rat-controllers in a plantation landscape is ongoing.
The results have been very promising, and UP’s biodiversity team is currently exploring ways to enrich the habitat conditions for leopard cats, to maximise the population density and thereby reduce the effect of rat damage. Apart from leopard cats, the team also records ecological parameters along with the effect on rat populations of other predators such as barn owls (Tyto alba), Spitting cobra (Naja sumatrana) and water monitor lizards (Varanus v. salvator).
Below is the 5-Step Integrated Pest Management Programme approach taken to contain and/or control Bagworm outbreak:
• Integrated Pest Management
E.g. planting of beneficial plants to enhance the natural parasitic and predator activities against bagworm. To date more than 296,252 beneficial broadleaf flowering plants have been planted in both Malaysia and Indonesia.
• On-going Monitoring
Census gangs deployed on each estate who take random frond samples in a predetermined pattern throughout each estate. These fronds are subsequently subjected to insect counts and damage assessments by trained personnel.
• Aerial Surveillance
Regular aerial reconnaissance is carried out to better detect, pre-empt and treat potential outbreaks.
• Use of biological control agents
E.g. Bacillus Thuringiensis as the first line of treatment against an outbreak.
• Final Resort
As a final resort and only when Steps 1 to 4 have proven to be futile in containing or controlling the natural equilibrium between pest and beneficial predator, our trained personnel intervene with the specific treatment of trunk injection using monocrotophos.
Mowing of Harvesters’ Paths
Blanket weeding is discouraged, soft weeds with shallow root system which do not grow to excessive heights are encouraged outside the weeded palm circle. Harvesters’ paths are mowed. This practice maintains a flora which is favourable to natural enemies of crop pests and reduce soil loss.
Use of Safer Class 3 & 4 pesticides wherever possible
In line with the RSPO’s continuous improvements initiative the Company’s Group Sustainability Committee monitors and reviews the pesticides usage, exploring avenues to reduce overall pesticide usage as well as evaluating alternative safer pesticides. In this context, UP has since February 2008 been working towards minimizing the usage of Paraquat, which has been documented in the annual RSPO Surveillance Audits. In May 2010, Management took the decision to voluntarily phase out the usage of Paraquat, a goal which was realized with effect from October 2010.
Monocrotophos phased out completely
In 2020, we have successfully phased out monocrotophos, which is a key milestone. Concerted efforts to source and evaluate alternatives for the Class 1A insecticide, monocrotophos, have been ongoing since 2006 through our collaboration with several multinational chemical companies, amongst others Bayer and BASF (Germany), Syngenta (Switzerland), Cheminova (Denmark), Sumitomo (Japan), Rainbow Agrosciences (China) and UPL (India).
Multiple experimental and existing insecticidal compounds have been evaluated for bagworm control with our partners with no success in matching the efficacy of monocrotophos. In recent years our Research Department was able to test new formulations of an existing insecticide that hitherto gave inconsistent bagworm control. It has now been established that with these new formulations we are able to have a commercially viable and effective alternative to monocrotophos with a Class II toxicity rating which is a much safer product.
As a result, we have since September 2020 successfully phased out the use of monocrotophos and metamidophos for trunk injection to control bagworm. This is a key milestone as our plantations can now dispense with the use of WHO Class 1A or 1B pesticides for bagworm control and replaced them with an equally effective product.
Nonetheless, bagworm is an endemic pest in Lower Perak and the Federal Government has gazetted this as a “Dangerous Pest” on 15the November 2013. It is an offence under the Plant Quarantine Act 1976 if this dangerous pest is left without any control and can be fined up to RM10,000.
Outbreaks of bagworms continue to occur in the properties neighbouring UP in the State of Perak, West Malaysia. This is of great concern as it is important that collaborated effort by the government authorities, neighbouring smallholders and other plantations are put in place in an attempt to eradicate this serious pest.
UP is working closely together with its neighbours as well as the authorities in the form of the Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) to achieve positive progress on this concerning issue. UP has extended its service to the neighbouring plantations the use of its airstrips for aerial bagworm control and also taking the plantation managers for aerial reconnaissance flights to monitor the extent of bagworm infestations in the region.
The quantity of agrochemicals (fertilizer nutrients and pesticide/ herbicide) per tonne of oil produced in oil palm cultivation at UP over the last three years remain substantially lower than annual oilseed crops such as soybean, sunflower and rapeseed, a reflection on the resource utilization efficiency of the oil palm crop.
Pesticide usage in 2020 was slightly higher than 2019 level as a result of higher herbicide and insecticide usage. Direct fossil fuel energy consumption was slightly lower in 2020 in comparison to 2019 due to higher crop production.
Agrochemical and Energy Inputs in the Cultivation of Oil Palm and Other Oilseed Crops
Biological Control Agents to Substitute for Chemical Insecticides
Leaf eating pest outbreaks in immature oil palms will need to be treated with insecticides. The use of biological insecticides such as Bacillus thuringiensis is encouraged at this young crop stage to minimise collateral damage on beneficial insects in the field as well as to reduce dependency on chemical insecticides.
Our use of biological insecticides is as recorded below although the quantity used is also dependent on the palm age where pest outbreaks occur. In 2020 more older palms were infested which is less amenable to spraying with biological insecticides.
Quantity (kg) of Bacillus thuringiensis applied in our Malaysian and Indonesian operations
Harnessing advances in pesticide technology to reduce herbicide inputs in mature oil palm
In the wet tropics, weed species rapidly cover the ground and if left unchecked, will encroach into palm circles to compete with the palms for nutrients and water as well as interfere with field operations. Consequently, herbicides are an important tool to keep the palm circles weed free. Of the total pesticides used in a mature field, herbicides will therefore account for more than half of the total pesticide load.
Thus, any improvement in the length of control for weeds will contribute significantly to a reduction in pesticide use for mature palms.
Over the years United Plantations has actively cooperated with leading agrochemical manufacturers to evaluate a range of herbicidal compounds.
Arising from the close collaboration with Bayer CropScience a new compound, Indaziflam, with long lasting weed control was extensively tested in our fields and was found to be able to slash the number of herbicide rounds from four rounds a year with the standard herbicide mix to two rounds a year with the Indaziflam combination. This confers the clear benefit of almost halving the herbicide input in a field and greatly improving labour productivity where this approach has been adopted. Reduction of overall herbicide usage (in mature oil palm planting with the introduction of Indaziflam herbicide in 2016 onwards.
Below is the statistics of herbicide usage (kg a.i./ha/year) in mature oil palm:
Calibration for Pesticide Application Equipment
The Company engages the services of equipment suppliers to regularly monitor the calibration of the equipment to avoid application error (under and over applications) and safety to operators. Regular training and refresher courses are implemented, all of which are audited by accredited auditors of the MSPO and RSPO every year.
Biological pest control of rats
Rats thrive in the oil palm ecosystem with an abundance of food sources (palm shoots, fruit mesocarp, kernels, weevil grubs etc.) as well as plentiful harborage amongst the cut frond heaps. The common rat species encountered in an oil palm field are the Malaysian wood rat (Rattus tiomanicus), padi field rat (Rattus argentiventer) and the house rats (Rattus rattus diardii).
With its prolific reproductive rate, whereby a sexually mature female could conceive multiple times a year and produce an average of 8 pups in each litter, rat populations can mushroom and threaten the oil palm plantings within a short time, given the right conditions.
Various researchers have estimated crop loss caused by rats feeding on fruit mesocarp to be able to reduce oil yield by 5 – 10% (Wood, 1976; Liau, 1990). Badly gnawed male and female inflorescences, as well as young palms killed by rat attacks further contribute to crop loss.
The Barn owl is a much-loved countryside bird by oil palm planters as it predates on rats, resulting in major reduction of rodent damage. It is also one of the most widely distributed birds in the world.
This bird is the best partner to growers due to its ability to adapt well to oil palm plantations. It survives on a staple diet of 99% rats. It is estimated that a pair of barn owls together with its chicks consume about 800 to 1,000 rats per year.
The barn owls are medium sized (34-36cm) with long legs that have feathers all the way down to their grey toes. The owls have large, round heads without ear tufts and pale heart-shaped facial discs. The owls ingest the rats whole and use their digestive juices to dissolve the nutrients of the fleshy parts. The tougher indigestible parts such as the bones, skulls are regurgitated out.
Barn owl population in tandem with preys’ availability can be expanded in the plantation by construction of boxes at vantage points – about 5 meters from the ground and shaded by the palms’ canopies.
A zinc baffle or collar should be placed on the pole to prevent snakes etc. from predation of the owl’s eggs and new born chicks. These boxes should be inspected regularly and repaired where necessary in order to optimize its occupancy.
At United Plantations, the barn owl is the first line of defence against this serious pest. Where owls could not cope with the high rat population, first generation rat baits such as warfarin are employed to selectively bring down the population.
Warfarin baits are preferred as they are relatively safer to barn owls than second generation rat baits. Based on the low usage of rodenticides in the past years, we can infer that the barn owl programme has been fairly successful in keeping rats under control.
Since its formation in 2011, the Biodiversity Division in UP/PTSSS has recorded a surprising number of leopard cats, Prionailurus bengalensis, in the estates. The species is common throughout Southeast Asia in undisturbed as well as altered habitats. They are common in some oil palm estates; however, little is understood about their role as rat predators in a plantation landscape although studies have shown that rats and mice constitute 93% of the leopard cat’s mammalian diet (Rajaratnam at.,2007). Field observations demonstrate there is a negative relationship between cat numbers and rat population, with high abundance of cats associated with low rat numbers and vice versa (Silmi et al.,2013)
Since 2015, nine individual leopard cats have been collared and continuously tracked for 23 months and aided by 40 camera traps set up in a 800m by 800m grid generated estimates of the respective cats’ home-ranges and dispersal patterns. With at least 2-4 individual/km2 the leopard cat density in the oil palm estate is much higher than in the conservation forest with a density of less than 1 individual / km2. Leopard cat population in the study area declined in 2019 and 2020 and studies are underway to determine the cause of decline.
The cats are strictly nocturnal and prefer to hide and rest in thick bush, primarily consisting of sword-fern (Nephrolepis sp) during day-time, but forage both on the ground and in the palm canopy at night. Some preliminary results conclude that leopard cats can feed, reproduce and thrive in a palm oil estate, with a mean home range (95% MCP) for male leopard cats 1.39 km2 (n = 5; SD = 1.40 km2 ) and a mean home range of female cats smaller at 1.26 km2 (n = 4; SD = 0.36 km2).
In areas where rats constitute the main prey, leopard cats eat an average of 2-3 rats per day. Amphibians, snakes and birds are also on the menu. With a body weight range of 2.5-4.0 kg leopard cats are expected to consume more food than the much lighter barn owl, a factor which may be favourable in its role as a rat control agent (Silmi et al.,2013). Our observations reveal that leopard cats can reproduce rapidly with some females giving birth to 4 cubs, with a reproduction cycle every five to six months.
We, at UP, are fully committed to sustainable palm oil production with the implementation of zero waste concept. The wastes from our business activities include solid and liquid waste. Solid waste consists of empty fruit bunches (EFB) of oil palm, fibre and shells. Liquid waste or Palm Oil Mill Effluent (POME) is generated from the processing of fresh fruit bunches to CPO. We use both types of waste as organic fertiliser and fuel.
Organic matter is an important constituent of soil health. It needs to be maintained at a healthy level for sustainable crop production. Malaysian soils, like most tropical soils, are low in organic matter. The situation in some areas is further aggravated by the fact that oil palm is already in the second or third generation of planting where organic matter depletion can be a serious problem.
Besides improving oil palm growth and yield, the recycling of the pruned fronds, trunks at replanting, spent male flowers and empty fruit bunches on land, on mineralisation release large quantities of locked carbon and plant nutrients to the soil. Herein, it is gratifying to note that the maintenance of the carbon cycle by returning the biomass to the field has enabled scout harvesting to commence at 28 months after planting rather than 36 months.
Production and Level of Utilisation of Oil Palm Biomass Residues in UP -2020
In 2020, a total of 725,920 MT of biomass residues were generated through the various field and mill operations of the Company’s Malaysian operations.
Almost all of the total biomass generated (99.7%) or 723,729 MT were effectively utilised as organic matter back to the fields applied as organic mulch in the nursery or as fuel source, thereby enriching our soils and displacing the use of fossil fuels whilst adding value to the biomass generated.
Our Indonesian operations generated a total of 158,070 MT of biomass dry matter in 2020. Even though the quantum is lesser than what is generated in Malaysia, a very high proportion of these biomass (157,583 MT or 99.7%) was utilised through recycling in the field or as a green energy source with all the added benefits to the environment.
Our Indonesian operations generated a total of 166,466 MT of biomass dry matter in 2019. Even though the quantum is lesser than what is generated in Malaysia, a very high proportion of these biomass (165,959 MT or 99.7%) was utilised through recycling back to the field or as a green energy source with all the added benefits to the environment.
Fertilizer Equivalent and Monetary Value of Oil Palm Biomass Residues Recycled on Land in UP in 2020
With our commitment to sustainability and good agricultural practices, the recycling of field and mill biomass residues back to the oil palm land remains a cornerstone in UP. These measures have been shown to maintain and even improve soil fertility in the long term and enhance palm growth and yield.
In 2020, the total organic matter recycled on land in UP amounted to 558,004MT of dry matter which is equivalent to 323,642MT of carbon. At this rate, we are returning more than 17MT of organic matter or close to 10MT of carbon to each hectare of land, over the period of a year, thereby helping to replenish the soil carbon stock which is an important component of soil health.
Upon mineralisation, the organic residues release substantial quantities of previously locked plant nutrients to the soil which is available for palm uptake. The fertiliser equivalent of the material recycled on land is of the order of 34,107 MT of NPKMg fertiliser which in itself has a monetary worth of RM37.95 million at the prevailing 2019 fertiliser prices.
For our Indonesian operations, a total of 125,799 MT of biomass was recycled back onto our plantation land. This is equivalent to adding 72,963 MT of organic carbon to enrich the land which on a hectare basis is akin to returning 15MT of organic matter or almost 9 MT organic carbon to the land.
On the more sandy soils in Indonesia such inputs will have a significant benefit on improving long term soil health. The nutrient content in these recycled biomass is equivalent to 9,488MT of inorganic NPKMg fertilisers, with a value equivalent to RM11.22 million at 2020 prices.
Utilization of Mills’ Biomass
The effluent from the clarification station, which accounts for 75% of the total BOD generated in the mill, is processed via a decanter and the resultant cake is mixed with inorganic fertilisers and dried in a rotary drier to produce organic fertilisers commercially marketed as Supergro, Turfgro and Bajaria. Apart from adding value to waste, the system reduces methane production by 75%. Additionally, the rotary drier used for drying the fertilisers also functions as a scrubber of unburnt carbon particles in the flue gas producing, in the process, cleaner emissions.
Palm Oil Mill Effluent (POME) and Palm Oil Refinery Effluent (PORE) Treatment
Palm oil mill effluent and palm oil refinery effluent are treated in treatment ponds to reduce their BOD and COD contents before they are used to irrigate the oil palm fields. Any release into this waterways after treatment must satisfy the DOE discharge limits.
The steriliser condensate is anaerobically treated in biodegradation ponds and the digested effluent used for irrigating oil palms. Apart from improving the soil’s physical, chemical and biological properties, land application of digested effluent increases oil palm yield by up to 25%. Presently about 140 hectares in the Company is under land application. Analysis on BOD in effluent is carried out on a monthly basis to ensure the BOD level is below the permissible level recommended by the Department of Environment.
Empty Fruit Bunches (EFB)
Most of the EFBs that come out of the mill as waste are used as an organic fertilizer for oil palms via mulching in the field. This compliments the nutrient level and improves the physical properties of the soil.
The shells are commonly used as combustion material in the mill boiler/s to generate steam and electricity for our operations.
To avoid contaminating the environment and prevent misuse of pesticide containers and other scheduled wastes we have been collecting and disposing off triple rinsed pesticide containers, spent lubricants, used batteries and spent fuel filters through certified waste managers. The waste managers will either safely recycle these items or dispose of them in accordance with government regulations. There is no deemed hazardous waste under the terms of Basel Convention Annex I, II, III and VIII, that were transported, imported, exported or treated.
The Optimill Project
In 2015 the Board of UP decided to build a new palm Oil Mill called “Optimill”, with the most modern equipment and technologies available in the industry and incorporating this into a layout that would not only mirror the Danish Dairy Industry standards but also be a perfect example of the circular economy.
By choosing the right location and capacity for the Optimill it has enabled UP to close two of its older mills and process the crop from approximately 18,000 Ha of UP’s land. In addition, it was agreed that UP should explore the opportunities to utilize the enormous amount of biomass that would be available from the new mill. This amongst others would include an adjacent Biogas Plant thereby closing the loop and mitigating greenhouse gas emissions considerably as is the case at all of UP’s other Palm Oil Mills.
The Optimill, being the biggest engineering project undertaken in UP’s 113 years history was completed on the 29November 2017.
The Unifuji Project
With the large amounts of renewable energy available from the Optimill, UP managed to pursue a collaboration with the Japanese Company, Fuji Oil as they had been looking to expand their refining business to produce value added palm fractions made from RSPO certified plantations. The common objective was to do this without the use of fossil fuels as well as complying with the highest possible food safety and quality standards in the world.
The Unifuji Refinery Project, which is a 50:50 JV between UP and Fuji Oil, was therefore conceptually agreed upon in 2016 after which the initial foundation works and site preparations began.
During the second half of 2018, the JV materialized into a super modern and efficient integrated refinery setup including a solvent fractionation plant in Ulu Bernam Area of Lower Perak providing employment for about 60 people.
The state-of-the-art factory is a result of two companies coming together with a shared goal of producing value added palm components based solely on UP’s certified sustainability and traceable palm oil and Fuji’s expertise on technical capabilities.
With the completed projects depicted in the pictures above, UP and Fuji Oil have taken a giant leap forward in terms of encompassing and amalgamating the most modern equipment and technologies available in the industry and marrying this into a layout which today is a perfect example of what the circular economy can look like.
The projects are testimony to the fact that no one in the top is stronger than the pyramid of people who support them. Both UP’s and Fuji’s appreciation goes out to the team involved for their admirable dedication and commitment which exemplifies the spirit of being ‘second to none’’.
UP respects and recognises the importance of global initiatives to protect fragile ecosystems and combat climate change. Since 2005, UP has actively been pursuing means of identifying ways to reduce its Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions and with that its reliance on fossil fuels. On a global perspective much more attention must be directed towards the adverse impacts of fossil fuel usage and minimising this as about 65% of all CO2 (eq) emissions still come from burning fossil fuels. The world purchases about 93 million barrels of crude oil per day (equal to about 130 million MT per day), and it is therefore important to apply more pressure on mineral oil producers. As an example, the country like Norway today produces about 2 million barrels of crude oil per day. This alone is equal to 913,194 MT of CO2 emission /day or similar to the CO2 (eq) emitted from clearing 1,793 hectares of tropical jungles per day or deforestation rate of 650,000 hectares per year.
Positive change can be made through individual accountability and collective action and it is therefore important that we focus on a balanced approach where we all have to help minimize the impact of deforestation and green house gas emission and not just a selected few. There must be a commensurate effort in reaching this goal and therefore things should be put in perspective and acknowledgement given to the fact that palm oil production is not the main cause of deforestation. In this connection, ongoing initiatives must be intensified to minimize the impact of not just agriculture but all activities that in one way or the other contribute to deforestation and global warming.
Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)
Significant reduction in UP’s GHG emissions since 2004
Below, time series of GHG emissions from palm oil at UP is presented. The time series for NBD palm oil at UP shows a reduction of 52% (without iLUC) and 49%(with iLUC) from 2004 to 2020. When including nature conservation, a substantial reduction of 59% has been achieved.
This study highlights the fact that UP’s palm oil has significantly lower GHG emissions when compared to average RSPO certified palm oil as well as Rapeseed and Sunflower oil produced in Europe.
Background of UP’s LCA Study
In 2006 following the completion of the world ‘s first peer reviewed Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) study on the “cradle to grave” production of 1 MT of refined palm oil, various areas were identified within our production chain, which could mitigate GHG emissions.
Following that, the world’s first comprehensive LCA in accordance with ISO 14040 and 14044 International Standards on palm oil was finalized in 2008 and subsequently underwent a critical panel review.
Further annual updates to this LCA were carried out by 2.0-LCA Consultants involving Dr. Jannick Schmidt from Aalborg, Denmark with the latest update undertaken in the period January to February 2020 thereby providing management with a detailed and clear overview of the development in the Company’s efforts to reduce its carbon footprint since 2004.
The updated 2020 LCA model incorporated the new EXIOBASE background database and the contributions from indirect land use change, peat emissions and nature conservation have been reviewed in light of new data. These studies indeed helped to identify additional areas in need of further improvement within our Group.
It should be noted that the GHG emissions per kg palm oil calculated in this study cannot be compared with the results obtained with the GHG accounting tool RSPO PalmGHG Calculator, due to key methodological differences between the two models.
In particular, main differences between the models are: the approach used to deal with land use changes and nature conservation, the modelling of by-products; emission models for nitrogen related field emissions, and peat soil emissions.
Moreover, the current study operates without cut-off, i.e. no-inputs to the system is excluded. Further, the currently study includes the GHG emissions relating to the production of pesticides, and results are presented per kg refined palm oil, whereas the RSPO Palm GHG Calculator does not include emissions for the production of pesticides, and results are presented per kg crude oil. The GHG emissions calculated in the current LCA study are systematically higher compared to a similar calculation using the RSPO Palm GHG Calculator.
With more initiatives and further investment between 2021-2025, our internal goal is to reduce UP’s Carbon Footprint per MT of refined palm oil produced by 60% before the end of 2025 when compared previous 2004 levels (with iLUC and nature conservation).
Emissions Reductions & Biogas Plants
Since 2005, significant investments have been made in promoting green energy starting with the Biomass Reciprocating Boiler cum Power Plant and the first Biogas Plants built and commissioned in 2006. These projects combined have since helped to significantly reduce our emissions of CO2 by 70% and CH4 by 80% at the respective operating units thereby paving the way for additional green investments. All of our mills are now equipped with Biogas Plants since 2018.
Biomass Reciprocating Boiler
The first Biomass Reciprocating Boiler (BRBI) was successfully commissioned in 2006 and supplied green
Refinery, thus playing a crucial role in reducing the fossil fuel consumption at the refinery. Since then the company has built and commissioned another 7 biomass reciprocating boilers with the latest unit at UIE (M) installed in 2019.
Biomass boilers in our mills are also equipped with VORSEP dust particle minimizing system, and an automatic fuel feeding system with greater energy efficiency, reduced dust emissions and a lower labour requirement.
Isokinetic Monitoring of Gaseous Emissions from the Palm Oil Mills
In conformance to the Department of Environment’s stipulations as well as to monitor the quality of our gaseous emissions, flue gas compositions were regularly checked by certified assessors throughout 2020. The average dust concentration in the flue gasses of three palm oil mills in UP’s Malaysian Operation and the Indonesian mill without the VORSEP system were tabulated.
In all Malaysian mills the average dust concentrations were below the limit of 0.4g/Nm3 set by the Department of Environment as per the Environment Quality Act, 1978 in Malaysia and the 0.3g/Nm3 set by the Peraturan Menteri Negara Lingkungan Hidup No 07 Tahun 2007 in Indonesia.
VORSEP Dust Collector System
The VORSEP dust collector system was first installed on our Biomass Reciprocating boiler at Ulu Basir Palm Oil Mill replacing the old conventional multi-cyclone dust collector system. The unit was commissioned in June 2015 followed by progressive installation of additional units in the rest of the mills. With the commissioning of the VORSEP system at UIE(M) mill in 2019 all of UP’s palm oil mills are now fitted with the VORSEP dust collector system.
These units were installed primarily to meet the DOE’s Environmental Quality Act (Clean Air Regulation) 2014 among others requires a cleaner emission standard from the boiler with the following conditions: –
- The dust concentration emitted from the stack should not be more than 0.150g/Nm3
- The smoke should not exceed shade No. 1 on the Ringlemann chart and should be less than 20% opacity
UP´s commitment to sustainable agriculture originated with its founder, a Danish Engineer & Entrepreneur, Svend Aage Westenholz who established UP in 1906.
One of the key figures during the foundation of UP was Westenholz’s brother-in-law, a navy officer, Commander William Lennart Grut. The two stalwarts, Westenholz and Grut not only linked together in kinship, also shared common values of Vision, Compassion and Discipline and introduced the first jungle sanctuary (The Grut Sanctuary) as well as the concept of mulching to maintain soil fertility in the 1930´s.
Lima Blas Jungle Reserve
With the acquisition of Lima Blas Estate from Socfin Plantations Sdn Bhd in December 2003, United Plantations also inherited an 85 hectare jungle in the estate. Situated on a hill behind the site of the now decommissioned palm oil mill, the manager’s house situated in the midst of this reserve was designed by a Mr B M Iversen, the brother of Mr W M Iversen who was the first manager of Lima Blas Estate. Built in the late 1920s, this 90 years old bungalow still stands tall in the midst of the jungle reserve today.
The jungle reserve has been enriched with Malaysian native jungle trees sourced from Kingham nursery over the years and as part of an on-going exercise, forest rangers have been invited to identify and catalogue some of the trees in the reserve which is believed to include trees from Magnolia sp. amongst other native tree species.
The Lagoon Tree (‘Kingham-Cooper’) Reserve
This 7.50 hectares area established in 2008 started as a barren piece of land surrounding the Lagoon (man-made-lake supplying UIE Palm Oil Mill with processing water). The Lagoon Tree Reserve had since been planted with several thousand local trees, and now resembles a natural thick jungle, with over 250 diverse species and 12,000 trees at this area alone.
A major source of planting material, serves as a gene-bank for the on-site Nursery to germinate harvested seeds and for growing the saplings to be planted on this Estate, as well as the other Estates in the Group to be able to establish its own reserve areas. The Lagoon is well stocked with a variety of local fish species, attracting numerous bird types (fish eagles, kingfishers, bee eaters, egrets & herons) as well as mammals such as the Malayan Otter.
UIE Main-Office Tree Parks
Extending beyond the Lagoon, are a number of other fields planted with more diverse trees, emphasis on rare and valuable hardwoods such as the Dipterocarpaceae Family (Shorea, Hopea, and Dipterocarpus). Additionally, a variety of “food chain” species have been planted to provide food & nesting for birds, habitat for wildlife.
The Anak Macang Riverbank Reserve
This 5.85 kilometres strip of land along the southern boundary to Anak Macang River (which is not permitted to be cultivated with commercial crops, as regulated by the RSPO, and which has to revert back to natural vegetation). Since 2011, it has been enriched with a variety of jungle tree species and become a pleasant, diverse area for biodiversity.
Numerous valuable hard-wood (Dioterocarpaceae species like Anisoptera Marginata, from James Kinghams Nursery. Penawar Hutan Sdn. Bhd) as well as Hopea species and Shorea species from the UIE Nursery have been planted here.To date, well over 3,000 trees have been planted along the Anak Macang Riparian Reserve, adding to the variety of wild trees available for the desired range of Biodiversity.
The main focus during 2020 has been the harvesting and raising of tree seeds to the sapling stage, for transplanting and supplying the other Estates in the Group, which one day should replicate the project commenced on UIE in 2008. The trees serve “a 360 degrees purpose”: not only being admired as magnificent life form but also to provide future generations of planting material for propagation and conservation. To date, over 18,500 trees have been planted on UIE in the numerous Parks and Reserves which will no doubt be a lasting legacy for generations to come.
Ulu Bernam Optimill
A sizeable number of trees from the UIE indigenous tree nursery have been sent to the UP Group Estates, Upriver, and in particular for the new Ulu Bernam Optimill project for establishing its own Tree Park which can be used for gathering seeds and conservation later on.
Apart from UIE’s tree nursery, a wide variety of large ‘rare and endangered’ trees have been sourced from Penawar Hutan Nursery, Malaysia’s leading supplier of rare jungle trees, so that United Plantations will be able to carry out its commitment to conservation and future development of Indigenous Malaysian Jungle trees.
As usual we are grateful to Malaysia’s “Tree Guru” (Mr James Kingham and his family, owners of one on Malaysia’s largest and most diverse tree nurseries) who has provided us with much generous time and advice over the years for direction and the way forward.
UP is fully committed to a no deforestation policy and contributes to the protection of critical ecosystems and biodiversity in and around the landscapes where we operate. We have adhered to No Deforestation Policy, No New Development on Peat regardless of its depth and No New Development on High Conservation Value (HCV) area since 2010. Furthermore, we are committed towards restoration or rehabilitation of non-compliant deforestation or HCV loss in our plantations and the similar commitment applies for our direct and indirect suppliers.
The Remediation and Compensation Procedure (RaCP) was established by RSPO to address land clearance and plantation development undertaken since November 2005 without prior High Conservation Value (HCV) assessment. The procedure requires growers to first disclose any new land development that took place without conducting a HCV assessment, calculate environmental liabilities through a Land Use Change Analysis (LUCA), and to carry out onsite or offsite remediation for the affected sites or remediation with affected parties.
The objective of LUCA is to:
- Identify the area which have been cleared by the organization for commercial purpose (for developing of oil palm plantation and its supporting infrastructure), as of November 2005 until the date of HCV assessment period;
- Access the company’s compensation liability as a result of such land clearing without prior HCV assessment
For more detail on the assessment, please click here to view our LUCA report.
RSPO New Planting Procedure (NPP)
As a RSPO certified grower, any new oil palm plantings from 1 January 2010 must be in accordance with the RSPO NPP. The NPP consists of a set of assessments and verification activities to be conducted by growers and certification bodies (CB) prior to a new oil palm development in order to ensure responsible planting.
The NPP applies to any development of new plantings, regardless of size (Ha). The intention is that new oil palm plantings will not negatively impact primary forest, HCV, HCS, fragile and marginal soils or local people’s lands. UP subscribes and supports this stance.
It is not enough to set aside areas for conservation. Patrolling of the conservation areas need to be conducted to protect these areas from intruders and fires so that the biodiversity is truly conserved.
The main assessments of the NPP are as follows:
- Soil suitability and topographic surveys
- Social Environmental Impact Assessments (SEIA)
- HCV and HCS assessments
- Stakeholders engagement/consultation including Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC)
- Land Use Change Analyses (LUCA)
- GHG assessments
A successful implementation of the NPP ensures that all the indicators of the RSPO Principles and Criteria (P&C) are being implemented and therefore in compliance when the new development starts.
One of the outputs of the NPP is a report that proposes how and where new oil palm plantings should proceed, or not, for a given management area. The NPP report is posted on the RSPO website for public consultation for a duration of 30 days. Planting and any associated development (such as road development) can only begin once the NPP is completed and RSPO approval is granted.
The RSPO NPP underwent review in 2014 and the final document was endorsed on 20th November 2015. The additional requirements are as follows:
- Requires that new plantation developments are designed to minimize net GHG emissions, taking into account avoidance of land areas with high carbon stocks (HCS) and/or sequestration options.
- Land use change analysis from November 2005 shall be conducted prior to any conversion or new planting.
- Endorsement of the High Conservation Value Resource Network (HCVRN) Assessor Licensing Scheme (ALS) as a robust and credible replacement for the RSPO HCV Assessor approved list, now obsolete. The ALS is effective from 1st January 2015.
The current NPP guideline is under revision and consultation process and will be released upon the endorsement by the RSPO Board of Governors.
The last NPP submitted and approved by RSPO was back in 2014. The more information on our NPP report, please refer here
Social and Environment Impact Assessment (SEIA)
We have engaged an independent consultant to conduct a comprehensive SEIA in the proposed new clearing area in accordance to NPP requirement. The SEIA was conducted with participation of relevant stakeholders and the management plan is reviewed annually. The similar commitment applies for our direct and indirect suppliers.
High Conservation Value (HCV) Assessment
As a RSPO member, UP is 100% committed to embrace and implement the sustainability concepts outlined in the RSPO Principles and Criteria (P&C). In line with the RSPO P&C as well as Indonesian laws, Social and Environmental Impact Assessments (SEIA) and HCV Assessment were conducted prior to commencing plantation development by UP.
UP has not only followed the recommendations of these assessments but expanded the scope to include much larger conservation areas than that stipulated in the SEIA and HCV assessments. To date more than 7,500Ha are set aside as conservation areas in line with the Company’s policy to maintain and manage the ecological integrity of the landscape in which UP operates its palm oil plantations, as well as to provide necessary habitat for endangered and critically endangered species that are found in or adjacent to UP properties.
We are committed to only engage HCV assessors who are accredited under High Conservation Value Resource Network (HCVRN) Assessor Licensing Scheme (ALS) since 1st January 2015. The similar commitment applies for our direct and indirect suppliers. The HCV assessment shall undergo satisfactory review by the ALS Quality Panel prior to any new land clearing after 1st January 2015.
High Carbon Stock (HCS) Assessment
In line with our No Deforestation Policy and No New Development on High Conservation Value (HCV) area since 2010, UP in October 2014 requested Daemeter Consulting to perform a Land Use Change analysis as part of RSPO’s New Planting Procedure (NPP).
Daemeter Consulting is a leading consulting firm promoting sustainable development through responsible and equitable management of natural resources, particularly in Asia’s emerging economies. (For more info, please refer to www.daemeter.org)
The objective was to produce a land use map indicating exactly which areas ideally should be set aside for conservation and what areas ideally should be set aside for its Plasma commitments in Kumai Concession area.
This has been fully adhered to and the plasma development project in the Kumai conservation area has progressed well during 2018, and is a fine example of how development and conservation can go hand in hand for the benefit of the local community and the environment.
The more information on our HCV and HCS summary report, please refer here
Monitoring of Deforestation
Monitoring and managing conservation areas and biodiversity resources requires a comprehensive knowledge of baseline ecological conditions before commencing on agricultural development.
The BioD Team has set up a comprehensive GIS-database with several hundred information layers (e.g. rivers/streams, topography, boundaries, channels, planted areas, soil composition, flow-direction, water sampling sites, neighbouring forests reserved, conservation areas and many more).
The UP/PTSSS GIS-database is built up around ESRI’s ArcGIS® software platform that is considered the world’s most powerful GIS software. The software handles every type of data-input, from NASA’s high-resolution satellite images, to general orangutan observation way-points.
Built into the BioD GIS-database is the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART) that was developed by a conglomerate of international conservation agencies. The SMART system is the world’s preferred, most comprehensive and user-friendly conservation monitoring system. The added advantage of using SMART is its statistical power that allows the BioD to compile and develop trend-lines and other forms of analyses pertaining to managing and protecting conservation areas and species.
Oil palms are highly efficient producers of vegetable oil, requiring less than any other oil-producing crop. Despite being one of the more sustainable sources of vegetable oil there is concern that the growing demand for food and biofuel could lead to rapid expansion of palm oil production and result in serious environmental and social consequences.
NGOs and Palm Oil
Palm oil producers worldwide, continue to be exposed to much criticism by predominantly Western Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs). Their accusations take the form of generalized views that disregard the positive socio-economic impact of the industry and continue to highlight mainly allegations of deforestation, environmental degradation, social conflicts, and economic problems.
Nonetheless, dialogue with NGOs in a constructive atmosphere of goodwill and fairness is essential in order to pursue the process of achieving a balance between the natural environment and habitat as well as the need for economic development. Those dedicated to this cause always need to be aware of the other side’s case and thereby do their best to remain objective.
Consequently, the RSPO promotes palm oil production practices that help reduce deforestation, preserve biodiversity, and respect the livelihoods of rural communities.
The Challenges of Protecting Forest Areas from Development
As of 2017, more than 5 million hectares of forest are estimated to have been spared from oil palm development in Indonesia. This is largely attributed to the individual NDPE commitments of key companies within the sector, alongside government policies. However, ensuring that these areas are not converted in the future remains a challenge. The pressure for further land use change by other procedures and sectors that have not subscribed to global sustainability standards continue to grow.
Companies with NDPE commitments currently account for approximately 2/3 of the combined refining capacities of Indonesia and Malaysia, which still leaves a leakage market of approximately 1/3 of the refining capacity annually.
Stakeholders from the governments, private sector, industries, civil society, markets and the public must continue working together to close this gap.
Deforestation – How to balance Development & Conservation
UP has a clear commitment against deforestation since 2010 as enshrined in several of our policies No primary forest clearing policy (1990), No new development on High Conservation Value (HCV) area (2010) and High carbon stock assessment & land use change analysis for new plantings (2014).
Whilst a certain portion of oil palm cultivation, just like all other agriculture, is a result of land use change, it is incorrect to single out the oil palm industry as the lightning rod for the world’s growing anger on global warming and deforestation. Globally, according to the Food & Agricultural Organization (FAO), 12 million hectares of forests are cleared every year.
Between 1990 to 2018, more than 375 million hectares of forests were cleared and converted into other uses such as commercial ranching, agriculture, town expansion as well as infrastructural projects amongst others. Oil palm areas globally have increased from 3.7million hectares in 1990 to 20 million hectares in 2018 or a net increase of 16.3 million hectares or equal to less than 5% of the total deforestation from 1990 to 2018.
Whilst fully supporting and recognising that ongoing initiatives must be intensified to minimise the impacts of deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions, there is an acute need by the NGO fraternity and scientific network including politicians in the West for mutually balanced impact on deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions.
In this context, it was with much interest that the US NGO, The Union of Concerned Scientist (UCS) who on the 14th of December 2016 published an article entitled “Ending Tropical Deforestation Have we got our Priorities Backwards?’’ which concluded that the NGO fraternity including the UCS had got their priorities wrong. The findings concluded that the main drivers of commodity-based deforestation were in fact not palm oil production but several other commodities.
An article by the USC states,
Quote:” I don’t want to go overboard with the mea culpa here. Companies have to take responsibility for their actions, and lack of action. They can’t just “The NGO community made me do it.” But the Climate Focus Report and the new data from the Amazon demonstrate forcefully that when we get the priorities wrong, there are consequences”
Earlier in the same article it is also stated that
Quote: “The data is pretty clear: by far the biggest driver of deforestation is beef. Soy is second, but far behind in terms of importance and palm oil and wood products are even smaller drivers, causing only about a tenth as much deforestation as beef”.
Relates to UP’s measure to preserve and protect waterways and manage the use of water throughout our organisation.
United Plantations fully appreciates that much more can be done in terms of water productivity. In order to maximize the available water resources, United Plantations has, since 1913, gone to great length to construct an extensive system of water gates, bunds, weirs, canals and drains hereby enabling us to harvest and optimize the usage of rainwater. In addition, leguminous cover crops are established in all our immature plantings to conserve moisture.
It is in this context, it is important to mention that except for the nursery areas, none of United Plantations’ planted areas under oil palms or coconuts is irrigated. All our areas are under rain-fed agriculture, thus making use of whatever water comes naturally from above. We are continuously working to mitigate our water footprint related to mill waste, maintaining buffers along natural waterways, harvesting rainwater, frugal domestic water usage and judicious use of pesticides and weedicides.
Drip Irrigation System in the Oil Palm Nursery
The consumptive use of water (evapotranspiration) of these crops ranges from 120-150 mm per month. To meet requirements, the monthly rainfall should equal or preferably exceed this figure, failing which moisture stress would occur. The rainfall in the UP Group ranges from 1,600 to 2,500 mm per year, with the average being 2,000 mm. Weirs have been constructed across the collections drains to harvest rainfall and hold back water to raise the water table during the drought season.
Moisture stress causes a reduction in cell division and cell elongation – two important growth processes. Its effect on oil palm and coconuts is summarized in the table below.
Effects of Moisture Stress
|Oil Palm||i||Accumulation of unopened spears|
|ii||Reduced leaf production|
|iii||Drying and snapping of leaves|
|iv||Abortion of inflorescence|
|v||Affects sex differentiation favouring male flower production|
|vi||Reduced oil/bunch yield|
|Coconuts||i||Premature nut fall|
|ii||Reduced nut yield|
|iii||Reduced nut size|
Hydrology and Limnology
Clean water is critical to sustaining all kinds of life form on Earth. In rural Indonesia, thousands of local residents are dependent on water supplies from lakes and rivers. Maintaining a clean and uninterrupted supply of water constitutes one of the most critical components in sustainable palm oil production.
The Biodiversity team has developed a “Hydrology map” and identified a number of permanent sites for sampling water quality. Using the state-of-the-art equipment, the team measures and records organic, inorganic and physical pollution parameters in the field.
Potential trace elements and toxins are measured with a spectrophotometer in the laboratory. In the event of a sudden deterioration in water quality, the team will identify the source of pollution and initiate a process to rectify the problem.
This includes identifying any unusual organic contamination, usually due to empty fruit bunches that mistakenly have slid into a stream or if an unusually high level of inorganic contamination is detected, it is usually a result of excessive wash-out of fertilizer. Such information is communicated to the respective estate manager, allowing them to rectify a potential problem within a very short time period.
In our pursuit to conserve this depleting precious gift, every effort is being done to educate our residents to be frugal on its usage. Old water pipes, water tanks, faulty taps are being replaced from time to time to arrest leakages. We aim to reduce consumption in the coming years with more awareness programmes.
Erosion Monitoring Plots
To better understand the dynamics of soil, water and nutrient loss that can occur in our property, several erosion monitoring plots measuring 6m x20m were set up in one of our estates on slightly sloping land under mature oil palm. Thereafter the amount of soil loss, surface runoff and nutrient losses in each of these fractions are being closely monitored to determine the major routes of soil, water and nutrient loss.
Such studies illuminate the areas of major loss through which mitigating measures can be developed to minimise the depletion of these vital natural resources.
As part of our effort to conserve water resources and minimise wastage, we have embarked on a programme to fit workers’ housing with tanks to store harvested rain water which is especially beneficial during periods of prolonged dry weather.
Planting of Leguminous Cover Crops
Leguminous cover crops are established in all our immature plantings to conserve moisture.
Monitoring of Water Quality
Clean water is critical to sustaining all kinds of life form on Earth. In rural Indonesia, thousands of local residents are dependent on water supplies from lakes and rivers. Maintaining a clean and uninterrupted supply of water constitutes one of the most critical components in sustainable palm oil production.
The Biodiversity team has developed a “Hydrology map” and identified a number of permanent sites for sampling water quality. Using state-of-the-art equipment, the team measures and records organic, inorganic and physical pollution parameters in the field.
Potential trace elements and toxins are measured with a spectrophotometer in the laboratory. In the event of a sudden deterioration in water quality, the team will identify the source of pollution and initiate a process to rectify the problem.
This includes identifying any unusual organic contamination, usually due to empty fruit bunches that mistakenly have slid into a stream or if an unusual high level of inorganic contamination is detected, it is usually a result of excessive wash-out of fertilizer. Such information is communicated to the respective estate manager, allowing them to rectify a potential problem within a very short time period.
Mill Water Consumption Rate
Water consumption rate in our Indonesian operation has improved over the recent years and is now holding steady whereas the mill water consumption rate in our Malaysian operations has also improved with the phasing out of the older mill and the commissioning of the new Optimill.
There shall be no use of open burning/fire in new on ongoing operations for land preparation, land management, or any other reason other than justified and documented cases of phytosanitary emergency.
Monitoring of Meteorological Parameters
A dozen weather stations have been set up at strategically important locations in PTSSS/UP. These provide a large amount of micro-climate information critical to, particularly, make accurate fire-risk predictions.
Being able to predict the risk of fire allows the management in each estate to implement proactive measures, to prevent and minimize the risk of fire, as well as to be on high alert with firefighting equipment, in case of a fire outbreak.
Global Forest Watch Fires (GFW Fires)
GFW Fires is a dynamic online forest monitoring and fire alert system that provides near-real-time information that can empower people to better combat forest and land fires before they burn out of control.
The GFW Fires interactive map includes near real-time fire alerts from NASA and NOAA, real-time wind direction and air quality data, maps of concessions and forest cover, high-resolution satellite images, and geo-tagged social media conversations about where fires occur.
Plantations under United Plantations Berhad have subscribed to the monitoring system to receive fire alert when there is fire occurrence within estate territory as well as 500m of outer ring.
Zero Burning Policy
Our fire prevention is managed through our strict zero burning policy since 1989, as well as through our fire management and monitoring standard operating procedure. These are continuously reviewed to ensure they are effective. Our emergency response teams (ERTs) are regularly trained in fire prevention and firefighting in all our plantations. The causes of fires vary greatly. The impacts can be catastrophic, including loss of life and loss of primary biodiversity.
We have ongoing community workshops to educate our local communities about the environmental and social consequences of slash-and-burn farming, as well as to promote alternative methods of land clearance.
Training sessions are done regularly in-house, as well as in conjunction with the local authority, fire brigades, and the Ministry of Forestry. Any fire that starts within an outer ring of 500 m from any of our plantations’ borders is immediately reported to the local fire brigade for their action. We will be conducting a series of community workshops to educate our local communities about the environmental and social consequences of slash-and-burn farming, as well as to promote alternative methods of land clearance.
A fire within an outer ring of 500 m is fought by our ERTs. We embrace fire safety in various ways such as promoting anti-smoking, tracking and identifying fire brigade locations and water sources.
Our goal is the total eradication of fire as a means to clear land by the local communities. This year thankfully there was no severe drought in Indonesia.
To further enhance the fire patrol, four additional fire watch towers were constructed at strategic points and purchased additional six units of GPS devices.
There were some isolated fire incidents which burnt approximately 1.06 Ha within our Plasma area(inner ring) and 13.2Ha at the outer ring adjacent to our concession. However, the fire was immediately extinguished by our ERT in PTSSS.