Making Palm Oil Plantations Sustainable

To safeguard biodiversity, researchers recommend having ‘green highways’ that link forested areas separated by stretches of oil palm plantations.

AsianScientist (Oct. 1, 2019) – An international team of scientists recommends establishing connecting routes between forest fragments in areas where oil palm plantations are widespread, citing benefits for conserving wild species. Their findings are published in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

Palm is the world’s most-productive major vegetable oil crop and yields 6-10 times as much oil per hectare as crops like soy or rapeseed. However, in recent years, there has been growing pressure to reduce the consumption of palm oil due to concerns over deforestation.

For palm oil to be certified as sustainable, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) requires oil palm growers to identify and conserve areas within a plantation that support high conservation values.

In the present study, researchers led by Dr. Sarah Scriven at the University of York, UK, found that ‘green highways’ linking patches of forests are important for preserving biodiversity in areas where oil palm farming is carried out. The team reported that even large areas of set-aside forest provide few benefits to forest species movement if they are isolated from other forested areas in the wider landscape.

In addition, set-aside areas frequently contain degraded forest. If plantation companies were to reforest these patches, the researchers calculate that set-asides within plantations in the lowlands of Borneo would be 16 percent better connected for forest species.

“There is a pressing need to restore previously forested habitats. Rapid expansion of commodity agriculture has resulted in widespread loss and fragmentation of forests, and in many areas of Indonesia and Malaysia, formerly extensive forests now persist as isolated remnants scattered across vast agricultural landscapes,” said Scriven.

She added that future revisions to the RSPO guidelines should ensure that plantation companies improve the quality of previously forested set-asides so that they can support high levels of biodiversity and contribute to landscape connectivity.

The article can be found at: Scriven et al. (2019) Testing the Benefits of Conservation Set‐asides for Improved Habitat Connectivity in Tropical Agricultural Landscapes.


Source: York University; Photo: Robin Hayward.
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