It’s not rocket science.

I have just read this.  The Malaysia Palm Oil Board (MPOB) is hooking up with the Sarawak Oil Palm Plantation Owners Association (SOPPOA) to figure out what is going wrong with palm oil production in Sarawak.  Amongst other issues, members of SOPPOA have been complaining of: “oil palm estates (having a) …. serious infestation of Tirabatha (a moth of the pest variety), particularly in the lower Baram and central coastal regions, poor fruit set, bunch failures, lower frond dessication and acid sulphate soil problems”.  The lower Baram and coastal regions are mostly peatlands.  Acid sulphate soils result from the draining, oxidation and resultant subsidence of peat, exposing the underlying acid sulphate soils.  It’s not rocket science.

MPOB, the oil palm research and management organisation in Malaysia (Government-funded and led) that directs the production of palm oil across the three States of Malaysia, will conduct the research and report to SOPPOA.  SOPPOA is somewhat at MPOB’s mercy to suggest how farmers across the State of Sarawak can maximise yields and profit, especially from the coastal peatland zones, for which there is limited to zero knowledge on best management practices, from an optimum profit point of view.  From an environmental point of view, I’m not sure there is a point of view.

I wonder what MPOB will conclude.

 

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NHS for Soils needed!

Every month, the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology releases several publications, known as POSTnotes, that aim to provide an easily digestible overview of research in different areas of science and technology, as a tool for policy makers.  One released this month is all about securing UK soil health, in additional to the principally-important parts about peat.  I’d definitely recommend reading it if you’re interested in learning of the current status and threats to this ‘renewable resource’.

Renewable is a slightly misleading word.  Peat is a renewable resource if we wait about 3,000 years between harvests.  Fossil fuels could also be renewable if we could hold off popping the kettle on again for another 300 million years or so.  There should probably be a time frame attached to each use of renewable, and a conservative one at that, based on the Precautionary Principle.

A maturing sugarbeet field in East Anglia.

A maturing sugar beet field in East Anglia.

We basically need some, or even one coherent and policeable policy that governs sustainable soil management in the UK (and Europe), so that we can adhere to the Government’s plan to “grow more, buy more and sell more British food” over the next 25 years.  The world needs our sugar beet and broad beans.  And we all so desperately need our soils.

Retreating from peat!

A degraded tropical peatland in Borneo, with an approximately five year old oil palm plantation in the distance.

A deforested and drained tropical peatland in Borneo, with an approximately five year old oil palm plantation in the distance.

(I also just published this on the UK Tropical Peatland Working Group website.  Worth a quick gander!)

Asia Pulp and Paper (APP) has decided to ‘immediately retire’ approximately 7,000 hectares of its acacia plantations in Indonesia, with the goal of restoring them to intact peat swamp forest and developing a peatland best management practice model.  This is a bold move, forfeiting profits to comply with their Forest Conservation Policy (FCP).  Just over a year ago, they proved to be conservation forerunners again, (loudly) announcing to ‘protect and restore’ one million hectares of forest.  These come as welcome actions from APP, after it spent many years (and still is?) leading the deforestation frontier across Sumatra and Kalimantan, replacing hugely diverse ecosystems with monoculture plantations, and draining many a peatland along the way.

As Wetlands International say, there’s still a long way to go before APP can claim to be conserving, rather than destroying peatlands.  For example, how do they plan to rewet the peatlands?  What species are they going to plant into the current monocultures, and when?  How will they manage fire risk (heightened this year by ENSO) and potential flooding?   What will be the likely carbon emissions under different restoration strategies?  These are all important questions that researchers can help to answer.  Members of the UK Tropical Peatland Working Group are certainly on the case (watch this space).

But APP have given us a goal to hold them accountable to….and we must.

More information on the restoration mission from Deltares, APP’s independent peat expert team, can be found here.

Contenders for the Darwin awards?

Imagine this: you work for the Northern Powergrid, replacing wooden electriticy poles across the Cumbrian landscape.  Your specific role is driving the big diggers – the power behind the project.  You’re wanting to get your digger across the valley to the pole-replacement ground in time to get back home for tea.  So why not take a short-cut across that 1000 acres of flattish area you see infront of you?

Because …. YOU’LL SINK!  That’s what happened when Digger #1 attempted to cross the Butterburn Flow (what a name!) upland peat bog back in September.  What’s more, it’s a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI); there were fears that oil leakages and the general disturbance would threaten the ecosystem.  Cue Digger #2.

Two diggers are stuck in the bogImage credit: ITV Border.

Digger #2 went in after Digger #1 on a rescue mission, and guess what?  IT SUNK!  Two huge diggers stuck-in-the-mud.

According to reports, there was a retrieval plan involving a temporary metal road surface, probably more diggers and a lot more people.  So they are likely to be out now, but I doubt they made it home in time for tea.

Contenders for the Darwin Awards?