The Palm Scribe

Maintaining Palm Oil Productivity Amidst Forests and Ground Fires

The forest and ground fires that always follow the arrival of the dry season in Indonesia, is forcing palm oil growers to work hard in avoiding becoming the scapegoats even though a lot of factors at play, remained beyond their control.
For Tungkot Sipayung, Executive Director of the Palm Oil Agribusiness Strategic Policy Institute (PASPI) blaming the fires entirely on palm oil farmers would be unfair, as many were the factors beyond human control such as the weatherand climate,  as well as unsupportive regulations.
“At least there are two regulations that are no longer relevant. Law number 32 of 2009  which allows people to burn their land if they have a surface of up to two hectares, and the ruling on the utilization of wood from land clearings,” Sipayung said according to Liputan6.
“These are wrong. These regulations are one of the factors trigerring forest and ground fires erroneous , ” he added.
Sipayung deemed that the spoke from the fires could weaken the productivity
Of palm oil plantations. “Therefore it would really be a dumb thing for palm oil companies to intentionally set fires to clear land. The losses would be greater,” Sipayung said.
Palm oil players, he said, should apply the right strategy in safeguarding quantity and quality without ignoring the threat of fires in the dry season.  Records showed that palm oil production dropped to some 50 percent during the dry season last year.
Organic fertilizers are one solution for improving productivity while at the same time hindering or preventing the fires. Soil with high organic content has been proven to be able to retain humidity longer.
A good organic fertilizer would not only have good humidity retention properties but should also be able to protect the drop frm diseases during the dry season. Unfortunately, the availability of quality organic fertilizers remains limited in the country.
Another strategy is to get as early a warning as possible when a fire breaks out and a speedy response in battling it. This involves the building of tall watchtowers of about 15 meter in height and strategically located water reservoires that are at least 20 meter by 20 meters in surface.
Companies such as PT Kayung Agro Lestari, for example, is aleady using this strategy at its operations in Ketapang, West Kalimantan. To further maximize fire fighting capabilities, the company also provides trainings for the local population around its plantation in fire fighting preparedness.
But forest and ground fires are also often difficult to deal with because of the extensive plantation surface and also difficult terrain. The usage of drones would be a logical solution in monitoring fires.
 “Drones can also provide the information about the extent of the fire. It would greatly help in the task and in gathering data on Forests,” said Syarifudin, the head of the North Kalimantan Forestry Office, according to Bulungan Post.
However, drone usage remains very limited and most plantations continue to rely on time and manpower consuming manual ways to monitor fires and gather data.
“As far as we know, that does not yet exist. This is a problem in the agriculture sector that is related to the absence of technologic capacity,” Sabarudin, a member of the Union of Palm Oil Farmers, told the Palm Scribe.
In general, only the large companies had the means and capabilities, the financial and manpower capacity to prevent and deal with the fires.
High standards in fire prevention and has not been followed by all palm oil managers and more often, the fire originated frm the smaller plantations. The lack of capacity in fighting fire also led to slow responses that allowed the fires to spread rapidly, including into the large plantations.
Agus Sari, CEO of Landscape Indonesia, said that the prevention of forest  fires was the collective responsibility of all stakeholders. “The safeguarding of the environment that is not merely centered on fire prevention, is the obigation of all stakeholders in the region,” Sari told  The Palm Scribe.
He also stressed the importance of taking a landscape approach that considered all aspects in developing a plantation industry area.
Land clearing solutions without the use of fire that are viable should also be found. Such current solutions at present, remain time consuming and are much costlier than by burning.
 The government, as the regulator, has already come out with firm measures, including the moratorium on the clearing of primary forests and peatland, the establisment of the Peatland Restoration Agency and the threat of dismissing members of the police or the armed forces who are deemed incapable of preventingforest and ground fires.
Dwikorita Karnati whonheads the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency, also stressed the need for the government to provide more attention to regions that are deemed to be prone to these fires.
So far, four Indonesian provinces have declared an emergency status for forest and ground fires. They are South Su,matra, Riau, West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan?
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