Palm oil: The carbon cost of deforestation

IMAGE: This is Thomas Guillaume, lead author, gathering samples in Sumatra,Indonesia
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Credit: © EPFL/ WSL

Indonesia and Malaysia together represent almost 85% of international palm oil production. This oil is typically utilized in processed foods, cosmetics and biofuels, and while it is low-cost, the ecological and social expenses are high. Each year, thousands of hectares of rain forest vanish in order to fulfill the growing need for the oil around the world. In 2012, Indonesia had the greatest deforestation rate on the planet, inning accordance with a research study released in 2014 in NatureClimate Change

ThomasGuillaume, a postdoctoral scientist at EPFL’s Ecological Systems Laboratory (ECOS) and the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL), is the lead author of a synthesis research study on the ecological effect of oil palm growing inIndonesia The post, which was released on 19 June in NatureCommunications, evaluated the carbon expenses and advantages of transforming rain forests into oil palm plantations. Drawing on more than 2 years’ worth of information gathered by the University of Göttingen on the soil and greenery in main Sumatra, the scientist compared the effect of oil palm monoculture with that of extensive and substantial rubber growing practices.

Converting rain forest land into oil palm plantations causes the most crucial carbon emissions: one hectare of transformed land corresponds to a loss of 174 heaps of carbon, and a lot of of this carbon will discover its method into the air as CO2. “The quantity of carbon released when just one hectare of forest is cleared to grow oil palms is roughly equivalent to the amount of carbon produced by 530 people flying from Geneva to New York in economy class,” states the scientist.

Higher than the IPCC’s figure

This loss price quote is greater than the figure released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to measure the quantity of greenhouse gases produced by oil palm farming; it is likewise greater than the figure utilized by sustainable palm oil accreditation bodies. The research study likewise reveals that carbon loss in the soil should not be neglected as it is presently occurring with today methods when plantations are developed on non-peatland.

Intensive rubber farming, on the other hand, is connected with a loss of 159 heaps of carbon, while substantial rubber production represents 116 heaps. This distinction in between oil palms and rubber plants owes mostly to the much shorter plantation rotation time of oil palms. However, oil palm farming is more effective than extensive and substantial rubber farming in terms of the number of heaps of biomass produced each year versus the resulting loss ofcarbon In other words, more can be produced on a smaller sized location of land.

But this favorable finding need to not obscure the drawbacks. Following the harvest, the quantity of biomass that goes back to the soil to feed living organisms in the ground can be 90% lower than in a rain forest. This is due to the fact that practically no natural “litter” – dead leaves and wood – returns into the ground, as the soil on oil palm plantations is continuously being cleared and treated with pesticides to make the farmers’ work much easier. As an outcome, big quantities of fertilizers are had to offset the loss of fertility in the soil and the reduction in its biological activity. “The quantity of biomass that humans take away in order to produce palm oil compared to the quantity left for the ecosystem sheds real doubt on the sustainability of this form of farming,” states Guillaume, who likewise compared bacterium activity in cultivated fields and in the rain forest.

Short- and long-lasting options

This research study likewise uses some useful recommendations on minimizing the short-term ecological effect of both rubber tree and oil palm monocultures. For one, deforestation need to be done just if the wood that is dropped can then be utilized – such as for building and construction functions – without being burned. In addition, a more plentiful layer of greenery need to be left on the ground as a natural fertilizer. Finally, the waste from palm oil mills need to be gone back to the soil as another type of fertilizer.

For a longer-term method, Guillaume indicate the OPAL job (OilPalm Adaptive Landscapes), which is being moneyed by the Swiss National Science Foundation and the Swiss Agency for Development andCooperation The group led by Professor Alexandre Buttler, the director of EPFL’s ECOS laboratory, is studying the carbon footprint of oil palm plantations that do not involve deforestation: they are taking a look at plantations established in meadow plains or in the savanna in Colombia, and at intercropped plantations inCameroon These efforts are targeted at reducing the have to clear natural land for farming.



ThomasGuillaume, Martyna M. Kotowska, Dietrich Hertel, Alexander Knohl, Valentyna Krashevska, Kukuh Murtilaksono, Stefan Scheu, Yakov Kuzyakov, “Carbon Costs and Benefits of Indonesian Rainforest Conversion to Plantations,” NatureCommunications, 19 June2018 .

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