FGV, as part of Felda Group and the world’s largest plantation operator, with some 850,000 hectares of predominantly oil palm plantations across Malaysia and Indonesia, is taking a lead in its commitment to agricultural sustainability.
Felda Group’s active participation in the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO. As one of its earliest members, together with the prestige of being the first complete palm oil supply chain to attain the International Sustainability and Carbon Council (ISCC) further cements our position at the head of the industry table when it comes to sustainability.
In addition, FGV is also embarking on various projects and programmes, via a multi pronged technological, biological and social approach, to get the most from its production by reducing waste and increasing efficiency, while ensuring that environmental sustainability remains at the fore in its farming operations.
Felda employs a number of measures to ensure that the organic content of the soil is preserved, as part of an effort to help conserve the environment. Among the measures include the usage of decomposed plants as natural fertiliser, an effective effort to recycle waste material back to the soil.
When old fronds are pruned, they are left to decompose back into the soil. After the fruit is harvested, the fruit bunch stalks are mulched back into the soil, and during replanting the old palm trunks are chipped and fed back into the soil. An average of 100 tonnes per hectare of dry weight organic matter is returned to the soil through this trunk chipping. Compared with annual crops that give little back to the earth in terms of nutritional content, oil palm, on the contrary, helps to preserve the organic soil content.
Nutritional content is also fixed in the soil via the planting of leguminous cover crops to fix the nitrogen from the air into the soil, thus reducing the need for nitrogenous inorganic fertiliser. For this reason, blanket spraying of weed killer is not practiced on Felda plantations, and spraying, when necessary, is restricted to the immediate circle around the palm tree.
To address concerns on soil erosion, areas of Felda Group plantations that are to be replanted, and have a slope of greater than eight degrees, are terraced – and any pruned fronds are laid across the contours. Slopes at greater than 25 degrees are not replanted, and are either left for natural forest or planted for timber.
Furthermore, Felda seldom clears any forestland in Malaysia for the planting of oil palm – in fact, the Group has not cleared any rainforest in Malaysia since 1996. All replanting of palm respects riparian reserve criteria, by which planted areas respect a setback distance of five to 20 metres from river banks.
FGV today produces around ten percent of the world’s palm oil, yet the scale of its production has not affected the Group’s ongoing commitment to sustainable agricultural practices. The Group, via its comprehensive programmes, remains focused to obtain complete RSPO certification for each and every palm oil estate and oil mill under its purview.
As an advocate of good agricultural practices, both in its commercial estates and through its agricultural extension arm to assist settlers and smallholders, the Felda Group has become the first smallholder organisation in the world to attain the RSPO certification. The Group is implementing an aggressive programme to have all of its mill complexes certified by 2017.
Apart from RSPO certification, FGV’s biodiesel facility in Pahang is the first outside Europe to obtain the International Sustainability and Carbon Certification standards, which is the world’s most comprehensive and only certification for biofuel and bioliquids.
Through its extensive Research & Development resources, FGV through its associate Felda Holdings Berhad has adopted a proactive approach to counter numerous challenges that could adversely affect the sustainability of oil palm if left unaddressed.
These include developing best clonal material to ensure higher yield, improving efficiency at harvesting stage and combating diseases such as basal stem rot of the oil palm plant.
Today, Felda is amongst the world’s top three largest producers and planters of non-GMO clonal palms. The Group’s breeding programmes continue to develop incremental improvements to oil yield. By using clonal techniques and marker assisted selection programmes, we are able to accelerate the production of planting material with the desired traits.
Some of our research breakthroughs already underway includes a molecular marker that will screen planting material susceptible to basal stem rot disease. We will also be introducing a patented screening technology for virescense palms, whose fruit colour visibly turns from green to orange upon ripening, to make manual harvesting more precise, and lay the foundations for automatic ripeness scanning and possible mechanisation in the future.
Another pillar supporting Felda’s sustainable palm oil programme is the use of ‘biocontrols’ in integrated pest management aimed at controlling significant palm oil pests such as rats, bagworm, and oryctes beetle. The integrated approach employs a combination of natural or benign pest control methods ,with minimal use of pesticide, to reduce damages caused to the crop by pests.
Some of the biocontrol methods adopted by the Group include the use of barn owls in our plantations to reduce the population of rats that eat the palm fruit, harness the services of hymenoptera wasps to keep bagworm under control. At the same time it also minimises the use of pesticides while monitoring the oryctes beetle population through the use of pheromone traps.
FGV is at the forefront of renewable energy using palm waste materials. The biomass plant in Sahabat, Lahad Datu, Sabah is the first EFB-based electricity power plant and clean development mechanism (CDM) project in the world. A second similar power plant in Jengka, Pahang, will be completed soon.
Palm oil mill effluent (POME) at our mills are treated to ensure the water courses into which the effluent runs is not polluted. Biogas plants are built to trap the methane release, which is a byproduct of wastewater treatment. The POME subsequently generates electricity, which is used for the mill’s operations.
Going a step further, at our Serting Hilir plantation, the electricity generated from biogas plant is supplied to the national grid – a prime example of the Group’s focus on environmentally-friendly production processes. Currently there are 15 biogas plants in operation and three more biogas plants under construction. The Group’s future plant is to build biogas plant facilities at all of its seven1 palm oil mills throughout the country.
Despite the emphasise on technology, innovation and automation to further improve production efficiency, Felda does uses livestock to support its fruit picking process. Although it may appear a tad archaic, this method can be fruitful in specific areas.
Felda also rears approximately 30,000 free gazing cattles in its peninsular plantations. The livestock-oil palm integration is a strategy to increase local livestock production and a holistic approach to maximize land use, add biodiversity in the field, help control weed, manure the ground and increase farm income.