Promote Soil Carbon Farming & Stop Destroying Peat-swamp Forests
Malaysia, the world’s second largest palm oil producer, is destroying large areas of carbon-rich peat-swamp forests to expand plantations, reports Wetlands International, calling for an immediate halt to peatland clearance and an end to incentives for biofuels in the European Union. Top international soil scientists have called on Australian government and industry to lead the world in collaborating with farmers to increase soil carbon for improved soil security.
By Niki Koswanage for Reuters (1 February 2011):
KUALA LUMPURMalaysia, the world’s second largest palm oil producer, is destroying large areas of carbon-rich peatswamp forests to expand plantations, a leading conservation group said earlier this month.
Wetlands International and Dutch remote sensing institute Sarvision said palm oil plantations are being expanded largely in the Malaysian state of Sarawak on Borneo island.
“Unless this trend is halted, none of these forests will be left at the end of this decade,” said the report.
It said between 2005-2010, almost 353,000 hectares (883,000 acres) of species-rich, peatswamp forests were opened up largely for palm oil production.
“In just 5 years time, almost 10 percent of all Sarawak’s forests and 33 percent of the peatswamp forests have been cleared. Of this, 65 percent was for palm oil conversion,” said the report, which cited a lack of verifiable government figures on land use in relation to soil type or deforestation.
Palm oil firms in Malaysia and Indonesia are under increasing pressure by major Western buyers to halt expansion through forest clearance. But India and China remain top buyers of the oil for cooking, biscuits, cosmetics and biofuels. Malaysia produces about 45 percent of the world’s palm oil.
The report said official Malaysian government figures stated that only 8 to 13 percent of Malaysia’s palm oil plantations were on carbon rich peat soils, with 20 percent for Sarawak.
Wetlands International and Sarvision said they used satellite images combined with existing data and field surveys to challenge the official figures.
“The new studies conclude that 20 percent of all Malaysian palm oil is produced on drained peatlands. For Sarawak, this is even 44 percent. For new plantations, the percentage on forested peatswamps is even higher.”
Government officials weren’t immediately available to comment on the report, which also cited the threat to rare species such as the Borneo pygmy elephant, Sumatran rhino and Borneo clouded leopard.
Deforestation and particularly clearing, draining and burning of deep peatswamp forests is responsible for about 10 percent of mankind’s greenhouse gas emissions. Neighbouring Indonesia has come under intense international pressure to halt the destruction of peatswamps in the fight against climate change.
Wetlands and estimated that the 510,000 ha of peatlands in Malaysia drained for palm oil production led to the release of 20 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually.
The group called for an immediate halt to peatland clearance and an end to incentives for biofuels in the European Union.
Report from US Studies Centre’s soil carbon summit (10 February 2011):
Top international soil scientists have called on Australian governments and industry to lead the world in collaborating with farmers to increase soil carbon for improved soil security.
The call was made as part of at the recent global soil carbon summit held at the University of Sydney, with the support of the United States Studies Centre’s Dow Sustainability Program and the university’s Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.
Adjunct Professor in Sustainability at the US Studies Centre and summit convenor, Robert Hill said soil issues needed to have priority alongside climate issues.
“Australian agriculture is set to experience the destructive effects of ongoing climate change first and hardest. By improving the sequestration of carbon in soil to enhance soil security we can increase production and reduce carbon emissions at the same time. It is a win-win solution.”
Dean of the Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, Professor Mark Adams said soil security required increasing the quantity of carbon in soils through the adoption of sustainable farming practices. Improved soil security would underpin more sustainable food, water and energy production, at the same time as mitigating climate change.
According to the international experts, including Professor Rattan Lal, Australia is in a unique position to lead the effort to improve soil security with our agricultural sector among the world’s first to confront the challenges of climate change. The science and technology is already available for farmers to manage and increase soil carbon, but further support for the work is needed.
This month’s summit marked the beginning of an international soil carbon initiative to improve understanding and raise awareness of soil security in Australia and around the world. It set four goals for future achievement:
As a society we must recognise the fundamental importance of soil and soil carbon for food security and the survival and health of human populations.Soil issues must have priority alongside climate issues.Soil security will be achieved through soil carbon sequestration and optimisation for social, ecological and economic sustainability.
The science and technology is available for farmers to manage and increase soil carbon in accordance with their local situations. They must be supported in doing so, through public policy and community recognition
Professor Rattan Lal is among the most experienced and well-published experts in the field of soil and plant science. In Sydney to speak at the US Studies Centre’s soil carbon summit, Professor Lal discussed in this interview the potential for agriculture to assist humankind’s attempts to address climate change issues. For a video interview with Rattan Lal go to: http://ussc.edu.au/news-room/interviews/Climate-change-and-agriculture