How Can We Support Biodiversity In Oil Palm Landscapes?

Nov 23, 2021 1:00 PM ET
Blog

While oil palm cultivation is a significant economic driver and can lift people out of poverty, it can also have a negative impact on biodiversity, mostly due to the conversion of tropical forests and species-rich habitats. As palm oil remains one of the most land-efficient and shelf stable vegetable oils [1], enhancing conservation efforts to support biodiversity is vital.

The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil), local governments, and other stakeholders have urged producers to manage their existing oil palm plantations more responsibly, to reduce impacts on biodiversity. The industry accomplishes this by setting aside areas identified as important for biodiversity and carbon [2], typically using the High Carbon Stock (HCS) and High Conservation Value (HCV) approaches [3].

Fine-Tuning the Industry’s Efforts to Support Biodiversity
Musim Mas has undertaken a variety of conservation interventions across its plantations. These include the reforestation of riparian zones and enhancement vegetation with forest trees in HCV areas. Over the years, Musim Mas has also added new areas to its conservation hectarage, including steep terrain regions, wildlife corridors, and riparian buffer zones not identified by HCV and HCS assessments.

In addition, Musim Mas has taken an active conservation approach by making use of a monitoring system within its HCV/HCS sites and surrounding areas. Using both camera traps and trained on-site staff, Musim Mas conducts a monthly census at each site, recording the presence of certain wildlife like reptiles, mammals, and birds. After documenting the number of wildlife species, their activities, and their nesting locations, data is collected and used to improve conservation efforts.

Assessing the Impacts of Musim Mas’ Decade-Long Conservation Efforts
To assess the effectiveness of these interventions, Musim Mas  began partnering with South East Asia Rainforest Research Partnership (SEARRP) in 2020. SEARRP will independently analyze  its decade-long conservation efforts in the Group’s plantations.  The SEARRP research is threefold:

  1. Independent assessment of the effectiveness of HCV monitoring efforts
  2. Development of a biodiversity baseline for HCV areas
  3. Recalibration of conservation efforts

In addition to ensuring that its monitoring efforts are appropriate, SEARRP will work with Musim Mas to develop a sector-wide monitoring protocol, and also employ statistical analyses to better understand wildlife trends to determine if species richness are increasing in response to Musim Mas’ conservation efforts. Lastly, the SEARRP research will link scientific evidence to the company’s efforts to determine which are most effective. Without scientific evidence, conservation plans might remain guesswork, so these insights will be of interest to the palm oil sector at large.

Musim Mas’ Plan Moving Forward
Ultimately, this research will enable Musim Mas to prioritise the conservation efforts that are making the biggest impact, while also enabling the company to better understand monitoring efficacy and natural biodiversity trends. In addition, identifying how species move across landscapes to access food, new habitats, or mates will allow Musim Mas to make improvements to HCV and set-aside networks to avoid species losses and support biodiversity.

Once the abundance of data is analysed, Musim Mas will be equipped with the knowledge of how different management options influence biodiversity and how forest reforestation in different HCV patches will support conservation efforts. The SEARRP research will significantly influence future policies and procedures, as well as form a reliable case study for RSPO members. Ultimately, this research will support Musim Mas’ efforts in setting measurable objectives to avoid species losses and improve biodiversity on our plantations. Together with SEARRP, Musim Mas envisions a future where oil palm landscapes can continue to foster both economic development and healthy, biodiverse ecosystems.

[1] https://www.wwf.org.uk/updates/8-things-know-about-palm-oil 
[2] Prior to any new development, Musim Mas carries out rigorous assessments and follows the process outlined in the RSPO New Planting Procedure (NPP), including identifying and conserving areas with HCV and HCS. Since 2014, we have been estimating the carbon stock of proposed development areas and significant potential sources of emissions that may result directly from development. To ensure the credibility of our HCV and HCS assessments, they are all carried out by accredited and registered licensed assessors and practitioners.
[3] High Conservation Value (HCV) an High Carbon Stock (HCS) aim to identify important environmental and social values that should be addressed and conserved prior to new development.