Monday, 26 August 2013

Sime’s uncontrolled burning in Riau cut

Sime Darby Bhd has seen a 60% reduction in uncontrolled burning around its plantation in Riau since it collaborated with the local authorities to set up the Fire Care Community Group or Masyarakat Peduli Api (MPA) last year.

The first plantation company to implement a zero-burning policy since 1985, Sime Darby has taken things a step further by educating local small planters on the disadvantages of burning, potentially changing the open burning culture in the area.

In 2012, Sime Darby detected 16 hotspots within its concession land but beyond the group’s planted and operational area. However as at July 31 this year, the occurrences have reduced to seven,

South Sumatra and Riau estate general manager Ahmad Sahfengi Mohd Salleh explained to regional media that the MPA was set up with the endorsement of the local authorities, aimed at preventing open burning rather than extinguishing it.

The MPA is a 10-member team at the moment, made up of locals. Sahfengi said they hoped to expand the team to 30 people.

During the dry season between June and October, the MPA would be on their toes patrolling and monitoring sites, while the wet season would see them educating the villagers through a “socialisation strategy.”

“There are two concerns here,” Sumatra region plantation operations head Karpanasamy Rengasamy said.

“One is that when they burn so close to our plantation, the wind may blow a spark over to our trees. Another is that we want to educate them on the disadvantages of burning, which is a health and safety issue.”

Big players in the palm oil industry are usually targeted when the region faces the haze problem, as had happened to Sime Darby and several other palm oil groups last June. Sime Darby, however, produced a satellite map to show that the burnings took place outside its plantation borders.

The burnings were usually done by small farmers, who would then plant cash crops like corn on the burnt land.

“We not only do not burn, but also keep tabs on any fires that occur around us,” Karpanasamy said to the media visiting Sime Darby’s PT Bhumireksa Nusa Sejati (BNS) plantation.

On the plantation, the company also has a troop of fire guards and five watch towers around the planted areas to monitor burning activities daily.

There are seven hotspots within and around the BNS plantation that Sime Darby estate managers monitor.

Sime Darby manages the plantation via a water canal grid, which keeps the peatland moist during drier weather and functions as a waterway to transport people and fresh fruit bunches to the two mills within the plantation.

“The water canal also works as a fire belt that stops fires from neighbouring areas from spreading to our estates easily, and as a water source when the fire guards and MPA move in to douse any burning around us,” Sahfengi elaborated.

Sime Darby’s plantation subsidiary in Indonesia, PT Minamas Gemilang, had bought the BNS plantation from Salim Group in 2001. The concession for the entire land, including parts where villagers have already occupied, is until 2035.

The 25,730ha land concession is on peatland, and of that, 18,688ha have been planted.

“People burn on peatland because it is prone to termites, which means we cannot leave trunks or fronds to decompose on it,” Sahfengi said.

That said, Sime Darby has put in place a zero expansion on peatland policy. In Sumatra, 25% of its plantation operations are on peatland. Within its Indonesia plantations, 8% are on peatland.

Karpanasamy said that peatland is not as easily managed as mineral land. “However, when properly managed, palm estates on peatland can usually produce 5% to 10% higher yield at an estimated 30 tonnes per hectare per year than the 27-tonne-per-hectare-per-year yield from mineral land estates.”

BNS’ oil palm trees, as they have not reached maturity, produced a 17-tonne-per-hectare-per-year yield in 2012, and Karpanasamy is aiming to see a yield of 21 tonnes per hectare per year for 2013.


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