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Resources on Sustainable Palm Oil : 2012 in Review

By Jayne Goh-Jeevan and Benjamin Loh

In 2012, the palm oil industry took a step further towards mainstreaming sustainability with the launch of It is anticipated that not only will these resources greatly benefit the industry for many years to come, but companies that are seeking to meet sustainability requirements and achieve a better environmental footprint process will find them indispensable. This review highlights how these resources offer practical solutions to both large scale growers and smallholders.

Solutions for Biodiversity Challenges

 The Biodiversity in Plantation Landscapes: A Practical Resource Guide for Managers and Practitioners in Oil Palm Plantations manual provides palm oil growers the nuts and bolts in managing the very ecosystem on which oil palm production is dependent upon. Carefully conceived by environmental experts with the participation of plantation managers, the manual aims to build sound environmental competencies and working knowledge of plantation managers.

To help busy managers get a firm grip on the issues at hand, information on global and plantation biodiversity challenges is presented in an adequate yet brisk format. It puts forward a complete range of impacts throughout the oil palm plantation life cycle. The Biodiversity manual also familiarises managers with technical concepts such as High Conservation Values (HCVs). It also introduces Adaptive Management, an approach which environmental experts widely use to help make better decisions under conditions of uncertainties that are inherent in conservation projects.

The authors also provide robust knowledge and essential tools for building skillsets within each phase of biodiversity conservation management; from assessment, planning, development, monitoring, and to reporting. These knowledge and tools are in the form of:

  • compilation of ideas for solution for each environmental impact;
  • working templates for impact assessments on the ground;
  • checklist for developing an action plan;
  • six updated monitoring tools across the range of environmental impacts;
  • case studies of three landscape scenarios
  • seven summaries of species richness studies on oil palm plantation; and
  • how-tos in initiating a biodiversity research project.

With this manual in hand, managers can begin to develop, communicate and establish a conservation action plan or policy to achieve sustainability goals.

Solutions for Peatland Challenges

The industryManual on Best Management Practices (BMPs) series, with the first two manuals focusing on cultivating oil palm on peatlands sustainably.

Drawing from the deep knowledge banks of conservationists working on peat landscapes throughout Malaysia and Indonesia, these manuals provide a body of knowledge and detailed guidance to help align companies towards national regulations and RSPO certification compliance. The manuals set out strong backgrounders on peatland ecosystem characteristics, the causes of degradation and legislation.

The first manual, the RSPO Manual on Best Management Practices (BMPs) for Existing Oil Palm Cultivation on Peat offers best practices in reconciling two main priorities; improving yields and reducing environmental and social impacts. The manual discusses critical issues unique to peatlands such as greenhouse gas emissions, subsidence, fire threats, biodiversity change and local community livelihoods. To address these concerns, generous sections are dedicated in building technical foundation in the areas of water and natural resources management, complete with techniques in conducting assessments, measurements and infrastructure development. The manual also offers guidance in addressing operational and yield constraints.

The growing concern of oil palm development in peatland areas had led to an urgent demand for guidance in rehabilitation work. A relatively new area in the industry, tropical peatland rehabilitation holds the key to unlock potentials for oil palm and peat swamp forests to coexist sustainably, for if not in the short term, then over the long term.

The RSPO responded by conceiving the second manual, the RSPO Manual on Best Management Practices (BMPs) for Management and Rehabilitation of Natural Vegetation Associated with Oil Palm Cultivation on Peat. This manual introduces the guiding principles in rehabilitation of oil palm plantation in peatlands and peat swamp forests adjacent to it. It highlights potential ecosystem components that are critical for rehabilitation

The manual also discusses the importance of adopting a wide stakeholder participation approach where replanting, restoration and rehabilitation projects involve local communities, government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Existing robust multi stakeholder projects were presented as case studies.

Oil Palm Plantations Support Avian Biodiversity

The year also marked a new development in biodiversity research, in particular, new studies on the status of bird species richness in oil palm plantations. Researchers Asrulsani, J. et. al. of the study called Avian Biodiversity and Conservation in Malaysian Oil Palm Production Areas recorded a total of 3,281 individual birds belonging to 72 bird species, whereby 23 are forest-dependent species, seven wetland species and 14 migratory species. This pattern is reportedly supported by both oil palm plantations and smallholding landscapes. Published in the Journal of Oil Palm Research (JOPE;, the findings of this study challenge common perception that oil palm production areas completely lack of bird biodiversity.

Researchers concluded that oil palm production areas have an important role in complementing protected areas in terms of biodiversity conservation. The study identifies opportunities for conservation, some of which are step up tree planting for additional habitats and food sources, integrate livestock grazing to phase out harmful agrochemicals, boost ground vegetation and establish long term monitoring and research initiatives. With strategic conservation practices and uptake, the researchers believe that oil palm cultivation can achieve sustainable standards.

Ensuring Practice, Ensuring Sustainability

The delivery of these new resources in 2012 marked a resolute in mainstreaming best management practices to build upon principles in strengt
hening ecosystem integrity, as imperative to ensure sustainability.

Publishers/authors know that all good efforts in producing these publications will go to waste if it is left in the managerncourage uptake, the best practices manuals are bundled with training and online platform to support robust sharing, feedback and technical assistance.

With wide implementation, the industry has the potential to emerge as leaders in innovation, research and sustainability.


Asrulsani Jambari, Badrul Azhar, Nor Laili Ibrahim, Syari Jamian, Arnina Hussin, Chong Leong Puan, Hafidzi Mohd Noor, Ebil Yusof, Mohamed Zakaria. (2012) Avian Biodiversity and Conservation in Malaysian Oil Palm Production Areas. Journal of Oil Palm Research. Vol.24, April 2012, p. 1277-1286. Malaysian Palm Oil Board. Retrieved from

Bakewell, D., Azmi, R., Yew, F.K., Ng, F.Y., Basiron, Y., Sundram, K. (eds) 2012. Biodiversity in Plantation Landscapes: A practical resource guide for managers and practitioners in oil palm plantations. Wild Asia and the Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC).

Retrieved Part 1 from Retrieved Part 2 from

Lim, K.H., Lim, S.S., Parish. F., Suharto, R. (eds) 2012. RSPO Manual on Best Management Practices (BMPs) for Existing Oil Palm Cultivation on Peat. Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Retrieved from

Parish, F., Lim, S.S., Perumal, B., Giesen, W. (eds) 2012. RSPO Manual on Best Management Practices (BMPs) for Management and Rehabilitation of Natural Vegetation Associated with Oil Palm Cultivation on Peat. Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Retrieved from