Quest for sustainable oil palm

Oil palm is the world’s leading vegetable oil crop. As a foodstuff, palm oil is believed to have several important benefits, particularly in lowering the risk of heart disease. As a very high yielding crop, it has become a major feedstock for biodiesel


Mono-alkyl esters of long chain fatty acids derived from vegetable oils or animal fats for use in diesel engines. It refers to pure fuel before blending with conventional diesel fuel. Blends are denoted as, "BXX" with "XX" representing the percentage of biodiesel contained in the blend (ie: B20 is 20% biodiesel, 80% petroleum diesel).

Authoritative On-line References and Resources The US Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy has an Alternative Fuels and Advanced Vehicles Data Center containing key information on all biofuels.
production. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil has been established to ensure that as production rises environmental issues such as biodiversity


The variety of life in all its forms, levels and combinations. Includes ecosystem diversity, species diversity, and genetic diversity (IUCN, UNEP and WWF, 1991).

Authoritative On-line References and Resources EarthTrends is a comprehensive online database, maintained by the World Resources Institute, that focuses on environmental, social, and economic trends. Statistics on biodiversity indicators are available.
and soil erosion


Displacement of solids (soil, mud, rock and other particles) usually by the agents of currents such as, wind, water, or ice by downward or down-slope movement.

Authoritative On-line References and Resources This site brings together reliable information on soil erosion from a wide range of disciplines and sources. It aims to be the definitive internet source for those wishing to find out more about soil loss and soil conservation.
are addressed. Integrated pest management (IPM


A decision support system for crop protection which focuses on long-term prevention or suppression of pest problems with minimum impact on human health, the environment, and non-target organisms. IPM takes into consideration all available pest control techniques and tactics (cultural, mechanical, biological, chemical). IPM emphasizes the growth of healthy crops for better productivity with the least possible disruption to agroecosystems.

Authoritative On-line References and Resources "The USDA's National Site for the Regional IPM Centers' Information System provides information about US commodities, pests and pest management practices, people and issues."
) approaches are widely used and ensure that crops are protected in a sustainable way.
Paraquat has a key role in IPM systems. Although it is termed a non-selective


A chemical product used for eliminating all types of weeds (annual and perennial grasses and broadleaved weeds).

Authoritative On-line References and Resources An invaluable source of contemporary information about herbicides and weeds from Iowa State University.
herbicide, paraquat is safe to spray around crops such as oil palm. Paraquat is strongly adsorbed and deactivated on contact with the soil. It cannot move to roots and be taken up into plants and it cannot leach


The natural process by which water soluble substances are carried downward through the soil into groundwater.
. Mature bark is a very effective barrier to paraquat and even if small amounts land on leaves there is little or no crop damage because paraquat is not systemic.

Other facts about oil palm

  • Read more about the use of paraquat in oil palm here
  • Read an in-depth article about oil palm cropping here
Paraquat is very fast acting and rainfast. Weeds sprayed in the morning will often show symptoms by the afternoon, making it easy for spray operators and plantation managers to see which areas have already been sprayed. This holds even if rain falls within 15-30 minutes, making it possible to spray for longer before rain is expected. When paraquat is used in IPM systems for weed control, biodiversity improves because the less competitive weeds are allowed to regrow and create habitats. Soil erosion is much reduced when some vegetative cover is allowed and the plant roots, which paraquat does not affect, help to keep the soil in place.