KOTA SAMARAHAN: The state government has always emphasised that development on peat soil, particularly for the palm oil industry, must be carried out in a sustainable manner.
Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem said the government set up its Tropical Peat Research Laboratory (TPRL) in 2008 with the objective of developing scientific and technical knowledge on the sustainability of oil palm cultivation in tropical heat.
“The challenge that we face today is that tropical peat land compared to other soil type is still quite an understudied soil.
“As a result, there have been numerous political and public slurs and slander made by NGOs against the state, creating confusion on understanding and appreciation of tropical peat land,” he said at the official opening of the TPRL complex renamed as Tropical Peat Research Institute here yesterday.
Adenan’s speech was read out by Second Resource Planning and Environment Minister Datuk Amar Awang Tengah Ali Hasan.
Head of state Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud was also present.
Adenan added that many of the allegations were based on studies equating tropical peat with temperate peat, which was less complex than tropical peat.
In this regard, the need to overcome the scientific challenge in trying to unlock the soil secrets of tropical peat remain greater, he explained.
Adenan said the state has outlined a clear Land Use Policy, which integrates and balances all aspects of economic development, social well being of local communities and environmental conservation.
This policy is to apportion land for the purpose of various use including agriculture and forestry.
He said researches conducted in the institute has enabled the state to credibly defend its action to develop peat land with empirical evidence to prove that carbon dioxide emanating from peat with oil palm plantations is lower than what it is as an unused wasteland.
The decision to use peat land has allowed development of oil palm plantations, which has become one of the fastest growing industries and major contributor to the state’s export value. Oil palm fresh fruit bunch (FFB) yield on peat land has now doubled to 20-25 tonnes per acre.
Institute director Dr Lulie Melling is optimistic that the complex will become more productive in contributing towards the sustainable utilisation of peat land for oil palm, pineapple and other cash crops for greater economic benefits to the state and people.
“In today’s global criticism against palm oil trade, scientific data is very important and crucial to clarify and debunk any misunderstanding or distorted information.
“The R&D output of the institute strives to provide the fundamental science to develop standard operating procedures and code of practice for the management and sustainable exploitation of tropical peat land for planting of oil palm and other cash crops,” she said.
The state’s peat land is extensive in the coastal lowlands, covering approximately 1.6 million ha or 13% of the total land area in Sarawak.
The complex, completed in October last year, can accommodate 50 scientists and 150 supporting staff.