Giving oil palm plantations in Sarawak a second chance

By Patricia Hului

OIL PALM PLANTATIONS have been known to have a bad rep in the eyes of conservationists and environmentalists worldwide.


Plantations companies have been condemned for converting large-scale tracts of tropical forests to oil palm plantations, impacting huge numbers of plant and animal species.


These impacts include destruction of habitats containing rare and endangered species, reduced biodiversity in plantations, increase in human-wildlife conflicts and so on.


Here to make a difference in oil palm plantations is Wilmar International Limited, an agribusiness group based in Singapore founded in 1991.


The company owns 241,000 ha of plantations with 71% of it in Indonesia, 24% in East Malaysia and the rest in Africa. PPB Oil Palms Berhad, a subsidiary company under Wilmar, owns and operates 4 plantations in Sarawak which covers around 28,988 ha.


On May 27, Wilmar and Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) signed a comprehensive Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) mutually agreeing to promote sustainable biodiversity management through conservation of rare, endangered and threatened species in PPB oil palm areas in Sarawak.


The MoU was signed by Unimas Deputy Vice Chancellor (Research and Innovation), Prof Dr Kopli Bujang and Wilmar’s Group Head Corporate Social Responsibility, Jeremy Goon.


STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP: Kopli (left) and Goon exchanging MoUs in 'Identification and Monitoring of Endangered, Rare and Threatened Species and Habitats' in Wilmar’s plantations in Sarawak.

STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIP: Kopli (left) and Goon exchanging MoUs in ‘Identification and Monitoring of Endangered, Rare and Threatened Species and Habitats’ in Wilmar’s plantations in Sarawak.


In the signing ceremony Prof Dr Kopli stated, “With the rapid development of oil palm industry and the increasing awareness in the need to conserve the resources especially in Sarawak, the proposed project entitled ‘Identification and monitoring of Endangered, Rare and Threatened Species and their habitats in Wilmar’s plantations in Sarawak’ is indeed very relevant and important in the context of Malaysia’s rich biodiversity and natural resources.”


Through this MoU, both parties will work together on key issues of this strategic plan, particularly on matters relating to biodiversity especially wildlife and environmental management.


According to Goon, Wilmar had worked with several reputable academic institutions besides Unimas such as the University of Cambridge, the University of York, University of Cumbria and University of Swansea to study biodiversity on their oil palm estates.
These academic collaborations aim to enhance Wilmar’s knowledge on conservation, especially biodiversity within the plantation landscape.


An example of Wilmar’s effort in conservation on oil palm plantation areas would be Sabahmas Plantation in Lahad Datu, Sabah.


Sabahmas Plantation is an estate with high biodiversity with Tabin Wildlife Reserve at its north-eastern boundary and Segama River at its western boundary.


Segama River is known to be a habitat for endangered species such as the Proboscis Monkey, Silver Lead-nosed Monkey and the Borneo Pygmy Elephant.


In a presentation by Simon Siburat, the general manager of Group Sustainability at Wilmar, Simon mentioned that 87 ha on the Sabahmas Plantation is currently being conserved and has its own Wildlife Protection Unit.


According to him, “This Wildlife Ranger Programme started in September 2008. Their routine operations consists of road block patrols within Tabin and our own plantation land, as well as boat patrols along the Segama River flowing within Tabin.”


It was reported that since 2009, poaching activities for game meat like deer and wild boar has slowed down dramatically in the Tabin locality.


“Just because the land has been logged over, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have conservation value. It is wise to adopt a collective approach in managing our plantations,” Simon stated.


The synergy between Wilmar and Unimas is expected to be beneficial in biodiversity conservation in Sarawak’s oil palm plantations. This collaboration is also to prove that co-existence between nature and development is possible.

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