10 Oct 2011

SEAP Quarterly Newsletter 2011-04

In this IssueOil Palm Plantation Intelligence: Collective learning for a more profitable and sustainable oil palm industry
IPNI Program Updates
Oil Palm Plantation Intelligence: Collective learning for a more profitable and sustainable oil palm industry

IPNI SEAP launches oil palm BMP project on nutrient use efficiency

SEAP oil palm presentations at international conferences

News From the Region


Cropster releases new climate change module

Climate change impacts African cocoa farmers

2012 Coffee Conference Dates


Three US-based companies join the RSPO

Bud rot disease threatens oil palm sector

"Green" palm oil demand growing, but not fast enough

New Publications:

Further evidence and motivation for sustainable intensification

Fairtrade coffee not making a clear difference
The oil palm industry in Southeast Asia is in a relative boom period, with high prices for crude palm oil injecting new investment into plantations. Yet the stresses on the industry are also intensifying, as operators strive to meet ever increasing demands for profitability, quality control and sustainability in the face of productivity that has remained virtually stagnant for the past 20 years.

The IPNI Southeast Asia Program (SEAP) is embarking on a new oil palm project in 2012 to develop learning processes – which we call plantation intelligence – that will help managers analyze their operations as part of a continuous incremental improvement.

Current activities are underway to trial best management practices (BMPs) for the oil palm industry in SE Asia at commercial block scale. Plantation Intelligence will enable oil palm operators to evaluate and adopt BMP through the collective sharing and analysis of information among peers to support change at full plantation scale, and thereby develop and sustain a higher level of performance and profitability.

The process to achieve this is simple:
  • use IT to assemble agronomic, economic and environmental information already routinely collected in plantations;
  • filter information and present analysis in easily digestible format to avoid 'drowning' managers in data;
  • evaluate results through discussions with individual plantations and groups of companies;
  • and decide appropriate actions for site-specific conditions.

The project will focus initially on mid-size operators who already have the capacity in-house for management and analysis. Within a three-year trial period, IPNI SEAP will develop, together with collaborators, the processes of analysis, evaluation and sharing, including the information management infrastructure and diagnostic tools. Our goal is to instil analytical processes into the normal practice of oil palm growers for the learning to be self-sustaining and to continue beyond the project's lifecycle. During years 2 and 3, we will begin to engage the broader oil palm community, including large operators and organizations representing smallholders.
IPNI SEAP launches oil palm BMP project on nutrient use efficiency
The IPNI Southeast Asia Program was instrumental in the development of a BMP concept for oil palm that has been successfully evaluated and introduced at commercial plantation block scale to reduce the gaps between actual and potential yield. A series of BMP projects has successfully addressed the reduction of yield gap 3, arising from inefficiencies in the management of mature stands, thereby increasing yields by up to 30% at the commercial block scale. IPNI SEAP has realized that yields can be further increased by explicitly addressing yield gap 2 – yield reductions due to inaccurate assessment of nutrient requirements – which has not yet been fully understood and exploited.

The first BMP project for improved nutrition in oil palm plantations was launched in October 2011 in Kalimantan with financial support by the K + S GmbH of Germany and in collaboration with a major Indonesian plantation company. This 4-year project will also specifically address problems associated with sandy-textured soils, one of the main factors responsible for low soil fertility and low yields in oil palm. Sandy soils experience periodic water deficits and high nutrient leaching (N, K, Mg, S) because of low water and nutrient retention (adsorption). The project will deploy a two-pronged approach that includes commercial block scale implementation of fertilizer management strategies, complemented by block embedded nutrient omission plots.

A copy of the extended description of this project can be obtained from this link.
SEAP oil palm presentations at international conferences
IPNI SEAP scientists presented two papers on oil palm BMP at international conferences in the last few months. Dr. Thomas Oberthür, Director, Southeast Asia Program, talked about "Sustainable Intensification with Best Management Practices (BMP) in Oil Palm in Southeast Asia, Marginal Environments" at the Tropentag 2011 conference in Germany. Mr. Christopher Donough, SEAP oil palm consultant, presented a similar topic at the Malaysian Palm Oil Board International Palm Oil Congress (PIPOC) with a paper entitled "Successful yield intensification with best management practices (BMP) for oil palm at six plantation locations representing major growing environments of Southeast Asia".

Dr. Oberthür and Mr. Donough also co-authored a paper and a poster on sulphur nutrition in oil palm. Dr. Jóska Gerendás of K+S KALI GmbH presented the paper "Function and Nutrient Status of Sulphur in Oil Palm in Indonesia" at the Tropentag and a poster on "Sulphur Nutrition of Oil Palm in Indonesia - the Neglected Macronutrient" at the PIPOC.

A copy of Dr. Oberthür's presentation can be downloaded here.
News from the Region
Source: Coffee & Cocoa International, November 2011, www.coffeeandcocoa.net
2012 Conference DatesCropster releases new climate change module
9th African Fine Coffee Conference
& Exhibition

16-18 February
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Tea & Coffee World Cup Europe
25-27 March
Reed Messe, Vienna Austria

SCAA Symposium
18-19 April
Oregon Convention Centre, Portland, Oregon

SCAA Exposition
19-22 April
Oregon Convention Centre, Portland, Oregon

SCAE World of Coffee
13-15 June
Messe Wien, Vienna, Austria

COTECA Hamburg
20-22 September
Cropster has announced the launch of a new and unique carbon footprint module for C-sar, its information platform for high-value supply chains. The module provides users with the ability to enter data on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at farm level, as well as CO2 sequestration in soils and biomass.

The data collection and methodology is based on a GHG emissions calculator, the Cool Farm Tool, developed by the University of Aberdeen and Unilever. The combination of the Cool Farm Tool and C-sar provides a quick insight into the environmental performance of individual farms and producer organizations by means of automatically processed, visualized data. This will help producers define the most promising options for mitigation activities. Over time, the module can monitor the effect of the mitigation activities.

The carbon footprint module is currently being tested in the field. Carbon footprint information will be collected from smallholder coffee farms in El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Mexico.
Coffee and cocoa prices likely to fall in 2012
Macquarie Research says coffee prices are expected to remain firm during the intercrop period, but will fall in the second half of 2012 after what are expected to be bumper crops from Vietnam and Brazil. Favorable weather, perhaps due to La Niña, are also expected to lead to bumper yields of cacao in West Africa, weighing on prices.
Climate change impacts African cocoa farmers
Climate scientists at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) in Colombia predict that areas of cocoa suitability in West Africa will begin to decline by 2030 as average temperatures increase by one degree Celsius.

The report, entitled Predicting the Impact of Climate Change on the Cocoa-Growing Regions in Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire, predicts that the ideal cocoa growing areas will shift to higher altitudes to compensate for higher temperatures and increased evapotranspiration. According to Dr. Peter Laderach, the report's lead author, the problem is that much of West Africa is relatively flat. This is a major cause of the potentially drastic decrease in cocoa suitability in the region. The report further warns that the search for new cocoa-producing sites may trigger the clearing of forests, protected areas and important habitats for flora and fauna.

"The good news is that the report quantifies the risks, and pinpoints particularly vulnerable areas in good time for effective action to be taken," Dr. Laderach continued. "Producers in affected areas will be protected if they are prepared to change, and if they have the knowledge, tools and institutional support to help them adapt." Farmers in the major cocoa-producing areas of Cote d'Ivoire and Ghana are particularly vulnerable since cocoa production is often their primary source of income.

Dr. Laderach and his colleagues offer a number of recommendations about the development and implementation of adaptation strategies to help address progressive climate change.

Click here for the link to the CIAT report.
Three US-based companies join the RSPO
The US has made significant headway at the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) as three US-headquartered global companies became members of the multi-stakeholder initiative. Retailer Walmart, confectionery producer The Hershey Company and financial services leader Citigroup recently joined RSPO's 650 member organizations from 50 countries worldwide.

The RSPO aims to promote the growth and use of sustainable palm oil in the world.

Source: RSPO, 01 August 2011, http://www.rspo.org
Bud rot disease threatens oil palm sector
Malaysia’s oil palm industry is on alert for the bud rot disease that has wiped out some 50,000 ha of oil palm estates in South America. Although no cure has yet to be found, Dr Ahmad Kushairi Din, Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) deputy director-general said Malaysian planters should not panic. "We’re taking proactive measures from prevention to control should there be any contamination. Our stringent quarantine controls have always been in place.” he added. The country will soon be sending a team of agronomists to South America to study the disease.

Kushairi, who is also International Society For Oil Palm Breeders president, explained that the bud rot disease is caused by a microbe called Phytophthora palmivora. The bud rot disease can spread very quickly because the pathogen is able to swim in water. It thrives in a very humid and cloudy environment.

MPOB has signed a research agreement with Cenipalma, the research institute of the Colombian Palm Oil Growers Association. Colombia, the oil palm hub in South America, has 350,000 ha planted with oil palms. It is the fifth largest oil palm country in the world after Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Nigeria. The bud rot disease has now spread to Panama, Suriname, Brazil and Ecuador.

Source: Business Times, 21 November 2011, http://www.btimes.com.my
"Green" palm oil demand growing, but not fast enough - WWF
Manufacturers and retailers in Europe, Australia and Japan are buying more eco-friendly palm oil compared to two years ago, but more firms need to display a stronger commitment to preserving forests.

The environment group WWF published the Palm Oil Buyers’ Scorecard 2011 during the RSPO meeting in Sabah, Malaysia where oil palm growers, consumers and environment groups assessed the edible oil's green credentials over the years. The scorecard showed 87 out of 132 firms, including Nestle and Unilever, had pledged to meet their palm oil needs by 2015 or earlier from planters in Asia, Africa and South America who do not cut forests and destroy wildlife. This signals growing demand for green palm oil, which now stands at half of the five million tonnes currently supplied to the market. It also shows some progress from the first scorecard in 2009 when only 10 out of 59 European firms pledged to take up the edible oil from sustainable sources.

WWF said the buyers scorecard showed that companies source just half of their palm oil needs from eco-friendly planters, a sign that their commitment to protect the environment was not too strong. Data showed nearly half of the 43 retailers and more than a fifth of 89 consumer goods manufacturers scored poorly in taking responsibility for the environmental impact of their palm oil buying.

The slow sales of eco-friendly palm oil have angered palm oil producers in Indonesia and Malaysia, the world's top two exporters, who say they spend more per hectare to ensure they meet voluntary green standards set by the RSPO. Last month, the Indonesian Palm Oil Association withdrew its membership from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), saying the lobby was pandering to green groups. Indonesia is starting a mandatory certification scheme for green production and Malaysia also plans to start its own scheme for local growers.

The WWF urged palm oil buyers to become more transparent about how much they buy from environmentally-friendly plantations, to encourage green practices. "WWF wants far more openness in this industry. Unless there is greater transparency, oil palm growers will remain unwilling to commit to certification," said Adam Harrison, senior policy officer with WWF who represents the group on the industry-driven RSPO executive board. "If we want growers to act responsibly, buyers of palm oil need to show what their future demand for certified sustainable palm oil is going to be," he said.

Source: Reuters, Africa, 22 November 2011, http://af.reuters.com/.
New Publications:
Further evidence and motivation for sustainable intensification
Should commodity production segregate land use for nature and for intensive production (sparing), or should production and conservation be encouraged on the same land, such as in agroforestry (sharing)? This question has been asked numerous times amidst concerns over rising food prices, population increase and mounting pressures on ecosystems. In the November 2011 issue of Coffee & Cocoa International, Dr. Peter Baker, CABI's commodities expert, highlights several recent publications on this issue.

Phalan et al. (2011) tested the two alternatives (land sparing and land sharing) by comparing crop yields and densities of bird and tree species across gradients of agricultural intensity in southwest Ghana and northern India. Their analyses suggest that land sparing is a more promising strategy for minimizing negative impacts of food production on biodiversity.

Ruf (2011) gave compelling evidence that most smallholders in Ghana consider complex cocoa agroforests as a thing of the past. Farmers are now clearing agroforests as well as surviving forests and planting full sun farms of either cocoa, rubber, or oil palm. Farmers are adopting modern hybrids which yield higher profits in full sun a long as they are complemented by the reasonable use of pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides. Many farmers also believe that the ecological services that agroforests might provide are limited, and sometimes even include negative services, such as increased damage by pests and the spread of disease.

Gockowski and Sonwa (2011) predicted the impact of cocoa intensification scenarios on the West African Guinea rainforest. This global biodiversity hotspot now had declined to less than 18% of its original area due to the expansion of low-production smallholders of cocoa, cassava, and oil palm. The authors estimated that had intensified cocoa technology, already developed in the 1960s, been pursued in Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon, over 21,000 km2 of deforestation and forest degradation could have been avoided along with the emission of nearly 1.4 billion t of CO2. They concluded that addressing the low productivity of agriculture in this hotspot zone should be a principal objective of climate mitigation programs.

Schroth et al. (2011) agreed that land sparing is highly relevant in agriculture-rainforest frontiers, including active areas of cocoa expansion. But in mosaic landscapes with a long history of human settlement, where natural habitat has been severely reduced, they suggest that the conservation of biodiversity requires a combination of forest set-asides and biodiversity-friendly farming, rather than only one or the other. They suggest a three-pronged strategy: a) expansion of a protected areas system, b) promotion of productive, yet biodiversity-friendly cocoa farming practices, and c) assistance to land users to implement legally-mandated on-farm reserves and voluntary private reserves.


Gockowski J, Sonwa D (2011) Cocoa intensification scenarios and their predicted impact on CO2 emissions, biodiversity conservation, and rural livelihoods in the Guinea rain forest of West Africa.

Phalan B, Onial M, Balmford A, Green RE (2011) Reconciling food production and biodiversity conservation: Land sharing and land sparing compared. Science 333:1289-1291.

Ruf FO (2011) The myth of complex cocoa agroforests:The case of Ghana. Hum. Ecol. 39:373-388.

Schroth G, Faria D, Araujo M, Bede L, Van Bael SA, Cassano CR, Oliveira LC, Delabie JHC (2011) Conservation in tropical landscape mosaics: the case of the cacao landscape of southern Bahia, Brazil. Biodivers Conserv 20:1635-1654.
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Fairtrade coffee not making a clear difference
The SEAP Quarterly Newsletter aims to provide information on recent activities of our program and selected news on regional developments.

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Beuchelt TD, Zeller M (2011). Profits and poverty: Certfication's troubled link for Nicaragua's organic and fair-trade coffee producers. Ecological Economics 70:1316-1324.

This study of small-holder organic and Fair Trade (FT) coffee in northern NIcaragua looks in detail into their economics compared to conventional farmers. Environmental and social certification schemes for coffee producers as certified market channels are assumed to offer higher prices and better incomes. These certifications are also presumed to contribute to poverty reduction of smallholders.

Researchers from the Department of Agricultural Economics and Social Sciences in the Tropics and Subtropics at the University of Hohenheim in Germany found that none of the three categories were doing well, with incomes insufficient to cover basic needs. Certified producers were more often found below the absolute poverty line than conventional producers.

Results show that although farm-gate prices of certified coffees are higher than conventional coffees, the profitability of certified coffee production and its subsequent effect on poverty levels is not clear-cut. Over a period of 10 years, organic and organic-FT farmers have become poorer relative to conventional producers.

The authors conclude that yield, profitability and efficiency of coffee need to be increased because prices for certified coffee cannot compensate for low productivity, land or labour constraints.
Disclaimer: News from the Region is a selection of regional agriculture-related articles extracted from internet sources. IPNI does not verify, endorse, or take responsibility for the accuracy, currency, completeness or quality of the content in these sites. Due to the nature of this service, IPNI cannot always verify every single news item. Be sure to check with the official websites of the companies, universities, research centers, and government agencies before using any information in the SEAP newsletters or webpages, as IPNI cannot vouch for news items submitted by the public. Links to external websites are included for the sole purpose of providing easy access to the source. The inclusion of external hyperlinks does not constitute IPNI’s endorsement of the views expressed by these websites. IPNI shall not be responsible for any damages caused directly or indirectly by the use of any information or content from within linked websites.

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