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Palm oil production on Imperata grasslands [#66]
Opportunities for the production of sustainable palm oil

If the rising global palm oil demand - e.g. of the renewable energy sector - shall be satisfied without causing direct and indirect deforestation of forest land or the drainage of peatland, the so called Imperata grasslands in Southeast Asia offer a promising opportunity.
It is important to note that the criteria which are currently being developed by the Round Table on Sustainable Palm oil cover many of the sustainability risks of palm oil production but cannot prevent indirect deforestation and drainage caused by replacement effects.

Imperata grassland are estimated to cover 1 million hectare land in Malaysia and 12 million ha land in Indonesia. (see ProForest 2003. Imperata Grasslands are often created when deforested lands are left unattended and are of low economical value. Imperata grasslands are often left unused as rehabilitating them faces several problems such as fire-proneness, low soil fertility and poor water management.

In addition to that, the deforestation of forestland is often economically more attractive compared to the rehabilitation of Imperata grasslands. The grasslands are often suitable for palm oil plantation (see Dehue 2006). However, palm cultivation on Imperata grassland is more expensive as compared to palm cultivation on forested land.

There are however two mechanisms that could generate additional income for the cultivation of palm oil on Imperata grassland which can compensate for the additional cultivation costs:

a. Within the Clean Development Mechanism [CDM], emission reduction projects in developing countries are used to produce income with the sale of carbon credits. If the reforestation of Imperata grasslands with palm oil plantations fulfils the criteria for a CDM reforestation project, the plantation owners could earn additional income by the sale of the generated temporary emission reduction certificates.

In December 2006, a methodology for CDM- afforestation and reforestation project activities implemented for industrial and/or commercial uses was approved under the code AR-AM0005 (see UNFCCC 2007). Oil palm plantations are also defined as “forest” by the Indonesian designated national authorities. (see Murdiyarso et al. 2006. This is a precondition for a CDM afforestation and reforestation project.

According to IPCC 2006, full grown palm oil plantations store about 63 tonnes of carbon in above soil biomass, while Imperata grassland is calculated to store only 5.9-7.6 tonnes of carbon in above soil biomass by Vlek 2005.
Interestingly, Vlek 2005 calculates the above soil carbon storage of Imperata grassland to be 84,4 tonnes per hectare, which is even above the IPCC value.

b. With the development of sustainability criteria for biofuels in The Netherlands and the UK and other member states likely to follow, “sustainable” palm oil may well be sold at a premium price.


Dehue, Bart. (2006). Palm Oil and its By-Products as a Renewable Energy Source
Potential, Sustainability and Governance.Wageningen.

IPCC.(2006).IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories - Volume 4:
Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use. (05.02.2007)

Murdiyarso et al.(2006). Determination of eligible lands for A/R CDM project activities and of
priority districts for project development support in Indonesia. Indonesia: Center for
International Forestry Research.

ProForest. (2003). Discussion paper for the Round Table on Sustainable Oil Palm – Palm
oil, forests and sustainability: Oxford United Kingdom.

Vlek, Paul L.G.(2005). The potential of oil palm and forest plantations for carbon sequestration on
degraded land in Indonesia.

UNFCCC .(2007).Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). (18.01.2007)
posted on 2007-02-20 05:20 UTC by Dipl.-Wi.-Ing. Sebastian Meyer, Ecofys Germany GmbH

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