There are regional differences in biodiversity in terms of species and quantity. Land clearing due to development is a major cause of loss of biodiversity and is done for various reasons such as agriculture, infrastructural works and urbanization as examples. The blame that oil palm cultivation is the primary cause of loss of forest and wildlife habitat, particularly orang utan, is not correct. In Malaysia, oil palm cultivation forms only 39% of the land that has been cleared while the balance of 61% cleared land is not used to cultivate oil palm.
Apart from agriculture, there are many other contributory factors to loss of biodiversity. They are poaching, introduction of invasive species, climate change and bush fires. The effect of these other factors on biodiversity loss cannot be underestimated. As an example, just one bush fire that took place at Fort McMurray in Alberta, Canada recently, destroyed at least 400,000 hectares of land and caused havoc to the habitat of the caribou and cougars. The land area destroyed by one bushfire here is almost 8% of the total land cleared to plant oil palm in Malaysia over a period of 100 years. It is important to note that the livestock industry uses 82.5% of the world’s total agricultural land while oil palm occupies a mere 0.3%. In reality, therefore, on a global scale the livestock industry is the real culprit of biodiversity loss.
The study also found that biodiversity hotspots occur in all regions where the four major oil crops; viz. soya, rapeseed, sunflower and oil palm, are cultivated. It is, thus, not surprising that cultivation of soya, rapeseed and sunflower also have annihilated biodiversity. Between 2010 and 2015, the largest area amounting to 17.3 million ha of new land were planted with soya. 4.4 m ha were planted with oil palm, 3.0 m ha with rapeseed and 0.5 m ha with sunflower.
It was also found that in a comparison of countries that grow the four oil crops mentioned above, oil palm growing countries had the lowest CO2 emission per capita of 3.6MT CO2 per capita and the highest amount of land mass under forest, averaging 57.8%.
Land use for cultivation of all four major oils and fats has impacted biodiversity negatively to some extent. Oil palm cannot be blamed to be the worst crop for biodiversity loss. Wrong messaging can stagnate future expansion of oil palm and can hurt food security since palm oil is the leading source of oils and fats in the world.
This paper was presented at the “Biodiversity Forum 2016”, with the theme “Human-Wildlife Conflict Mitigation and Action in the Agricultural Sector” jointly organized by Malaysian Palm Oil Council (MPOC) with Department of Wildlife and National Parks, Peninsular Malaysia (PERHILITAN) in Awana Genting Resort on 23rd – 24th May 2016.
Author: Dr. Yew Foong Kheong (Malaysian Palm Oil Council – MPOC)