A Shattered Dream


Chapter 3

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Daunted by pests and incurable palm diseases  (cont'd)


Ganoderma BSR Disease                                                                                                                        pg 2

I was introduced to another incurable disease called Ganoderma Basal Stem Rot (BSR) though I was assured that the dead palms in my plantation were not due to this disease.

Nevertheless I became curious and began to browse through all articles on these incurable diseases. Below is what I have learned:


The BSR disease, which usually affects matured palms, is caused by a type of shelf or bracket fungus, Ganoderma and is lethal and incurable though it has been identified more than fifty years ago.

The disease is more prevalent in plantations, which have been replanted from coconut or oil palms. During replanting, if the felled coconut or oil palm trunks and stumps are left to rot in the field, various fruiting bodies of Ganoderma may be produced and thrive.

The attack by Ganoderma fungus will result in dry rot of internal tissues around the base of palms. The rotting of the palm base can cause the affected palms to easily topple during stormy weather.

The symptoms of BSR begin with the older fronds withering, drooping and turning brown. As older fronds continue to die, younger leaves may wilt and the tips may turn brown. If not detected early and no control measures taken, death of the affected trees may come within 6 to 12 months after symptoms develop, though in some affected plants they may hang on for several more years.

Though BSR disease has been in existence for a long time, many plantation owners tended to ignore it and considered it to be economically unimportant because it affected only some old palms.

It was reported that initially, the disease was mainly confined to plantations in coastal areas. Now it has not only reached epidemic proportions in coastal areas but also made considerable inroads into inland soils.

It has also been reported that BSR disease is present in more than 50% of the oil palm plantations in Peninsular Malaysia. Without treatment, more than 80% of the affected plants may die by the time they reach less than halfway through their lifespan. The losses can amount to a reduction of 25% to 45% yield in fresh fruit bunches.

In my subsequent trips to our plantation, I have made a few visits to some oil palm plantations around Pagoh. I was shocked to notice that in all the plantations I visited all were afflicted, some extensively, with this most annihilating disease. However, only the older palms were infected.

                             Palms afflicted by BSR                                  Ganoderma or Linchi mushrooms at base of palm

Reducing Risk and Control of Ganoderma BSR Disease

Sad to say, although this deadly disease has long been discovered there is currently no effective measure to eliminate it. However, having consulted the Plant Pathologist in MPOB who is very conversant with this disease and browsing through many publications on studies carried out by MPOB and other local research stations, I am now aware that so far there are only measures developed to reduce the risk and to control the disease. These are:

1. Proper sanitation Technique

To reduce the risk of Ganoderma BSR infection, MPOB has recommended that proper technique of sanitation be adopted during planting or replanting. The same technique can also be used to replace palms that have been afflicted with the disease.

It is recommended that at replanting, all old palm tissues are to be destroyed by shredding the trunks, stumps and roots into small fragments and spread them evenly to decompose. When the stumps and roots have been extracted, a pit measuring 1.5m x 1.5m x 1.5m is dug and refilled with nearby soil. New plants are then planted away from the former planting points.

It has been reported by MPOB that by adopting this technique, the incidence of BSR on replanted palms can be reduced by 20% after eight years.

2. Control Measures

Two techniques have so far been developed to control the BSR infected palms. But the use of both these control techniques can only prolong the productive life of the infected plants by delaying the progress of the infection.

One technique is the use of a pressure-injection apparatus capable of delivering fungicides to the affected palms quickly and efficiently. This apparatus was developed by MPOB. The most effective fungicides used in the studies carried out by MPOB are bromoconazole and hexaconazole, the later is available in Malaysia for controlling a broad spectrum of plant diseases. However, the cost effectiveness of the method has not been evaluated yet.

The other technique is soil mounding in areas with high incidence of BSR disease. This technique is to build soil mounds around the base of palms. The dimensions of a mound are approximately 0.75m radius at the base with a vertical height of 1.0m. This technique seems to be more cost effective and has been adopted in some plantations in this country.

3. Other measures

Lately I learned that a local research establishment had developed a biological control method to counter BSR. But without access to any of its published materials I have no clue how it works or how cost effective it is.
BSR is fast becoming a major threat to oil palm industry in Malaysia. Any information concerning BSR, its effective control and elimination methods should be well publicized and disseminated.

As mainly palms of over ten years old would be afflicted with BSR, big plantations would only adopt measures to prevent the spread of the disease and to prolong the economic life of the palms. However they would start replanting only if the oil palm FFB yield in an affected block had fallen below their set target.

4. Conclusion

It is alarming to note that Ganoderma BSR is fast becoming a major threat to oil palm cultivation and palm oil production in Malaysia.

Currently MPOB’s Plant Pathology Division has only two scientists working on this devastating disease, which has plagued the oil palm plantations in this country for over half a century. This is grossly inadequate considering that Malaysia is the world’s largest producer of palm oil, accounting for over 50% of the world’s production.

Malaysia’s palm oil industry, one of the pillars of our economy, is backed by numerous R&D works carried out by various private and government agencies like MPOB. For long-term sustainability in palm oil production, MPOB should also set up an adequate and dedicated group of scientists and researchers to address the issue of the above lethal and incurable oil palm diseases. My discussions with a MPOB's scientist on this subject, though informative, have not been very encouraging. As at the end of 2005, MPOB's Plant Pathology Division had only two scientists working earnestly on oil palm diseases.

Though I had all the MPOB's research papers, mostly presented at international conferences, I doubt I am able to deal with this disease if the palms in my small plantation were to be afflicted. What about other smallholders in the rural areas?

Many of the oil palm plantations are going into third generation of replanting and with no solution to eradicate this disease in sight, it is no wonder that many Malaysian plantation companies are starting to venture into oil palm cultivation in our neighboring countries which have greater virgin land mass. These countries will benefit from our R&D in palm oil products and bio-fuel, just as they did in displacing us as market leaders in rubber.

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