Vital to purge oil palm cancer before it is too late

I wish to refer to the report "Alert out for oil palm blight" (The Star, July 22).

I agree with Plantation Industry and Commodity Minister Peter Chin Fah Kui that there is currently not an effective measure to eliminate the cancer-like oil palm disease known as Ganoderma Basal Stem Rot (BSR), which is causing serious losses to the oil palm industry. But I do not agree with the Minister that the BSR is only prevalent in smallholdings.

As a small-time oil palm grower for about five years starting from scratch, I have the opportunity to learn more about some common oil palm diseases. As BSR usually affects matured palms, the young palms in my plantation are currently free from the disease.

But I took the initiative to learn more about it and visited a couple of big oil palm estates near mine. From my visits and discussions with the estate managers, I am convinced that the BSR disease is prevalent also in big oil palm estates.

I also learned that the estates I visited adopted only soil mounding in blocks with high incidence of BSR. This technique involves building soil mounds around the base of palms. They did not fell their afflicted palms at will.

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 bunch yield in an affected block had fallen below their set target.

The chemical injection mentioned by the Minister and developed by Malaysian Palm Oil Board (MPOB) has not been proven to be cost effective.

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.

My discussions with a MPOB's scientist on this subject, though informative, have not been very encouraging. As at the end of last year, MPOB's Plant Pathology Division had only two scientists working earnestly on oil palm diseases.

Though I had all their research papers, mostly presented at international conferences, I doubt I am able to deal with this disease if the palms in my small plantation are afflicted.

And the Minister is expecting the smallholders in the rural areas to know how to deal with this disease?


The above was published in The Star on 27/07/06. 2008