Our Plam Oil Industry Under Threat


Through extensive research and development (R&D) over the years, Malaysia has built a successful national brand in palm oil and will soon emerge as a leader in the production of bio-fuel.

However, not enough R&D is done to address a deadly disease, which is affecting many oil palm plantations in Malaysia.

This disease is called Ganoderma Basal Stem Rot (BSR).

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 fronts 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.

Sad to say, although this deadly disease has long been discovered there is currently no effective measure to eliminate it. So far there are only measures developed to reduce the risk and to control the disease.

To reduce the risk of Ganoderma BSR infection, Malaysian Palm Oil Board (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.

Besides sanitation, 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. 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.

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 this lethal oil palm disease.

Many of the oil palm plantations are going into third generation of replanting and with no solution to cure or eradicate this disease in sight, it is no wonder that many Malaysian plantation companies are starting to venture into oil palm cultivation in our neighbouring countries which have greater virgin land mass. These countries will benefit from our R&D in palm oil products and bio-fuel and may one day displace us as a market leader in palm oil production.


The above was published in Star Two on 7/2/06

nakedeyeview.com.my 2008