With 100,000 hectares of its own plantations as well as almost another 100,000 hectares belonging to partner smallholder farmers, Asian Agri has the potential to have a significant impact on the environment.
It is for this reason that the company commits to a strict sustainability policy as well as a variety of best management practices to meet the company’s 5Cs business philosophy: that its activities should be good for community, country, climate and customer, and only then will they be good for the company.
Reducing Pesticide Usage
Traditionally, the easiest way to rid oil palm plantations of pests was to use chemical pesticides. But this can damage the ecosystem and, if not used correctly, even the plantations themselves. How then to ensure a good crop while protecting the environment?
Asian Agri employs natural predators to control pests, and works with local farmers to encourage them to also adopt the practice.
Rats are a common problem in oil palm plantations, eating the crop before it is ready for harvest. To control their numbers, Asian Agri uses Tyto Alba, more commonly known as the barn owl. We build houses for one owl on every 25 hectares of land – as these birds are fiercely territorial this distance is needed to prevent conflict. A single owl can eat three to five rats in a single night, making them a highly efficient method of pest control.
Asian Agri employs dedicated staff to care for the owls, keeping track of their health and numbers. “We check their health regularly, and it is not uncommon to find a baby owl in a cage,” said Zulkarnaen, an owl keeper, who like many Indonesians uses only one name.
“After they are six months old, they will leave the cage and find their own nest. We let them go into nature and don’t keep them.”
Natural predators are also used to deal with the caterpillars that attack oil palms. Asian Agri breeds and releases Sycanus insects, then plants flowers they like to call home, such as Turnera subulata, across the plantations.
No Deforestation or Burning
Asian Agri is committed to a no deforestation policy and to conserving High Carbon Stock (HCS) forests. Asian Agri has set up a Technical Committee to define what constitutes HCS forests, taking into account potential greenhouse gas emissions and regional socio economic factors. The Technical Committee consists of six highly-experienced scientists with expertise in above and below ground biomass, soil carbon, remote-sensing, socio-economics and sustainable development, the global oil palm industry, and sustainability assessment.
Asian Agri was one of the first oil palm companies to ban the use of fire for land clearance in 1994, and since then has worked with local communities to provide them with the knowledge and economic incentives they need to prevent fire on their own land through the Fire Free Village Program (FFVP).
Under FFVP, partner villages are given education on the dangers of fire and on better and safer ways to clear their land. By successfully preventing fire on their land, communities can qualify for grants for infrastructure of their choice, such as roads, bridges and places of worship.
Zero Waste Management
Asian Agri’s zero-waste management policy governs reduction, monitoring and management of waste. We first identified waste or by-products that can be reused in our operations such as Empty Fruit Bunch (EFB) and Palm Oil Mill Effluent (POME). We then passed this information to our R&D department in order to discover nutrients which could substitute chemical fertilizers. R&D will recommend methods and dosage to achieve optimum yield.
Solid waste such as palm fibers and palm shells are used as biomass fuel for boilers to run steam turbines in our mills, providing a renewable source of energy. Liquid waste is treated and monitored before being released into the stream or onto land. We conduct routine quality assessments by external parties to ensure that we comply with all Indonesian laws and regulations.
In our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Asian Agri has built ten biogas power plants by 2019. The 10 biogas power plants convert organic waste from the production process into clean energy, and will have a combined power generation capacity of 44MW.
Because methane is significantly cleaner than coal and other fossil fuels, the biogas plants have major environmental benefits, reducing emissions at our palm oil mills which use the biogas by 60 per cent. We also plan to install methane capture facilities at our mills by 2020, further reducing emissions.
The biogas plants support the Indonesian government’s plan to increase power generation in the country by 35,000 MW from 2015 to 2019, and for 25 per cent of that new power to be generated from renewable sources. The government’s plan is in response to a shortage of electricity generation capacity as demand in the country grows.