PhD candidates from PPS presented work on potassium nutrition in smallholder oil palm plantations, and oil palm production chains in Thailand.
The Plant Production Systems chair group (PPS) is presently working on several topics related to sustainable palm oil. Two PPS PhD candidates conducting research on this subject, Siriluk Somnuek and Lotte Woittiez, were present at last year’s RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) conference, from 7 to 9 November in Bangkok. The RSPO is a not-for-profit organisation with the mission to transform markets to make sustainable palm oil the norm. It is mainly achieving this through sustainability certification of palm oil growers and processers. Every year, the RSPO has its General Assembly, which is preceded by a conference that attracts a large collection of company representatives, plantation managers, farmers, government officials, NGO staff, and researchers.
At the smallholder Linking and Learning session on November 6th, one day before this year’s main conference, Lotte presented some of her key research findings. In a 5-minute pitch, she explained the problem of poor potassium nutrition in smallholder oil palm plantations. She emphasised the importance of recycling waste products (‘empty fruit bunches’) from palm oil extraction mills back into the plantations, to recycle potassium and to improve soil quality. On November 8th, Siriluk and several other Thai colleagues presented their work on oil palm production chains in Thailand.
Smallholders were very high on the agenda of this year’s RSPO conference, as the certification of smallholders is a slow and difficult process. In Indonesia, 40% of the oil palm is produced by smallholders, and the productivity of their plantations is often still very poor. Suboptimal fertiliser application practices are among the key yield-limiting factors, combined with other issues such as the use of poor planting material, irregular and incorrect harvesting, and infestations with rats. Improving yields of smallholders in a sustainable way is one of the most complicated challenges to improve the sustainability of the entire oil palm sector.