Oil Palm Reduces GHG Emissions from Degraded Peat Land

Peat land holds a stock of carbon that should be preserved. Peat lands comprise about 7 percent of the world area at 381 million hectares. Around 44 percent of peat lands are located in Russia and Europe. America has 40 percent and the rest is located in other countries (Joosten, 2009).

Naturally, peat produces green house gases, particularly CO2, CH4, and N2O from the process of decomposing organic matter and life of microorganisms. The green house gas emissions from peat vary considerably depending on factors such as the parent material of peat, land cover, vegetation, drainage management and management capacity (Oleszczuk, et al., 2008, Melling et al., 2005, 2007, 2010), and also depends on the emission measurement methodology, either the flux approach or stock approach (Khoon, et al, 2005).

The increasing need for land in the global agriculture causes peat to be used as well. Around 78 percent of the world’s peat land is in use for agriculture, of which 88 percent is located outside the tropics, and 12 percent in the tropics (Strack, 2008). In Indonesia peat land that can be used for agriculture (with the requirements set in the Agriculture Minister Regulation no. 14/permentan/PL.110 /2/2009) is about 6 million hectares (BB Litbang SLDP, 2008).

There have been many researches on emissions from tropical peat land in Indonesia and Malaysia. The researches include those conducted by Murayama and Bakar (1996), Hadi et al.,(2001), Melling et al., 2005, 2007, Germer and Souaerborn, 2008, Sabiham et al., 2012, and Sabiham, 2013. The empirical results had shown the following facts: (1) green house gas emissions vary as a result of variation in vegetation and water management in peat land; (2) in natural conditions peat (tropical peat forests, secondary peat forest) produce GHG emissions; and, (3) peat land planted with oil palm emits less green house gases.

The empirical results show that the green house gas emitted by oil palm plantations in peat land is lower than the emissions of peat land left to itself, and primary and secondary peat forest. This evidence also corrects the view generally held by NGOs claiming that oil palm plantations in peat increase the CO2 emissions.


Table 1.    Decreased CO2 Emission from Oil Palm Plantation in Degraded Peat Land

Land Use
Peat land

Emission Tonnes CO2/ha/Year


Primary Peat Forest 78,5 Melling, et al., (2007)
Secondary Peat Forest 127,0 Hadi, et al., (2001)
Peat Oil Palm 57,6 Melling, et al., (2007)
Peat Oil Palm 55,0 Melling, et al., (2005)
Peat Oil Palm 54,0 Murayama & Bakar (1996)
Peat Oil Palm 31,4 Germer and Sauaerborn (2008)


If we combine the empirical evidence with the measured increase in carbon stock from standing biomass (Chan, 2002), oil palm in peat does not only reduce CO2 emissions but also increases the stock of carbon in the peat ecosystem. The stock of fixed carbon in peat also rises with the age of plants (Sabiham, 2013).

Of the peat land in Indonesia, approximately 80 percent is categorized as degraded peat land (Joosten, 2008). Because of this, the use of peat land for oil palm plantations (with sustainable technology) is an important alternative for restoration and rehabilitation of peat land and at least reduces emissions from peat lands.

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