My Blog

My WordPress Blog


Oil palm – a potential crop for circular economy  

India has progressed reasonably well towards the area coverage under oil palm plantation through farmers, specifically in the States such as Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and others where largescale plantation, a series of palm oil mill and downstream production facilities exist. The industry by and large have realised the importance and need for a sustainable growth all around. 

The way forward 

We always continue our focus only on improvement of crop productivity, area coverage and oil extraction rate but the development of an efficient value chain for by-products and bio-mass remain muted. Our oil palm industry should aim to bring efficiency improvement in operation through effective and environment friendly practices, instead of only remain in the domain of developer cum processor in the state.  

Tentatively, oil palm produces more than 23 tonnes biomass per hectare per year (as fresh crop residue in the field and mill). There is a need to focus on recycling, reusing the bio-mass and reducing waste rather than focusing only on crop output for the last three decades. This industry has huge potential to be at the forefront of the circular economy. Farm mechanisation and waste recovery in the mill are complementary technologies, are mutually dependent and form technological building blocks of circular economy. 

We are moving towards a new era. Robotic solutions with infusion of Artificial Intelligence (AI) shall provide reliability and efficiency improvement in operation both in the field and in the mill. We have to reduce dependence on fossil fuel for energy production. It is possible to develop value added products by creating value chain for huge bio-mass generated while processing the crop in the mill and in the field. 

Strategy to manage

There should be a strategy to manage and utilise huge volume of biomass through “on- and off-farm” management practices. The Government should come forward to support individual farmers financially to encourage the use of biomass in the field and avoid nutrient mining and developer as well, who takes the initiative by creating a value chain for the bio-mass as feedstock for the production of biogas, say Bio- CNG or CBG. A pilot project needs to be developed accordingly. This requires investment. This is possible through a partnership process between the Process owner (for equity investment) and the Development partner (for various confidence-building measures and training etc.). The government should act as a catalyst to support such initiatives, since there is good scope for value addition and make the environment good and green. Recycling, reusing and investing in R&D are the keys to a comprehensive strategy towards circular economy. 

I have no iota of doubt that oil palm in India will bring Yellow Revolution in future through massive domestic production of palm oil along with other oil seed crops, which contributes to Food Security in India. We should concentrate on a holistic farming system that focuses on soil health, food quality, biodiversity improvement and water and air quality through various methods such as reducing the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, reducing tillage, integrating livestock etc. Oil Palm is one of the best crops in this regard, provided we undertake and implement such practices across all oil palm growing States in India. Awareness and implementation are distinct but efforts are needed to bridge this gap. Proper distribution of resources and adequate training for trainers and stakeholders are essential. 

We need to build a strong coalition of R&D institutes, environmentalists, government and Corporate houses which generally look after emerging needs and issues. Regulations alone are not sufficient. Practical implementation and joint efforts from government, industry and other stakeholders are needed to achieve economic and environmental goals. It is beyond doubt that the government is working to support the farmers, but quantifying these efforts for transparency is necessary. Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are making efforts to implement the use of biofertilizers, organic farming, and efficient water resource management for farmers. The Indian Institute of Oil Palm Research supports these initiatives by providing technology and encouragement.     

 The author is former CEO-Oil Palm Plantation, Godrej Agrovet Ltd. Views expressed are personal. 


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *