Revolutionising Palm Oil: How Drones are Driving Sustainable Plantations in Malaysia

Sustainable plantation management with drone technology empowers Malaysia to balance palm oil production and environmental health for a sustainable future. This ensures long-term resource use and a healthy planet for generations to come.

Table of Contents

What is Sustainable Plantation Management?

Sustainable plantation management is the practice of cultivating plantations in a manner which protect the environmental and social quality of the land to ensure the environmental, social and economic value of the plantation is enhanced for long-term benefits.

Some of the key principles of sustainable plantation management include:

  • Site selection: Avoid choosing land areas with high conservation value or social importance.
  • Soil and water conservation: Reduce soil erosion and water pollution through practices such as reduced tillage and buffer strips. Optimise irrigation to conserve water.
  • Nutrient management: Apply fertilisers and other inputs efficiently to minimise environmental damage.
  • Pest and disease management: Use integrated pest management techniques to control pests and diseases without harming beneficial organisms or the environment.
  • Health and safety: Protect the health and safety of plantation workers and the nearby community.
Why Do We Need Sustainable Plantation Management?

Sustainable plantation management is crucial in balancing between the need for economic value generation, environmental conservation and social responsibility. Sustainable practices in plantation management could protect soil health, water quality and biodiversity. When the environment provides an optimum condition for the crops to grow healthily, the plantation acts as a valuable resource and is a source of income and jobs to the present rural communities and future generations. As human depends on natural resources to survive, human civilisation has advanced for the past millions of years to innovate technology which can help them in improving the productivity of agricultural land. One of the growing technologies applied in plantation management is drone.

How Drone Technology Help to Enhance Sustainability in Oil Palm Plantation?

Malaysia is a major producer of palm oil, with the total oil palm planted area in Malaysia is estimated at roughly 5.67 million hectares, reaching Crude Palm Oil production of 18.45 million tonnes in 2022. Even though oil palm plantations are economically important, there are significant sustainability challenges associated with them, such as greenhouse gas emissions from land use change, soil erosion and water pollution.

Besides that, the small-scale farmers in Malaysia also face challenges in operations, particularly when attempting to determine the yield and productivity by counting the number of palm trees within the plantation. Traditionally, oil palm tree crowns are manually counted on imageries or their location information is gathered through ground surveying using GPS.

Monitoring

Through the use of visible RGB cameras, near-infrared (NIR), hyperspectral and multispectral sensors, aerial scanning of the plantation using drones can spot differences in temporal and spatial reflectance and linked these changes to palm health to facilitate prompt action, rather than waiting for naked eye detection by workers. Moreover, based on the images taken, biomass monitoring is achieved to track the carbon stock which is an important data for climate-related reporting.

Yield tracking

Drones fly over and inside oil palm plantations and collect high resolution detailed photos from different angles using different sensor-based measurement and imaging techniques to auto-create yield maps. These maps are useful in telling the workers the location and timing to apply optimum amount of inputs, such as water, pesticide and fertiliser, to ensure resources are consumed responsibly. Besides that, the amount of fresh fruit bunch (FFB) can be accurately identified to estimate real-time oil palm yield as the drones can help to determine the weight and coordination of FFB on each palm.

Pesticide spraying

Drones can be used to spray pesticide a lot faster and fuller coverage than the conventional trunk injection method. With data obtained from a weed pressure map, workers can determine the location with higher population of weed and apply targeted pesticide spraying to protect overall soil health and water quality. Besides that, drone reduces the consumption of fossil fuels required by traditional heavy vehicles in the plantations, hence reduce the greenhouse gas emissions.

Drone technology is no stranger to oil palm plantations. Having a team of drone technology enthusiasts, industry experts and innovative engineers, Bernard Business Consulting is experienced in helping oil palm plantation companies to solve their operational and sustainability challenges since 2018. Feedback from the workers such as reduced resource consumption and better yield production are the testament to the practicality of drone technology to achieve sustainable plantation management. Drone technology is a simple yet powerful tool to help oil palm plantation companies to improve their yield and productivity while enhancing sustainability.

Technology is a man’s good friend when it is used wisely. Application of drone technology in oil palm plantation is important to enhance sustainability while improving operational excellence.

Contact us to help you to achieve sustainable plantation management.

Author
Ng Jia Xin
Ng Jia Xin

ESG and Sustainability Consultant

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