When it comes to land use, the oil palm tree stands tall. This “golden crop” is the most efficient oil crop in the world. Sustainably grown in Malaysia, this stately tree feeds billions, brings prosperity to farmers and nurtures its environment. And it accomplishes this on just a tiny sliver of the world’s farmland. Now, that’s smart growth!
The world has four major oil seed crops: oil palm, soybean, sunflower and canola (rapeseed). Together, they use 3.55 percent of the world’s total agricultural land. Oil palm occupies the least land: just 0.23 percent of the world’s farmland. Sunflower uses 0.51 percent, rapeseed 0.67 percent and soybean, the most at 2.14 percent.
Episode two of the Asian Food Channel television show, Eating Wild, explored how the Malaysian palm oil industry is protecting the abundant wildlife on the island of Borneo. Wildlife explorer Nigel Marven and chef Anis Nabilah toured Malaysia’s pristine landscape together, which then inspires Nabilah’s spicy, locally sourced recipes. In this episode, Marven and Nabilah interacted with native Bornean wildlife such as flying lizards and a feisty young python. Two Vietnamese-influenced dishes are also prepared using Malaysian sustainable palm oil. The antioxidant-rich oil is grown in the same region where the wildlife thrives.
With almost six million hectares of land planted with oil palm, the palm oil industry plays a major role in contributing towards Malaysian revenue. In 2018, more than RM 68 billion was generated by the oil palm industry (MPOC Europe, 2020). The industry also supported more than two million people, directly and indirectly, for their livelihood (MPOC, 2019).
The six million hectares of oil palm plantation represents 17% of total Malaysian land mass. At the same time, Malaysia still maintains 53% of its land, under forest. Malaysia is one of the megadiverse countries in the world. There are 306 species of mammals, 742 species of birds, 567 species of reptiles, 242 species of amphibians and more than 150,000 species of invertebrates in Malaysia (Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of Malaysia, 2015).
The richness of Malaysian biodiversity is not limited only to the forest. Many species of wildlife have been spotted and recorded within the oil palm plantations. This article focuses on bird diversity in an oil palm plantation landscape. A study by Azhar et al., (2013) recorded 163 species of birds in oil palm plantations. This account for 22% of all bird species which is the highest recorded in Malaysia. Another study in oil palm plantations by Jambari et al., (2012) recorded 72 species while a similar study in Sarawak recorded 42 species (Amit et al., 2014).
Birds play an important role in an ecosystem because they have significant effects on vertebrates (Kross et al., 2018), herbivorous insects and plants (Mäntylä et al., 2011). They provide important ecosystem services such as pest control (Karp et al., 2013), seed dispersal and pollination (Sekercioglu et al., 2016).