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Smithsonian scientist warns that palm oil development may threaten Amazon
Date:3/24/2009

lso have an impact on the climate. According to research by scientists at the Woods Hole Research Center, the 2.3 million square kilometers of land in the Brazilian Amazon suitable for oil palm cultivation store 42 billion tons of carbon. Conversion of primary forest to plantations releases at least 60 percent of above-ground biomass.

While Laurance and Butler are concerned that oil palm development could spur large-scale forest conversion in Amazonia, they propose ways to temper the most serious environmental impact of the expansion.

"Developers can be encouraged to adopt cultivation methods promoted by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, an industry-led initiative to improve its environmental performance. These include using natural pest control and composting in place of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers whenever possible, implementing no-burn policies and creating catchment ponds to reduce water pollution," said Butler. "The Brazilian government could require oil palm plantations to establish riparian buffer zones, maintain habitat corridors and protect wetlands areas to reduce impacts on biodiversity."

"Because oil palm plantations offer higher yields on a per hectare basis than either soy or beef production, one could argue that the replacement of existing cattle pasture with oil palmwithout displacing ranchers or farmers into forest areasmight not be such a bad thing," said Butler. "But it is absolutely critical that the transition be managed responsibly. Otherwise, destruction of the Amazon by industrial forces will continue apace."


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Contact: Beth King
kingb@si.edu
703-487-3770 x8216
Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute
Source:Eurekalert  

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