Introduction to Agro-management

Plantation tree crop management

In Southeast Asia, plantation tree crops comprise mainly oil palm (Elaeis guineensis), rubber (Hevea brasiliensis) and cocoa (Theobroma cacao). Their management by large plantation companies has always been based on scientific principles and results, and the old adage taken from Sanskrit, the classical, literary language developed from about 1500 B.C. by the Hindus in Northern India (Johnson, 1995):

“Upon this handful of soil our survival depends. Husband it and it will grow our food, our fuel and our shelter and surround us with beauty. Abuse it and the soil will collapse and die taking man with it”.

In Malaysia, field experimentation on plant breeding and agronomic requirements of oil palm commenced in the 1920s but intensive research only took off from the late 1960s coinciding with the increased interest in oil palm as an alternative crop to rubber. This was in line with the country crop diversification programme in the early 1970s. Research on the cultivation of rubber has a longer history but unfortunately, interest in the crop started to wane from the late 1980s resulting in a sharp decline in research activities in Malaysia. Although the current rubber prices make it an attractive second perennial crop and commonly more profitable than oil palm on marginal soils, they came a tinge too late as most areas have been converted to oil palm. However, if the current prices and prospect continue to be good, it might be worthwhile to seriously consider replanting oil palms on existing marginal and unsuitable soils with rubber, if it is more profitable. Cocoa, a once potential plantation tree crop was debilitated by low soil pH, vascular streak dieback and cocoa pod borer apart from unsubstantiated and unproven cultivation techniques for the locality. It is now just a smallholder crop in much of Southeast Asia. Coconut has always been largely a smallholder crop or a shade tree for cocoa although some plantations have been planting the newer, high yielding variety called MATAG.

Traditionally, successful tree crop cultivation requires matching crops to soils, maintaining if not improving soil fertility, understanding the crop habit and management requirement, adapting technology to changing scenarios particularly labour and the environment, control of production cost and business consideration including marketing. However, in today’s ideology, crop production research and management is insufficient to sustain the crop. We need to consider transparency, traceability, ecology, environment and social responsibility in the sustainability of a crop. Perhaps, we could modernise the adage from Sankrit by simply changing the word “soil” to “environment”, although it is yet to be proven and substantiated to be most relevant to agriculture in particular when it is way beyond the boundary of agricultural land, and most of all, it is yet to be understood.

We shall start off this write-up with the management of oil palm, the largest plantation tree crops in the World. However, this website presents only our views and published work on the best agro-management practices for tree crop plantations. Those interested in the details should refer to the following books:

  1. The oil palm by Corley and Tinker,
  2. Rubber by Webster and Baulkwill, and
  3. Cocoa by Wood and Lass
  4. Coconut by Ohler

We shall appreciate your views, comments and suggestions on the topics and papers presented here.

Reference

Corley, R.H.V. and Tinker, P.B. (2003) The Oil Palm. 4 th Edition, Blackwell Science Ltd., England: 562 pp.

Ohler, J.G. (1999) Modern Coconut Management: Palm Cultivation and Products. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and Universiteit Leiden, Intermediate Technology Publications, England: 458 pp.

Johnston, A.E. (1995). The Sustainability and Increase of Agricultural Productivity, the Current Dilemma. In: 24th IPI Colloquium, Chiang Mai, Thailand: Preprint.

Webster, C.C. and Baulkwill, W.J. (1989) Rubber. Tropical Agricultural Series, Longman Scientific and Technical, England: 614 pp.

Wood, G.A.R. and Lass, R.A. (1985) Cocoa. 4 th Edition, Tropical Agricultural Series, Longman Group Ltd., England: 620 pp.

Contributor 
Goh, K.J.

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