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By Devane Sharma

Over the last century, palm oil has grown to become the most-consumed vegetable oil. Its popularity is driven, among other factors, by the fact that oil palms produce the most vegetable oil per unit of area. Demand for vegetable oils continues to rise as the world’s population grows while competing uses for land place constraints on the growth of plantations.

A critical factor that affects oil palm production is pests. Oil palms attract a large number of pests. Therefore, effective pest management is vital in ensuring these crops thrive. Common palm oil pests include bagworms, and caterpillars, among others. Rats pose a particular menace, but studying the use of nature has proven helpful in developing methods to keep pests at bay. Efforts have helped it develop a natural method of managing the pests.

Rats Reduce Oil Palm Yields by as Much as 10%

In oil palm plantations, rats feed on the fat-rich oil palm fruits of mature palms and on stems in the immature palms which can even result in the palm’s death. With their speed and agility, they’re a menace, and planters struggle to manage their numbers. Industry experts estimate that rats can reduce oil palm yields by as much as 10%.

Tyto alba- more commonly known as the barn owl

Natural Pest Control with Barn Owls

Barn owls (Tyto alba) are a ghostly pale-colored species of owls that serve as effective natural predators of rats. A pair of barn owls can consume as many as 1,800 rats in a year and don’t disrupt the lifecycles of other animals found in palm plantations. These birds hunt over vast areas, traveling up to seven kilometers in one night.

During the day, this owl roosts in hidden, quiet places. At night, it’ll hunt for rats by following the sounds emitted by the rodents. Barn owls are an unusual bird species in that they don’t build nests but rely on suitable sites in their environment. Therefore, Musim Mas planted more nest boxes around the group’s plantations to increase the barn owl population.

Musim Mas Integrated Pest Management System

The use of barn owls to combat rat infestations is an example of the Musim Mas Group’s efforts to manage pests in plantations sustainably and economically. Through its Integrated Pest Management (IPM) approach, the group carefully studies the life cycles of pests and their interaction with the environment to find viable solutions.

It aims to keep pesticides and other interventions to economically justified levels and reduce or minimize risks to human health and the environment. IPM also encourages the growth of healthy crops with the least possible disruption to agroecosystems and natural pest control mechanisms. This is in line with Musim Mas’ sustainable farming practices.

As a group that places sustainability among its top priorities, Musim Mas’ IPM approach has helped it reduce its reliance on chemical fertilizers and pesticides and replace them with organic substitutes. Through this approach, the group has phased out rodenticides such as Brodifacoum and insecticides such as Permethrin. Read more about Musim Mas’ sustainability efforts in the group’s annual Sustainability Report.