Palm oil planters get wise with bird of prey pest control

Wed Apr 20, 2011 4:08am EDT
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By Michael Taylor

JAKARTA (Reuters Life!) - The palm oil industry has gone bird crazy by drafting owls to combat the menace of rodent pests, hoping in the process to burnish its green credentials and save money.

Leading Southeast Asian producers of the vegetable oil have tried different pest control schemes over the years, from snakes to poisons, but the high success rate -- and low cost -- of owls has prompted more planters to turn to them for help in reducing damage.

Some even have designated "owl trainers" who tend the birds from when they are still in the shell.

"We are using owls in our South Sumatra estates," said Michael Kesuma, head of investor relations at Indonesian palm oil producer Sampoerna Agro, which has taken such pains to introduce the birds that houses have been built for them in some areas.

"In those problem areas, I personally have seen the results of having owls. At the bottom of the owl houses, which are on a trunk, you see rat or rodent bones -- they are doing their job."

Malaysia and Indonesia account for more than 90 percent of the world's supply of palm oil, while other smaller producing nations include Colombia, Benin, Kenya and Ghana.

The edible oil, which originates from Africa, is used to make everything from biscuits to ice cream.

But according to the green group Deforestation Watch, crop losses caused by rats feeding on the palm fruit has been estimated to be around 5 percent of the oil yield.   Continued...