Role of the Malaysian Unified Classification of Organic Soils (MUCOS) in the
MSPO Certification Scheme

Param Agricultural Soil Surveys (M) Sdn. Bhd.
A4-3 Jalan 17/13, 46400 Petaling Jaya, Selangor Darul Ehsan, Malaysia 


Organic soils or peat as they are generally referred to remains a hot and controversial matter especially when oil palms are planted on these soils.  The western NGO’s often claim that the drainage and utilization of these organic soils for oil palm cultivation results in large amounts of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, loss of forests and biodiversity and peat fires with the associated haze and related problems.  On the other hand, countries in the Tropics particularly in Southeast Asia (Indonesia and Malaysia) do not fully agree.  These countries claim that the NGOs do not fully present the correct picture and actually exaggerate the problem while the temperate countries continue to utilize their peats for generating energy or planting crops.

This paper identifies the role played by the Malaysian Unified Classification of Organic Soils (MUCOS) in trying to provide a clearer scientific picture and the role plays in the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO) Certification Scheme.

The problem starts with the definition of what to call PEAT.  Simply applying temperate definitions of peat or organic soils to tropical peats is WRONG.  Temperate peats are developed over sphagnum, moss and grasses while the tropical peats are developed from materials which originate from tropical wetland forests.  Consequently, tropical peats have large amounts of wood (logs) within their profile.  The proper mapping of the different types of tropical soils is required.  Not simply labelling all tropical organic soils as PEAT.

MUCOS developed by the author and the simplified Keys to identify the different types of tropical organic soils allows us to separate the tropical peats into those which can give good yields and economically viable results.  On the other hand, some organic soils due to the characteristics such as the presence of logs should NEVER be developed.  This classification also separates the tropical organic soils into those which are likely to give out more GHG emissions while other do not.  Hence the problem that most NGO’s simply call all tropical organic soils “PEATS”.

The paper also highlights with examples how the tropical peats can be separated into nine soil management groups based on their characteristics.  Their yield and cost of development to maturity can be used to partition these tropical organics into those that must be conserved against those that can be developed.  Unfortunately, because oil palm can produce up to 6-8 tons/ha of oil compared to 0.6 tones/ha of rapeseed etc.  OIL PALM remains a serious threat to other oil crops.  With the world population increasing, oil palm can be a saviour to produce edible oils and be used for biofuels.  Let SCIENCE and NOT EMOSIONS or HALF-TRUTHS lead the way.