August 31, 2015

Drones Fight Deforestation in Malaysia

Drones Fight Deforestation in Malaysia

by Michael MK Khor @flickr

Flying camera drones are being used to monitor palm oil plantation activity, fighting illegal land clearing and deforestation in Malaysia.

In order to identify protected areas, single out especially rich environments and effectively keep tabs on what’s going on in the jungle, Malaysia’s forests must be surveyed from above. Drones have recently been employed to do this, cheaply and easily completing a task that once required helicopters, a lot of manpower and significant expense.

The monitoring is mainly being done by the palm oil companies themselves. These businesses are the ones responsible for much of the deforestation in Malaysia, but with deep pockets, intimate knowledge of Malaysian terrain and a tremendous pressure to clean up their act, palm oil producers are in many ways better outfitted to protect Malaysia’s forests than anyone else.

Palm oil trader Cargill was one of the first to adopt drones in its protection scheme. The company is so far using the drones mostly to identify rich, valuable forests – which industry professionals call “high carbon stock areas” – to avoid cutting down.

Cargill CEO John Hartmann said he’ll use drones to “…work with others in the industry in identifying high carbon stock areas and help overall industry to delink deforestation from agriculture,” in interview with Channel News Asia. This keeps Cargill in alignment with the Palm Oil Manifesto, an agreement signed by many palm oil producers pledging to do responsible business.

This kind of self-monitoring to reduce palm oil deforestation is all well and good, but the potential for drone protection is greater than that. According to a Malaysian drone company, the technology could also be used to monitor fires and hotspots – a major cause of air pollution in Malaysia. Authorities currently rely on delayed, low-quality satellite images to keep track of this (Channel News Asia).

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