China group hails Sawit’s sustainable ‘cow sense’
Published on: Sunday, December 01, 2019
By: Kan Yaw Chong
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The China delegation with Sawit Kinabalu Group Managing Director Masri Pudin and Dr Azid.
HERE we report a fantastic story of a national oil palm productivity champion which has done something unusual – cattle-rearing big time under oil palms!    

A WWF-China led business group heard palm yields were highest and won Malaysia’s “Most Productive Estate” award for two consecutive years where Sawit Kinabalu grazed a large herd of cattle under its palms at its 22,000-hectrae Balung Plantation, Tawau!     

That’s a stunning testimony on the beauty of environment-friendly and responsible agricultural practices from the proverbial “horse’s mouth” of corporate Vet Dr Mohd Azid Kabul – General Manager of SK subsidiary Farm Product Sdn Bhd, during a field briefing last Friday.  

Jaws dropped from a curious China group, after hearing not one drop of herbicide had been used for years since cows were used as natural lawn mowers.

The good part of it is China was listening in. And why not? It confirms again that nature still knows best.

Instead of killing the grass with poison, grazing cows keep good soil flora or bacteria alive and happy, fertilising the soil via their own microscopic droppings, thriving grass keep the soil moist and maintain loam – best of the best layer of natural nutrient-rich top soil.

Besides being nutritive, loam is usually porous, keeps the whole layer of top soil hydrated and easy for air to circulate.

Cow dungs, which encourage beetle and bacterial activities, further bring down more nutrients in to soil for the palms to feed their systems into greater productiveness.

That’s what we think might have happened – very much like going back to nature where every waste becomes a benevolent resource that help build robustness across all parts of a living ecosystem, keeping them healthy and productive in a positive food chain.              

China group brought to see highest yield estate in Malaysia 

After breakfast and briefing in an air-conditioned room by Group Managing Director Masri Puding, Dr Azid, too, a whole convoy went to the humid field and came prepared with the great story of hope.

He said to the China group: “As you have heard from Masri, who told you earlier, the highest yield for productivity in Malaysia for two years consecutively is from this district!”

“And it so happened that this particular estate has got cattle breeding under the farm all this while (since 2004). It just proves that point especially among our planter community that when you put cattle systematically under your palms it will not harm the palms. Instead, they will produce more,”  

The 15,000-strong Project Cattle saga 

After introducing Senior Livestock Executive Husbudie Bacho, Dr Azid gave us a very interesting running story of Sawit’s inspirational Project Cattle saga.  

“We have a total of almost 15,000 heads distributed all over 17 of our 35 estates that got cattle grazing – 14,961 heads to be exact, 31pc in Tawau, 52pc in Lahad Datu and the rest in only one estate in the West Coast – Kudat, averaging 309 heads per group but we have 500 heads here in this Balung group.”    


Dr Azid briefing Zhonghao. 

It’s about the sustainability issue from Day One 

“But from Day One, the very concept of putting cattle under palms which started in 2005 is pretty much working on the sustainability issue,” Dr Azid noted.

“The very first reason why we put cattle under palms is help estates in reducing the use of chemicals. We call them biological lawn mowers which provide biological control to the palms and also by doing that, it supports our sustainability initiative which is pretty much all about actions on the three pillars: the Profit, People and Earth.

“First of all, reduce use of chemicals, the second thing over the years is not only reduce use of chemicals, what must be noted is that the cattle are not only surviving and they are multiplying!” he told the China group. 

“When we started project in 2004, the yield per hectare in our Group was low but over last 14 years, as of 2018, our yield gradually increased from single digit to 15. 97 metric tonnes per hectare as of October 2019.” 

“Of course, there are multi-factors but the point is a common concern a Vet like myself share with my planter colleagues is whatever we do with our estate, we must make sure that our golden trees that produce the golden oil will continue to produce the golden oil,” Dr Azid related to the Chinese.

The day when Sawit discovered cows make new business sense  

“So, what we did when we introduced the integrated system, we went back to nature for the control of weeds. At the same time, when we discovered the ability of animals to multiply under the palms, that’s how we realised it can become a new business for Sawit, as mentioned by Masri in the office briefing. So this is our new business now, producing cattle under the palms in our oil palm estate,” Dr Azid noted. 

In fact, from Sawit’s experience, Masri cited 2,000 hectares of plantation can support 5,000 heads of cattle.

So imagine the staggering potential of cattle more than one million hectares of Sabah’s oil palm plantations can produce, Masri noted in his speech.


No extra land use needed to produce cattle

Dr Azid continued: “That’s why we call our cattle integration under the palms a “Zero Land Ruminant Production System” because we don’t use any more land, we use the same piece of land to produce the cattle, very much of trying to tell everyone in the world who are concerned that 70pc of all agricultural land is used for cattle farming. This story (of fear) actually comes from another part of the world. But here in Malaysia we are developing cattle farms by integrating them under exiting palms. 

“That is why we don’t use anymore extra land to produce our cattle. We have shown that it is compatible to have cattle under the palms but you must do it systematically, just like the way our palms are being managed, it must be managed in a manner that is productive and sustainable.

“So I just highlight again, this estate has won the award for the highest production in Malaysia and this graph shows the reduction for chemical use when we had the cattle (point to the graph).” 


Integratedagricultureat Sawit Kinabalu – cattle grazing under the palms. 

Grazing cause use of chemicals much reduced  

Highlighting an ongoing study, Dr Azid said:

“At this moment, we have one block here in this estate where we do not put cattle, where we don’t allow the cattle to graze as a matter of control, just to see what difference in terms of. It’s over one year already, I would say it’s not conclusive yet but all our observations so far shows the block that had no cattle grazing, productivity is the same as the ones that have cattle. 

However, where there were no cattle grazing, we had to spend more on the weed. Blocks where cattle are grazing the use of chemicals is much reduced! 

What’s how we put cattle under our palms.”  

But back to a key point.

No future with mounting hazards under linear economic system  

For more than 200 years, the first three industrial revolutions promoted just one singular business preoccupation – profit, under a linear economic system.

But so much irreversible destruction and depletion of resources plus mounting hazards, vulnerabilities and the spectre of the worst await humanity, many perceptive people realise that the world has no future under business as usual.

So people need be award that a strong undercurrent to shift the linear economy to the circular economy or a so called 4th Industrial Revolution that mimics the way nature works (eg, natural productive processes leave no hazardous waste famously illustrated by oxygen is a waste by-product of photosynthesis) is happening actively everywhere.

Profit is still crucial but the investment rhetoric has changed   

Yes, profitability is still a crucial but making profits by exposing the Earth and the People to a trail of fatal hazards and vulnerabilities will no longer be tolerated by the future generation.

The young generation know they have no future under the linear economic system of production and wealth creation and are protesting by the millions.           

The encouraging part is as I listened to Masri and Dr Azid spoke.

Said Dr Azid:

“That’s why along the way pretty much going along with the three pillars of sustainability – Profit; People and Earth, we cannot invest on anything we do without money, so whatever we do whether oil palm or cattle it has sustainability issues.”    

Yes profit is still a must but the investment rhetoric has expanded to beyond just cash surplus.  

From biomass to proven nutritive ruminant feeds

To turn cows into a new business, Dr Azid had told the China group how another story how Sawit turns its biomass into feeds which fatten its cows fit for the market.   

“Later the afternoon we will show you how we process the fronds (palm leaves) into complete mixed feeds – total mixed feeds that have been able to grow cattle and also to allow the cattle to produce milk. “

He added: “We will show you how we use the whole fronds together with the palm kernels combined with a few other ingredients to make total mixed feeds which are able to fatten the cattle and also produce milk at the same time.”  

Keen interest on feeds from biomass 

At the feeds factory visiting trip, the China group showed great interest.

Said Sophie Zhao, a derivative trader from Founder Securities:

“This is very interesting because in China we use huge amounts of animal feeds.”

So Dr Azid concluded:  “I believe these activities in which we move the cattle almost everyday from one grazing area to another under the palms had contributed to producing the highest yield rate in Malaysia and in Sawit we know that productivity crucial to sustainability.”

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