The Netherlands/Malaysia — The Netherlands and Malaysia have joined forces to dispel the confusion that has arisen surrounding greenhouse gas emissions from oilpalm cultivation in tropical peatland areas. Dutch Minister Cramer (Housing, Regional Development and Environment) and Malaysian Minister Chin (Plantation Industries and Commodities) set up the Joint Committee on Carbon Emissions, which is charged to shed light on this subject in the coming years. The cultivation of oil palms in Malaysian and Indonesian peatlands has been under fire for some time now, because large quantities of CO2 are released when peatlands are drained for oilpalm production and the peat then oxidizes. A 2006 study by Delft Hydraulics indicates that the conversion of peat forests causes a CO2-emission of 2 billion tons annually, or 8% of the CO2-emissions caused worldwide by the burning of fossil fuels. The findings of this alarming report, however, have been brought into doubt by Malaysia. Malaysia points to a scientific publication showing that CO2-emissions from a forest floor are in fact higher than those from the soils of a oil palm plantation. Together, these publications have caused confusion regarding the carbonbalance, and especially about the effects of the cultivation of tropical peatlands. From a new independent study by Alterra (part of Wageningen UR), conducted at the request of both ministers, it now appears that the content of CO2 released from different types of tropical peatlands strongly varies, depending on water retention and drainage and land use. In an undisturbed peat forest, the peat layer thickens because organic matter is poorly decomposed in the wet and acidic environment. Over the course of the centuries, peat forests therefore became important carbon reservoirs. That carbon is now being freed in a short period of time by the drainage and conversion to oil palm plantations. With the groundwater level deeper, no peat layer is formed. Rather, the peat is decomposed because oxygen becomes available for micro-organisms. Many of the peat forests in Malaysia and Indonesia are degraded and influenced by drainage, which means in some cases they release more CO2 than they capture in their biomass. The Netherlands and Malaysia have now established an outline agreement for a research programme that will be supervised by the Joint Committee on Carbon Emissions. This research will aim in part to quantify the complete carboncycle and in part to answer the question of how plantations can best be managed so as to release as little greenhouse gases as possible. The knowledge gained through these efforts should lead to solutions to push back the release of greenhouse gasses from tropical peatlandsut only one arrest had been made despite the fact that the culprits were well known. In respect of Allied Timbers, Mr Kanyekanye said that none of their estates had been gazetted for land resettlement but were being affected by illegal settlers who were defying orders to vacate the estates. Mr Kanyekanye said they were having problems in that the illegal settlers were not heeding awareness campaigns to desist from starting fires between July 31 and October 31 as prescribed by law. In addition he said that it was unfortunate that perpetrators were getting lighter sentences at the courts with some of them getting fines of only $20 000 despite the fact that they would have caused damage running into millions of dollars. He, however, said that despite the loses, production in the industry was expected to double as all energy will be concentrated on massive harvesting of the older trees that survived the fire. As Allied Timbers, he said they were focusing on engaging in massive harvesting of burnt timber at their Muteo Estates along Harare/Masvingo road with all the harvested timber being processed into mining props for platinum mines in South Africa and other mines in Botswana. As a solution to the continuous outbreaks, Mr Kanyekanye said that there was need for Government to make special provision to remove settlers off the plantations and also engage other arms of Govern-ment such as the army to drive away the illegal settlers. He called for the adoption of a plantation policy that was crafted by the industry, which among other issues calls for settlement bordering estates to be at least five kilometres from the edge of the forest plantation.