Sustainable Oil Palm Farming / Pests and diseases—Background

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Download: Module 5: Pests and Diseases

Oil palm pests are animals, usually insects (such as caterpillars), or mammals (such as rats), which cause damage to the palms. Diseases on the other hand, are caused by microorganisms such as fungi, bacteria and viruses. Pests and diseases can reduce oil palm yield, damage fruit bunches or the palms, and sometimes even kill the palm.

It is important to monitor the plantation at least every two months, to find pest and disease outbreaks as early as possible.

The most common pests and diseases of oil palm in Southeast Asia are:

  • Rats (cause damage to fruit bunches)
  • Leaf-eating insects (cause damage to palm leaves)
  • Rhinoceros beetles (cause damage to the leaves and the growing point of immature palms)
  • Stem rot (a severe fungal infection of the trunk that can kill the palm)

Good maintenance of the plantation helps prevent the outbreak of pests and diseases. There are several ways in which damage from pests and diseases can be limited, such as:

  • Ensuring a healthy cover of soft weeds or legume plants which attract natural enemies of pests;
  • Ensuring a clean plantation (e.g. no rotting palm trunks) helps prevent Oryctes outbreaks;
  • Leaving snakes and other predators alive helps keep rats under control;
  • Ensuring good access to the palms makes it easier to find outbreaks of pests and diseases in an early stage.

Pesticides should be used as little as possible, because they will do damage to the useful insects and animals living in and around the plantation. Farmers applying pesticides should always wear full protective clothing see (Module 3: Plantation Maintenance).

To carry out pest and disease control efficiently and effectively, the following sections can be used as a helpful guide.


The material from Pests and diseases—Background is sourced from Smallholder Oil Palm Handbook and put together by Lotte Suzanne Woittiez (Wageningen Universit) and Haryono Sadikin, Sri Turhina, Hidayat Dani, Tri Purba Dukan, and Hans Smit (SNV) in August 2016. See Module 5: Pests and Diseases for more information.

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