The main source of energy for human life on Earth is the sun. Plants, both in forests and on oil palm plantations, constitute “harvesters” of solar energy for life on Earth .Comparing the abilities of forests and oil palm plantations to harvest solar energy shows (Table 1) that oil palm plantations are superior in terms of the efficiency of photosynthesis, the conversion of solar radiation and the production of dry substances and incremental biomass. Meanwhile, the index of leaf areas and total biomass stocks indicates the relative superiority of forests. Therefore, to harvest solar energy, oil palm plantations are superior to forests. However, for storing energy as biomass, forests are superior.
Table 1: Comparison of solar energy harvesting effectiveness between oil palm plantations and tropical forests
|Indicators||Tropical forest||Oil palm plantation|
|Leaf area index||7.3||5.6|
|Photosynthesis efficiency (%)||1.73||3.18|
|Radiation conversion efficiency (g/mj)||0.86||1.68|
|Total biomass in the area (tons/ha)||431||100|
|Incremental biomass (tons/ha/year)||5.8||8.3|
|Dry substance productivity (tons/ha/year)||25.7||36.5|
Source: Henson (1999), PPKS (2004, 2005)
If what is needed is a way to produce energy more efficiently, to absorb more carbon dioxide and to produce a larger amount of oxygen, oil palm plantations are better than forests. However, if what is needed is a way to store a large amount of biomass and carbon stocks and to preserve biodiversity, forests are better than oil palm plantations.