Water systems of oil palm plantations are poorer than those of forests.

Fungsi tata air perkebunan kelapa sawit lebih buruk dari hutan.

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One of the functions of plants in an ecosystem is to preserve water. Through the evapotranspiration mechanism, the plants evaporate water into the atmosphere, which will in turn descend to the Earth as rainfall. Moreover, the plant also preserves soil and water through various mechanisms such as holding a water supply in the topsoil layer, protecting soil from direct rainfall and maintain air humidity in a micro climate.

If oil palm plantations are compared to forests (Table), the two generally have the same function in conservation and hydrology. This is reflected by the evapotranspiration, ground water reserves, deflection of rainfall, infiltration rates and air humidity.

Table:   Comparison of water management functions between oil palm plantations and tropical forest

IndicatorTropical forestOil palm plantations
Evapotranspiration (mm/year)1,560-1,6201,610-1,750
Groundwater reserves up to depth of 200 cm (mm)59-72775-739
Deflecting rainfall from soil surface (%)8587
Rate of solum layer infiltration 0-40 cm (ml/cm3/minute)30-9010-30
Air humidity (%)90-9385-90

Source: Henson (1999), PPKS (2004, 2005)

Since oil palm plantations have a long production cycle of up to 25 years (from planting to replanting), that means they perform conservation and hydrology functions for up to 25 years.

Fungsi tumbuhan dalam ekosistem juga berperan dalam melestarikan tata air. Melalui mekanisme evapotranspirasi tumbuhan menguapkan air ke atmosfer yang pada gilirannya akan turun ke bumi melalui hujan. Selain itu, fungsi tumbuhan juga berperan dalam konservasi tanah dan air melalui berbagai mekanisme seperti menahan cadangan air pada lapisan atas tanah, melindungi tanah dari pukulan langsung air hujan dan memelihara kelembaban udara (iklim mikro).

Jika dibandingkan antara perkebunan kelapa sawit dengan hutan (Tabel) secara umum memiliki peran yang sama dalam fungsi konservasi dan hidrologis. Hal ini tercermin dalam indikator evapotranspirasi, cadangan air tanah, penerusan curah hujan, laju infiltrasi dan kelembaban udara.

Tabel.     Perbandingan Fungsi Tata Air antara Perkebunan Kelapa Sawit dan Hutan Tropis

IndikatorHutan TropisPerkebunan

Kelapa Sawit

Evapotranspirasi (mm/tahun)1560-16201610-1750
Cadangan air tanah s/d kedalaman 200 cm (mm)59-72775-739
Penerusan curah hujan ke permukaan tanah (%)8587
Laju infiltrasi lapisan solum 0-40 cm (ml/cm3/menit)30-9010-30
Kelembaban udara (%)90-9385-90

Sumber: Henson (1999), PPKS (2004, 2005)

Perkebunan kelapa sawit yang memiliki siklus produksi yang cukup panjang yakni sekitar 25 tahun (sejak ditanam sampai replanting) berarti fungsi konservasi dan hidrologis tersebut berlangsung setidaknya sampai 25 tahun.

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