Common sense alone would make it easy to comprehend that any plant on Planet Earth functions to preserve to environment. There is no theory that says plants damage the environment. Plants were created by God. On the contrary, we are asked to cultivate plants to help improve the environment. The “1 million plant movement” has long been carried out by officials, including by environmental activists. The Arabian countries, which have many deserts, are trying to green their deserts by planting vegetation, including palm species – namely dates.
As early as 1911 (104 years ago) Indonesia developed oil palm plantations on Raja Island (Asahan, North Sumatra), Tanah Itam Ulu (Batubara regency, North Sumatra) and Sei Liput (Aceh), which thus far still exist and have not changed into deserts. On the contrary, the productivity of the existing oil palm plantations even continues to increase.
Many studies also prove that biomass (one of the important components for soil fertility) on oil palm plantations increases in line with the advancing age of the oil palm plants. Chan (2002) discloses that the older the oil palm, the larger the volume of biomass produced (Table). Four-yea- old oil palm plants produce about 40 tons of biomass per ha per year, which increases to about 93 tons by the age of 15. By the age of 24 (the age for rejuvenation), the production of biomass reaches its peak, namely about 113 tons per ha per year. When the plantations are rejuvenated, the biomass is left in the soil.
Then, a part of the biomass that is harvested in the form of fresh fruit bunches is returned to the plantation areas. Out of oil palm production of 24 tons per ha per year, only about 5 tons are processed into palm oil and the remaining 19 tons remain in the form of biomass, namely empty fruit bunches, shells and sludge, which are all returned to the plantation areas to maintain fertility.
Besides by adding back biomass, soil fertility is also maintained by providing fertilizer in accordance to the age and productivity of the plants.
Table Biomass volume and carbon stocks on oil palm plantations
Source: Chan, K.W (2002).
Oil palm Carbon Sequestration and Carbon Accounting: Our Global Strength. MPOABiomass content is not only increased above ground, but also underground in the oil palm rooting zone, the rhizosphere, specifically in the oil palm root bio-pores (Figure).
The older the oil palm, the more organic ingredients are stored in the ground bio-pores. Therefore, if the organic ingredients are returned to the ground, the fertility of the oil palm plantation areas will not decline. Moreover, the oil palm plantation management system provides fertilizer based on the principle of at least replacing the nutrients contained in the fresh fruit bunches being harvested so as to render impossible a decline in soil fertility that would create a desert.
The experience of soybean farming in the US can provide an analogy. The US’ soybean farms now cover 34 million ha and are more than 100 years old. The soybean farms produce less than about 20 percent of the biomass produced on oil palm plantations. Have the soybean farms in the US changed into infertile desert? Of course not. If the soybean farms where only a small quantity of biomass is returned to the farm areas (compared to oil palm plantations) do not change into desert, then oil palm plantations will not change into deserts either.