Oil palm water consumption is larger than that of other forest plants.

Perkebunan kelapa sawit paling banyak menggunakan air.

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Experts have long studied the water consumption of various plants. One of them is Coster (1938) who examined the water needs of several plants long before oil palm plantations were developed. Using plant evapotranspiration indicators, Coster found that bamboo and lamtoro crops are quite wasteful of water with a need of about 3,000 millimeters of water per year (Figure 1). That is followed by the acacia plant with a need for 2,400 mm of water per year, the sengon tree that uses 2,300 mm per year and pine and rubber trees that need about 1,300 mm per year. Meanwhile, an oil palm only needs 1,104 mm of water per year.

Looking into the portion of rainfall utilized by oil palms, Pasaribu et al (2012) found that the percentage of rainfall used by oil palms is about 40 percent of the annual rainfall. The percentage is smaller than mahogany’s, 58 percent, and pine’s, 65 percent (Figure 2).

Pine, acacia and sengon plants are popularly used as forest plants both in the reforestation program and timber estate development. These forestry plants are relatively wasteful of water.

Meanwhile, oil palms, which have been alleged to be wasteful of water, turn out to be much more efficient in the consumption of water than the regular forestry plants. Oil palms are even more efficient in water consumption than the rubber plant.

Results of research by experts disclose that oil palm can be classified as the group of plants that are relatively efficient in water consumption compared with the forestry plants or the rubber plant. Not only are they efficient in water consumption, oil palm plants store more water in their massive fiber root systems that form natural bio-pores that function to store water and organic substances.

Kebutuhan air untuk berbagai tanaman sudah lama diteliti para ahli. Salah satunya adalah Coster (1938) yang meneliti kebutuhan air beberapa tanaman jauh sebelum kebun sawit berkembang. Dengan menggunakan indikator evapotranspirasi tanaman, Coster menemukan bahwa tanaman bambu dan lamtoro tergolong boros air dengan kebutuhan sekitar 3.000 mm per tahun (Gambar). Kemudian disusul oleh tanaman akasia 2.400 mm per tahun, dan sengon 2.300 mm per tahun. Pinus dan karet sekitar 1.300 mm per tahun. Sedangkan kebun sawit hanya 1.104 mm per tahun.

Jika dilihat porsi curah hujan yang dimanfaatkan oleh kelapa sawit, Pasaribu dkk (2012) menemukan bahwa persentase curah hujan yang digunakan oleh perkebunan kelapa sawit yakni sebesar 40 persen dari curah hujan tahunan. Persentase tersebut lebih kecil bila dibandingkan dengan mahoni sebesar 58 persen dan pinus yakni sebesar 65 persen (Gambar 2).

Selama ini tanaman pinus, akasia dan sengon populer dijadikan tanaman hutan baik dalam program reboisasi maupun hutan tanaman industri. Tanaman kehutanan tersebut ternyata relatif boros menggunakan air. Sementara tanaman sawit yang selama ini dituduhkan boros air, ternyata jauh lebih hemat dibandingkan tanaman hutan tersebut bahkan sawit juga lebih hemat air dibandingkan dengan tanaman karet.

Hasil penelitian para ahli tersebut menyatakan bahwa kebun sawit justru termasuk tanaman yang relatif hemat menggunakan air dibandingkan tanaman hutan maupun tanaman karet. Tidak hanya hemat air, tanaman sawit yang sistem perakarannya yang serabut dan massif membentuk biopori alamiah yang berfungsi menyimpan air dan bahan organik

Figure 1 Comparison of water needs of oil palm and forest plants

Comparison of water needs of oil palm and forest plants

Source : Coster, 1938

Figure 2 Percentage of annual rainfall used by oil palm and forest plants

Percentage of annual rainfall used by oil palm and forest plants

Source : Pasaribu et al, 2012

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