Multifunction of Oil Palms in Ecosystem
Oil palm is not only functioning as an economy booster as it is widely known, but it also has ecological functions in the ecosystem. Therefore, we should not see and treat oil palm plantation only based on its economic functions but also its ecological functions.
The multi-functions of oil palm plantations consist of: First, oil palm plantation is a part of the “lungs” of the ecosystem, just like forests. In humans, the lungs function to clean and remove carbon dioxide from the body and put oxygen into the human body. Oil palm plantation cleans the dirty air by absorbing carbon dioxide from the earth’s atmosphere and producing oxygen (Henson, 1999). This function gifted by God only exists on plants, including oil palm trees, in the ecosystem of Earth.
Second, oil palm plantation is an important link connecting the source of energy provided by God Almighty, Creator of the Universe, with the energy needed for human life on Earth. The Sun is the only source of energy that God created for life on Earth. Through oil palm plantations (photosynthesis) energy from the Sun is captured and stored in the form of chemical energy i.e. palm oil and other biomass of palm oil (Fairhurdt, et al 2004).
From palm oil and other biomasses, with the help of processing technology, the community can benefit from various products and uses, including energy (biodiesel, bio-ethanol, biogas, bio-jet fuel and bio-electricity). The fossil fuel known and widely used today also comes from the fossilization of millions of years of biomass.
Third, oil palm plantation is also a part of soil and water conservation (Harahap, 1999). The oil palm plantation has a layered sheath structure and a canopy cover, the formation of litter (humus), covering crop, and the terrace system. It also has massive, layered, and extensive fibrous root systems that make up so many soil biopores. All these features exist to protect the land, retain soil erosion, and store water in the soil.
Fourth, oil palm plantation is also a part of the link of hydrological function in the ecosystem just like any other plants. The evapotranspiration function that is attached to the physiological feature of oil palm trees is an important part of the maintenance of moisture in the air and water evaporation. Storage of ground water through oil palm root biopores and storage of metabolite water bound in palm biomass are the parts of the ecological system’s hydrological cycle.
Fifth, oil palm plantation produces various products that have economic value (economic function) for the world community, both food products and nonfood ones. Palm plantation is a “machine” that produces “economic pie”. The process of producing, processing, and trading of palm oil products creates revenue for those who are involved in the supply chain of palm oil. Starting from pre-production, production process, local trade between regions, and export-import activities. The economic activities of the oil palm, besides producing various “economic pies”, also dividing the “economic pie” from the plantation level, to the level of the world community where palm oil products are consumed.
The uniqueness and excellence of oil palm plantation, which are the five functions above, has been running every second for 25 years without stopping. Out of the five functions mentioned above, only one function, that is the economic function, is paid by the community. While the benefits of four other functions are given for free to the community. Therefore, the world community should be grateful to the oil palm plantations.
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