Oil Palm has Lowest Water Footprint Shows It isn’t Threat to Water Sources
Negative perceptions and stigma are always addressed to oil palm, one of which is that plants are considered to be a water-wasteful plant. Other accusation also stated that the oil palm plantations could be a threat to water sources and the availability of water in an area which will cause an area to become barren and desert. Many people think these allegations are true, so they reject the existence of plantations in their area.
To see whether a plant is water-wastefull or not by looking at how much water is needed by a plant to grow and produce normally, one of the approaches that can be used is evapotranspiration value. This value reflects the amount of water absorbed by plants to be evaporated through evaporation and transpiration. Based on several research that have been conducted, it shows that the evapotranspiration rate of oil palm plant is lower than that of forest plants which are popularly used in reforestation programs and industrial tree plantations such as pine, acacia, and sengon. This shows that oil palm is classified as a plant that is very efficient in water utilization.
Apart from being seen from the evapotranspiration value, the consumption of water by plants (include oil palm plants) also can be known by Water Footprint. This concept is used to calculate the volume of water used to obtain one tonnes of Fresh Fruit Bunches (FFB). In the calculation of Water Footprint, the water sources that consumed by plant divided by three, namely: (a) Blue Water which refers to surface water and groundwater (evaporation); (b) Green Water which refers to rainwater; and (c) Gray Water refers to the water requirements needed to assimilate pollutants based on existing water quality standards, where Gray Water is also used as an indicator of the volume of water pollution.
Makonnen & Hoekstra’s research (2010) has also used the Water Footprint concept to calculate the water demand for oil palm plant in globally. The result show that the Water Footprint on oil palm plant is only 2 percent or 1,097 m3/ton, consisting of green water (96 percent) and gray water (4 percent).
Meanwhile, the water footprint on other vegetable oil commodities was higher such as rapeseed by 2,270 m3/ton (75 percent of green water, 10 percent of blue water, and 15 percent of gray water) and soybeans by 2,144 m3/ton (95 percent of green water, 3 percent of blue water, and 2 percent of gray water). The research shows that this fact shows that the water demand for oil palm plants is lower than other vegetable oils. And most of the water sources used by oil palm from green water or rainwater. This fact has also proven to counter the issue that oil palm plantations threaten the availability of groundwater.
One of other research using the Water Footprint approach on oil palm plants was led by Lisma Safitri, S.TP., M.Si from Research Centre and Community Development of Stiper Insitute of Agriculture (Instiper) Yogyakarta in collaboration with the Indonesia Oil Palm Plantation Fund Management Agency (BPDPKS). The research study was conducted at two separated oil palm plantation in provinces of Central Kalimantan and Riau and with the different of land types, namely mineral land (black clay and red sandy loam) and peatland (sapric).
Water Footprint can be obtained based on average of water consume by plants (Eta) and monthly plants production as well as root length density. Study in Central Kalimantan showed that the Water Footprint was 1002.1 m3/ton of palm FFB, consisting of 76.7 m3/ton of green water; 35.9 m3/ton of blue water; and 89.5 m3/ton of gray water. Meanwhile, the Water Footprint value of oil palm plants in Riau was 593.61 m3/ton FFB consisting of 535.55 m3/ton of green water, 8.08 m3/ton of blue water, and 49.98 m3/ton of gray water.
Based on the results of the study, it was concluded that the water footprint value of oil palm plants to produce one ton of FFB in the two study areas has different values, which is oil palm planted on peatlands has a smaller Water Footprint value compared to mineral soils. However, in general, the Water Footprint value of oil palm plants is still lower than other vegetable oil plants such as sunflower (3366 m3/ton), olive (3015 m3/ton), and rapeseed (2271 m3/ton).
The results of this study also indicate that the main water source used by oil palm plants both in Central Kalimantan and Riau comes from rainfall. This fact is also issue counter that accuse oil palm plants as water-wasteful, threatening groundwater sources and causing drought. Also, the linking of the issue of drought with oil palm plantations is not based on valid facts and is only an issue that is deliberately created by anti-palm oil parties to damage the image of oil palm and hinder the development of palm oil industry both in regional as well as in domestic and international markets.
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