Oil Palm Plantations Have Many Ecological Functions

JAKARTA – Oil palm trees have many ecological functions which are very beneficial for humans and the environment. With the functions, the palm trees can help Indonesia in accelerating the realization of the nationally determined contribution and net zero emission (NDC-NZE).

The Palm Oil Agribusiness Strategic Policy Institute (PASPI) reported recently through its website, palmoilina.asia, that a number of researches have proven the following ecological functions of oil palm trees:

Carbon Sink

Having a characteristic of perennial plant with intensive rooting system, bigger size, fast growth, higher productivity, and cropping cycle of 25 years or more, the oil palm trees and plantations have become “biological machines” which absorb a significant amount of carbon dioxide or CO2 (carbon sink) from the atmosphere. It show that the oil palm trees function as the lung of ecosystem, which absorbs CO2 from the atmosphere and then release oxygen to the atmosphere.

With a total oil palm acreage in Indonesia in 2020 at 24 million hectares, the plantations can absorb CO2 at around 1,5 billion tons of CO2 from the atmosphere and release oxygen to the atmosphere at around 448.8 million tons of O2.

The ecological functions of oil palm plantations have been studied by a number of experts who concluded that the lung function capacity of oil palm plantations match or even outperform the lung capacity of tropical forests.

Carbon Stock

The carbon absorbed by the oil palm plantations through the mechanism of bio-sequestration is stored as carbon stock in the forms of above-ground biomass (tree trunks, branches, fruits, and leaves) and underground biomass (rooting system).

Generally, the carbon sequestration accumulates biomass stock and the carbon stock will be continually increasing until reaching the age of 25 years. Various studies have also shown that the carbon stock in the above-ground biomass of the oil palm plantations in Indonesia has an average of 40 tons per hectare.

Besides the capacity of built-in carbon stock, the oil palm plantation companies in Indonesia also apply the concept of high conservation value (HCV) and high carbon stock (HCS). By this system, the palm plantation companies maintain certain areas in their plantation concessions as HCV/HCS (non-deforestable) which are rich in biodiversity and high in carbon stock.

Less deforestation, emission

Among the world’s Top-4 vegetable oils, the oil palm has the highest productivity with 4.3 tons per hectare per year. The productivity of others is far lower as  rapeseed, sunflower and soybean only have the productivity at 0.7 ton, 0.52 ton and 0.45 ton per hectare per year respectively. That means the land use for production of one ton of palm oil is much less if compared to other three vegetable oils.

Data also shows that land expansion of oil palm plantations is the lowest among the vegetable oils. It also confirms that deforestation caused by the expansion of oil palm plantations is also the lowest if compared to the deforestation caused by the expansion of soybean, rapeseed and sunflower plantations.

The difference in productivity rate and production technology to produce the world’s three main vegetable oils–palm oil, soybean and rapeseed– has also resulted in the difference of residues of fertilizers and pesticides caused by the three vegetable oils. The residues can  pollute the soil and water.

Considering the indicator of residue concentration of fertilizers and pesticides in producing every one ton of vegetable oil, the palm oil is the lowest in terms of causing residue of the use of fertilizers and pesticides if compared to that of rapeseed and soybean. It also means that soil and water pollution caused by the palm oil production is lower than such pollution caused by rapeseed and soybean.

Being more efficient and lower pollution, the emission caused by palm oil production is lower if compared to other vegetable oils. The latest global study conducted by Beyer in 2020 and 2021 has also proven the scientific data that the oil palm plantations are the lowest among the global vegetable oils in terms of emissions.

The contribution of oil palm plantations to the emission reduction is expected to rise along with the improvement of oil palm plantation’s cultivation and governance, by implementing the good agricultural practices, efficiency of chemical inputs (fertilizers and pesticides) and the use of methane capture technology to sequester the greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from the palm oil effluent (POME).

Concurrently, it also produces renewable energy in the forms of biogas/bio-electricity as the source of energy in the oil palm plantations and the palm oil mills.

In addition to that, the increase of productivity will further raise the capacity of carbon sink in the oil palm plantations.

The increase of productivity will reduce emissions through carbon sink in the process of photosynthesis and also reduce the carbon source per ton in the production of palm oil.

Not only in the plantations, the palm oil products and derivatives in the downstream palm oil industries, such as biofuel, are also able to contribute in reducing the emissions and mitigating the impacts of climate change.

The carbon stock in the oil palm plantations, in the forms of oil, biomass and wastes, can also become alternative solutions to replace the fossil fuels.

The use of palm-based biofuel can reduce the carbon emissions caused by the use of fossil fuels. (*)

Source: samade.or.id