Is Oil Palm Plantation Really Water-Wasteful?

“As an energy generator, oil palm plantations are actually water-efficient”


In the recent years, network of anti-palm oil NGOs, often ran propaganda that alleged the oil palm to be very water-consumptive. From the propaganda, the NGOs then accused the oil palm plantation as the culprit of drought that happened. Is that true? Let’s discuss it.

In general, recently there are many drought-stricken countries such as Australia, Europe, the United States, India, Pakistan and others, The drought have caused forest fires and lack of clean water. According to experts, the causes of extreme drought in various countries are part of global climate change caused by global warming. Clearly these countries do not have oil palm plantations.

 In Indonesia, throughout the year, areas that often experience a long drought are the provinces of East Nusa Tenggara and West Nusa Tenggara. Both provinces have no oil palm plantations, either. So there is no connection between oil palm plantation with the drought.

Certainly the most wasteful use of water is done by us; humans. How many liters of water do we use for drinking, bathing, washing and others every day? Of course, we should not compare between humans with oil palm, or with other plants and animals. To be a fair comparison, we have to compare it with the same indicators.

Gerbens-Leenes, et al (2009) in his research entitled: The Water Footprint of Energy from Biomass: A Quantitative Assessment and Conservation of an Increasing Share of Bionergy Supply, found an interesting fact about plants that are most water-efficient in generating bio-energy. The results of the Journal of Ecological Economics 68: 4, found that oil palm is one of the most efficient (after sugar cane) in water consumption for every Giga Joule (GJ) bioenergy produced.

 The most water-consumptive bio-energy producer turned out to be rapeseed oil, followed by coconut, cassava, corn, soybeans and sunflower plants. To produce every GJ bio-energy (oil), the rapeseed plant (European vegetable oil plant) requires 184 m3 of water. While the coconut which is also widely produced from Indonesia, Philippines, India, on average requires 126 m3 of water. Cassava (ethanol producer) on average requires 118 m3 water. Soybeans, which are the main vegetable oils producer in the United States, require an average of 100 m3 of water. Sugar cane and palm oil are the most efficient in using water for each bio-energy produced. For every GJ bio-energy (palm oil) produced, oil palm uses only 75 m3 of water. With the facts stated, it is clear that palm oil is relatively water-efficient in generating bio-energy. Therefore, the propaganda of NGOs that claimed oil palm is very wasteful of water is debunked by the research. In addition, the link between drought and the presence of oil palm plantations is also not supported by facts. Drought has nothing to do with oil palm plantations.

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