The negative campaign that oil palm plantation will make the land a desert is very unfounded, both from common sense and empirical evidence
One of NGOs’ propaganda that exists in the oil palm plantation areas is the argument that if the land is planted with oil palm then one day the land will become infertile like a desert. Many communities later questioned the propaganda of these NGOs. Ironically, some academics who have rational reasoning, higher education and have a high level of curiosity, consumed by the propaganda, too. Even once there was a case in one of the state universities, where a graduate student had to repeat the exam because the student had a critical attitude, and disagreed with his supervisor who was consumed by the propaganda of the NGO.
Common sense alone is very easy to understand that any plant on planet earth is functioning as the environment saver. There is no single theory or holy book that says the plant is detrimental to the environment. Plants are created by God. How is it possible that God created something that made the planet earth barren? On the contrary, we are asked to plant any crops for environmental improvement. Movements of planting a million were often driven by officials including environmental activists trees since a long time. Even in the Middle Eastern countries that have deserts, they try to plant crops including palm trees i.e. date trees.
For those who are not satisfied with common sense, you can see for yourself how the truth is empirically. Indonesia since 1911 (104 years ago) has been developing oil palm plantations in Pulu Raja (Asahan, North Sumatra), Tanah Itam Ulu (Kab.Batubara, North Sumatra) and Sei Liput (Aceh) which now is still palm oil plantation and has not changed into deserts. On the contrary, existing palm oil plantation is actually increasing in productivity.
Many studies has also proved that biomass (one of the important components of soil fertility) in oil palm plantations increases as the oil palms age. Chan (2002) in his research entitled: Oil Palm Carbon Sequestration and Carbon Accounting, reveals that the older the oil palm gets, the more volume of biomass formed. The 4-year-old palm oil plant produces about 40 tons per hectare / year biomass, then it increases to about 93 tons at the age of 15 years. At the age of 24 years (age of rejuvenation) the volume of biomass reached the peak of about 113 tons / ha / year. And when rejuvenated, the biomass is left in the soil for its fertility.
Then, from biomass harvested in the form of fresh fruit bunch mostly will be returned to the land. If fresh fruit bunch production is 24 tons / ha / year, then the palm oil produced (sold) is only about 5 tons and the rest of 19 tons is the biomass i.e. empty bunches, shells and sludge which are all returned to the land so it can remain fertile. Other than the addition of biomass, according to the plants’ age and productivity, fertilization is done to maintain the fertility of the soil.
Anti-oil palm NGOs can also learn from the experience of the United States with his soybean plantations. The current US soybean plantations of 34 million hectares is over 100 years old already. The soybean plantations produce much smaller biomass (about 20 percent) than the biomass produced by oil palm plantations. Have the United States soy garden turned into a desert? Of course not. If soybean plantations with little biomass returned to the land (compared to oil palm plantations) do not become deserts, why do NGOs propagate that oil palm plantation will become a desert?
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