Sustainable Soil And Water Conservation System In Oil Palm Plantations

Oil palm plantations have three mechanisms to protect soil and water which are closely related to the plants and area management.

Oil palm plantations are well known for the economic benefits. Aside from that, there is also ecosystem function in oil palm plantations as they absorb carbon dioxide, produce oxygen, regulate water and soil as well as conserve water and soil.

Oil palm plantations have three mechanisms to conserve soil and water. The three mechanisms are canopy land cover, oil palm plantation area management and oil palm root systems

First, the layered leaf structure of mature oil palm trees is able to cover land by nearly 100 percent since early age. Aside from being an important part where photosynthesis occurs, such leaf structure also functions to protect land from the direct hit of rainfall. During rainfall, the raindrops do not directly hit the soil because it has been protected by the layered leaf structure.

Second, land management in oil palm cultivation conserves soil and water. The technical standards of oil palm plantations, starting from planting to crop tending, use soil and water conservation principles. Starting from zero/minimum tillage, crop cover during young crop tending (aged zero to 4 years), the making of terracing systems on sloping areas, the making of horseshoes, the placement of oil leaves (pruning) as contour terraces made of organic materials in spaces among trees, the return of empty bunches and liquid waste to the land and others are parts of the mechanism of soil and water conservation in oil palm plantations.

Third, the massive, wide and deep root system of mature oil palm trees can reach a radius of 4 meters around the base and a depth of up to 5 meters beneath the soil surface that forms micro and macro soil pores (Harahap, 1999, 2007), which can be called natural bio-pores. The soil micro and macro pores become greater in number and size as the palm trees mature.

The root system and the soil pores together are called as natural bio-pores as mentioned before. These natural bio-pores increase the water holding capacity of oil palm plantation areas through the enhancement of rainfall infiltration into the soil, thereby reducing runoff by storing the water reserves in the soil.

The three oil and water conservation mechanisms are built-in systems in the oil palm trees and plantations, so that managing oil palm plantations for economic objectives will at the same time manage soil and water conservation in three ways. Moreover, the three soil and water conservation mechanisms of oil palm plantations are long term, equal to the economic age of the oil palm plantation (average 25 years).

In other words, oil palm plantations make significant contributions to both our economy and ecosystem as a join product. The economic and ecological benefits are sustainable. While it is clear enough as it is, ironically, some people are still questioning and be skeptical about how sustainable is the sustainability of oil palm plantation.

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