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ARS Home » Plains Area » Las Cruces, New Mexico » Range Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #386386

Research Project: Science and Technologies for the Sustainable Management of Western Rangeland Systems

Location: Range Management Research

Title: Water requirements for oil palm grown on marginal lands: A simulation approach

item AKRAM, HUMAYOUN - University Of Delaware
item LEVIA, DELPHIS - University Of Delaware
item Herrick, Jeffrey - Jeff
item LYDIASARI, HENNY - Indonesian Oil Palm Research Institute
item SCHÜTZE, NIELS - Technical University Dresden

Submitted to: Agricultural Water Management
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 10/23/2021
Publication Date: 11/6/2021
Citation: Akram, H., Levia, D., Herrick, J.E., Lydiasari, H., Schütze, N. 2021. Water requirements for oil palm grown on marginal lands: A simulation approach. Agricultural Water Management. 260. Article 107292.

Interpretive Summary: Oil palm is a rapidly growing tree crop in the tropics. In order to limit conversion of high value ecosystems,  this crop is expanding into areas of marginal soils. Historically, a single value (evapotranspiration) of the crop has been used to determine water requirements. We use a simulation approach that accounts for water table depth and soil chemical processes to quantify the water requirement of the oil palm for the extended period of 8-years. Our results show that using evapotranspiration alone will underestimate the total water requirement for the entire plantation period. If additional marginal coastal lands are brought under cultivation, then the water footprint of oil palm production will increase significantly.

Technical Abstract: Oil palm is one of the most rapidly growing tree plantations in the tropics. Once planted it is long lasting,high yielding and serves as an input for a number of profitable industries. Therefore, this crop is playing an important role in both national and regional economies. The favorable economics is the major cause of rapid expansion in the tropics. This expansion is also causing a number of ecosystem changes. Historically, the focus has been on the impact on biodiversity loss. However, the water requirements of oil palm plantations, which traditionally depended on rainfall only, are also changing, in part because, environmental concerns are directing expansion into areas which were traditionally not used for cultivation of this crop. In this paper, we use a modeling approach to simulate the growth of oil palm on marginal coastal lands of Indonesia. According to some estimates, the cultivable marginal soils – having acid pyrite layer in the soil profile - comprise about 7.5 million ha in Indonesia alone. Traditionally, water footprint accounting of oil palm plantation at field level is usually done by considering one uniform value of evapotranspiration need for this crop. Our analysis shows that considering a single value for the entire period of oil palm growth grossly underestimates the water requirement at the field scale. Irrigation water requirement can no longer be neglected as oil palm plantations continue to expand onto these marginal soils. We estimate that about 11,000 m3 of both blue and green water is required per ton of fresh fruit bunch produced from the study area, and that a similar volume is likely to be required wherever oil palm is produced on marginal lands.