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Water scarcity and oil palm expansion: social views and environmental processes

Jennifer Merten, Human Geography, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Germany
Alexander Röll, Tropical Silviculture and Forest Ecology, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Germany
Thomas Guillaume, Soil Science of Temperate Ecosystems, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Germany
Ana Meijide, Bioclimatology, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Germany
Suria Tarigan, Soil and Natural Resources Management, Bogor Agricultural University, Indonesia
Herdhata Agusta, Agronomy and Horticulture, Bogor Agricultural University, Indonesia
Claudia Dislich, Ecosystem Modelling, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Germany
Christoph Dittrich, Human Geography, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Germany
Heiko Faust, Human Geography, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Germany
Dodo Gunawan, Center of Climate Change and Air Quality, Agency for Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics, Jakarta, Indonesia
Jonas Hein, Department for Environmental Policy and Natural Resource Management, German Development Institute, Bonn, Germany
Hendrayanto, Forest Management Department, Faculty of Forestry, Bogor Agricultural University, Indonesia
Alexander Knohl, Bioclimatology, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Germany
Yakov Kuzyakov, Soil Science of Temperate Ecosystems, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Germany
Kerstin Wiegand, Ecosystem Modelling, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Germany
Dirk Hölscher, Tropical Silviculture and Forest Ecology, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen, Germany

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-08214-210205

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Abstract

Conversions of natural ecosystems, e.g., from rain forests to managed plantations, result in significant changes in the hydrological cycle including periodic water scarcity. In Indonesia, large areas of forest were lost and extensive oil palm plantations were established over the last decades. We conducted a combined social and environmental study in a region of recent land-use change, the Jambi Province on Sumatra. The objective was to derive complementary lines of arguments to provide balanced insights into environmental perceptions and eco-hydrological processes accompanying land-use change. Interviews with villagers highlighted concerns regarding decreasing water levels in wells during dry periods and increasing fluctuations in stream flow between rainy and dry periods. Periodic water scarcity was found to severely impact livelihoods, which increased social polarization. Sap flux measurements on forest trees and oil palms indicate that oil palm plantations use as much water as forests for transpiration. Eddy covariance analyses of evapotranspiration over oil palm point to substantial additional sources of evaporation in oil palm plantations such as the soil and epiphytes. Stream base flow from a catchment dominated by oil palms was lower than from a catchment dominated by rubber plantations; both showed high peaks after rainfall. An estimate of erosion indicated approximately 30 cm of topsoil loss after forest conversion to both oil palm and rubber plantations. Analyses of climatic variables over the last 20 years and of a standardized precipitation evapotranspiration index for the last century suggested that droughts are recurrent in the area, but have not increased in frequency or intensity. Consequently, we assume that conversions of rain forest ecosystems to oil palm plantations lead to a redistribution of precipitated water by runoff, which leads to the reported periodic water scarcity. Our combined social and environmental approach points to significant and thus far neglected eco-hydrological consequences of oil palm expansion.

Key words

eco-hydrology; environmental perception; erosion; evapotranspiration; forest; land-use change; runoff; rural water supply; streamflow; transpiration

Copyright © 2016 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article  is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.  You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

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