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Hydrological and economic effects of oil palm cultivation in Indonesian peatlands

Elham Sumarga, School of Life Sciences and Technology, Institut Teknologi Bandung
Lars Hein, Environmental System Analysis Group, Wageningen University
Aljosja Hooijer, Deltares
Ronald Vernimmen, Deltares

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5751/ES-08490-210252

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Abstract

Oil palm has increasingly been established on peatlands throughout Indonesia. One of the concerns is that the drainage required for cultivating oil palm in peatlands leads to soil subsidence, potentially increasing future flood risks. This study analyzes the hydrological and economic effects of oil palm production in a peat landscape in Central Kalimantan. We examine two land use scenarios, one involving conversion of the complete landscape including a large peat area to oil palm plantations, and another involving mixed land use including oil palm plantations, jelutung (jungle rubber; (Dyera spp.) plantations, and natural forest. The hydrological effect was analyzed through flood risk modeling using a high-resolution digital elevation model. For the economic analysis, we analyzed four ecosystem services: oil palm production, jelutung production, carbon sequestration, and orangutan habitat. This study shows that after 100 years, in the oil palm scenario, about 67% of peat in the study area will be subject to regular flooding. The flood-prone area will be unsuitable for oil palm and other crops requiring drained soils. The oil palm scenario is the most profitable only in the short term and when the externalities of oil palm production, i.e., the costs of CO2 emissions, are not considered. In the examined scenarios, the social costs of carbon emissions exceed the private benefits from oil palm plantations in peat. Depending upon the local hydrology, income from jelutung, which can sustainably be grown in undrained conditions and does not lead to soil subsidence, outweighs that from oil palm after several decades. These findings illustrate the trade-offs faced at present in Indonesian peatland management and point to economic advantages of an approach that involves expansion of oil palm on mineral lands while conserving natural peat forests and using degraded peat for crops that do not require drainage.

Key words

ecosystem services; flood risk modeling; Indonesia; jelutung; oil palm; peat

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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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087