Palm oil & soil erosion

Traditional practices used to establish oil palm plantations can lead to considerable soil erosion.
Erosion occurs during forest clearing and plantation establishment when the soil is left uncovered.

Erosion is also accentuated by planting trees in rows up and down hillsides rather than on contours around them, by not properly siting or constructing infrastructure such as roads, and by establishing plantations and infrastructure on slopes of more than 15 degrees.

Indiscriminate clearing, irreversible damages

Erosion can also be encouraged when clearing is not undertaken properly in the establishment of plantations. As late as 2001 in the Riau Province of Sumatra in Indonesia, fallen trees were bulldozed into piles that went straight up and down the hillsides (as opposed to contour rows). Such practices tend to funnel the water into channels and thereby increase soil erosion.

It is expensive for plantations and local governments to correct problems caused by erosion. Eroded areas require more fertilizer and other inputs, including repair of roads and other infrastructure.

Municipalities have additional expenses in terms of road maintenance but also from increased flooding and the removal of silt deposits as well as the dredging of rivers and ports. In addition, there is some indication that the impacts of soil sediments on local fisheries cause municipalities to lose tax revenues.


Source: Clay (2004) "World Agriculture & Environment"

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