Why We Should Be Paying More Attention To Water Consumption - An Oil Palm Perspective
In Southeast Asia, talk of water consumption might seem trivial. Rainfall is plentiful, with Singapore and Indonesia experiencing annual rainfalls of upwards of 2165mm and 3700mm, respectively. While water conservation might not seem like a pressing issue, it’s important to recognize that higher rainfall does not equate an abundant water supply.
When rain falls, a portion of it is absorbed into the ground. This replenishes groundwater and makes its way into the water supply for human consumption. In rural areas, about 50% re-enters the ground while in urban areas, that proportion is only around 15%. Most of the water flows away as runoff, which re-supplies streams, rivers, and lakes. Beyond growing human consumption, climate change and extreme weather events further impact rainfall amount and distribution, exacerbating both water inundation and scarcity.
The Oil Palm Industry’s Response to Water Consumption
According to Carbon Disclosure Project’s (CDP) research, two-thirds of the world’s largest companies report that water-related risks could generate a substantive change in their operations and revenue. As the oil palm supply chain relies also on water, water stewardship should become one of the industry’s key priorities. Quantifying a company’s water footprint is increasingly becoming as important as its carbon footprint.
The water footprint is a measure of the amount of water consumed and polluted in all processing stages of production. This also takes into consideration the volume of freshwater that is required to dilute the load of pollutants to meet water quality standards. Understanding the water footprint enables companies to find out where and when water is used in their supply chain and provides a benchmark for reducing water use.
Musim Mas' Efforts to Reduce its Water Footprint
Musim Mas has adopted the Water Footprint Network’s assessment methodology to assess its overall water consumption, relative to precipitation levels. Musim Mas has implemented several measures to minimize its water footprint, such as optimising industrial processes, further improving water management on peat, restoring riparian zones, as well as water saving campaigns for its workers.
Musim Mas set itself a target to reduce mill water usage intensity below 1.2m3 / mt FFB in 2021 and in the coming years. At the end of 2020 it had successfully achieved mill water usage intensity of 1.17m3 / mt FFB. This achievement is ahead of its set target.
Using water efficiently in operations is key to reducing impact on the environment and to maintain natural river and stream flows. This is of vital importance as climate change might bring longer and more extreme dry spells. Musim Mas also prioritizes using fertilizers with a smaller water footprints to reduce water consumption.
Conserving Peatlands and Providing Clean Water for Surrounding Communities
Musim Mas regulates water levels and maintains water tables in its cultivated peat areas. This is in accordance with local regulations and to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. As at December 2020, 4,253 hectares of peat areas were set aside as conservation areas, supporting the natural water regulation of the area. 35,526 hectares are planted and managed under Best Management Practices. Peatlands play an important role in regulating water cycle by providing water storage and supply.
While clean water is accessible to workers living on its plantations, Musim Mas strives to do more to support neighboring villages. While the Indonesian government already provides drinking water, Musim Mas further supports water needs by building wells in communities living in the vicinity of its operations to supply water for other uses. Read more about Musim Mas’ contribution towards drinking water and sanitation services in its Social Impact Report at this link.
While water consumption is not the only factor contributing to water scarcity, sustainable water resource management will be vital for mitigating the impacts of climate change and support a growing agriculture sector, especially as independent smallholders are projected to manage 60% of oil palm land by 2030. It is therefore crucial for countries and businesses to innovate and use available water resources efficiently and equitably.
 As emphasized in the UNDPs 2006 Human Development Report, water consumption is not the only factor causing water scarcity.
 Water stewardship is a set of practices to be used by utilities, businesses, communities, and others to promote and enable the sustainable and equitable management of freshwater resources (waterfootprint.org).