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Why We Should Be Paying More Attention to Water Consumption

November 1, 2021


Talk of water consumption in the tropics might seem trivial. Rainfall is plentiful, with Singapore and Indonesia experiencing annual rainfalls of upwards of 2165mm[1] and 3700mm[2], 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 Earth’s groundwater and makes its way into the water supply for human consumption. However, in rural areas, about 50% re-enters the ground and in urban areas, that proportion is even lower, at around 15%[3]. Most of the water flows away as runoff[4], which re-supplies streams, rivers, and lakes, nevertheless human consumption takes a toll on water supplies. This is compounded by climate change and extreme weather events that impact rainfall amount and distribution, exacerbating both water inundation and scarcity[5].

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[6] should become one of the industry’s key priorities. Quantifying a company’s water footprint is increasingly becoming as important as a 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.

What is Musim Mas Doing to Reduce its Water Footprint?
At Musim Mas, we have adopted the Water Footprint Network’s assessment methodology to assess our water consumption since 2016, as we began the process of determining our overall water consumption, relative to precipitation levels. We have implemented several measures to minimize our water footprint, such as optimising industtrial processes, further improving water management on peat, restoring riparian zone, as well as a water saving campaign for our workers.
We set ourselves a target to reduce mill water usage intensity below 1.2m3 / mt FFB in 2021. At the end of 2020 we have successfully achieved mill water usage intensity of 1.17m3 / mt FFB. This achievement is ahead of our set target. We will now continue to maintain a water usage intensity to below 1.2 m3/MT FFB in coming years.

Using water efficiently in our operations reduces our impact on the environment and helps to maintain natural river and stream flows. This is of vital importance as climate change might bring longer and more extreme dry spells. We also prioritize using fertilizers with less water footprint to reduce our water consumption.

Conserving Peatlands and Providing Clean Water for Surrounding Communities
Musim Mas regulates water levels and maintains water tables in our cultivated peat areas. This is in accordance with local regulations and to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. As at December 2020, 4,253 hectares of peat areas were set aside as conservation area, 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 our plantations, we recognize that more can be done to support neighbouring villages. As the government already provides drinking water, we have built wells in communities living in the vicinity of our operations to supply water for other uses. Read more about our contribution to save drinking water and sanitation services in our Social Impact Report.

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.

1 http://www.weather.gov.sg/climate-climate-of-singapore/
2 https://www.nationsencyclopedia.com/Asia-and-Oceania/Indonesia-CLIMATE.html
3 https://www.btlliners.com/help-drought-regions/
4 https://www.usgs.gov/special-topic/water-science-school/science/runoff-surface-and-overland-water-runoff?qt-science_center_objects=0#qt-science_center_objects
5 As emphasized in the UNDPs 2006 Human Development Report, water consumption is not the only factor causing water scarcity.
6 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).
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