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Indonesia oil palm plantations expanding despite moratorium

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An aerial picture shows vast areas of oil palm plantations in Indonesia’s Riau province. Civil society group Auriga Nusantara said oil palm plantations had continued to expand despite a moratorium imposed by the government in September last year. FB ANGGORO/ANTARA/THE JAKARTA POST

Indonesia oil palm plantations expanding despite moratorium

The Indonesian government has made little progress in tackling the expansion of oil palm plantations a year after President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo imposed a moratorium on the issuance of new permits, recent data reveals.

During a public discussion, civil society group Auriga Nusantara researcher Wiko Saputra quoted Environment and Forestry Ministry data that showed that the area of forests cleared for oil palm plantations had increased to 5.9 million hectares last July from 5.4 million hectares recorded last year.

Auriga Nusantara’s internal research used satellite information to record 1,121 hotspots across Indonesia resulting from forest clearings for oil palm plantations.

He also quoted Corruption Eradication Commission and Agriculture Ministry data that shows that only 28 per cent of companies have allocated 20 per cent of their total plantation areas to growing high conservation value forest areas, as required in the moratorium. This had resulted in 1.08 million hectares of land not being redistributed for forestry, he estimated.

“We have to find a way out, otherwise smear campaigns will continue against the palm oil [industry],” said Wiko, calling for enforcement of Jokowi’s agrarian reforms that concern land distribution.

Citing such evidence, the watchdog wrote in its presentation that there was “yet to be any significant development” following the moratorium, issued through a 2018 presidential instruction (Inpres) on oil palm plantation license evaluation and productivity increases.

The moratorium was imposed in September last year in response to global criticism over the allocation of land for oil palm cultivation. Since the rapid expansion of plantations in Indonesia in the 1990s, oil palm cultivation has been blamed for deforestation and loss of biodiversity.

Trade spat with the EU

Turmoil has followed the EU’s plan to phase out the use of palm oil by 2030 as it considers the commodity to be a high-risk vegetable oil that has caused deforestation. The plan sparked a trade spat between the EU, one of the world’s top importers of palm oil, and producing countries Indonesia and Malaysia.

The government has said the Inpres was expected to boost the productivity of existing palm oil plantations and clarify the rights of smallholders.

In contrast to Auriga’s claims, Prabianto Mukti Wibowo, the assistant deputy minister for forestry at the Office of the Economic Coordinating Minister, said the government had enacted the moratorium by evaluating new licenses and enforcing the 20 per cent rule.

Prabianto said authorities had postponed the clearing of 3.1 million hectares of land for oil palm cultivation from the 12 million hectares scrutinised by the Environment and Forestry Ministry because of a lack of necessary licences, such as land use rights and plantation business permits, among other legal issues.

He claimed that law enforcers had also imposed the 20 per cent allocation rule, quoting Environment and Forestry Ministry data showing that only 429,000ha had yet to be redistributed through the mechanism, differing from Auriga’s estimate of 1.08 million hectares.

However, he acknowledged that weak spatial data had hampered oil palm plantation management. To tackle the issue, he said the One Map Policy, introduced last year, provided a single geospatial information map that could help resolve the country’s long-standing spatial problems, including contradicting spatial information between different ministries, which has led to the cultivation of oil palm plantations in forestry areas.

Indonesian Palm Oil Producers Association executive director Mukti Sardjono said in Medan, North Sumatra, last year that he supported the temporary ban on the expansion of land allocated for palm oil plantations.

“I’m not worried about the moratorium. A similar law was issued under SBY [former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono] and it positively impacted palm oil production, as well as crop quality,” Mukti told the Jakarta Post on the sidelines of the third Indonesian Palm Oil Stakeholders Forum.

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