Clearing begun on Bornean orangutan habitat worth USD3.2 million

(foresthints.news) - Satellite images indicate that the forested habitat of the critically-endangered Bornean orangutan in a palm oil concession (PT PSM) located in West Kalimantan’s Ketapang regency - formerly controlled by Genting Plantations (GenP) - is being cleared by PT Suryaborneo Mandiri (SBM), the company that spent USD3.2 million in cash to buy the concession.

GenP had previously made a commitment to ensuring that the high carbon stock (HCS) forests scattered among its former concession would be maintained. It turns out though that this commitment made by the Malaysian company to the public, which was disseminated by Wilmar through its grievance progress update report, is just an empty promise.

By selling the concession to another party, which is currently clearing those HCS forests, GenP has completely failed to live up to the commitment it made to maintain these forests. In fact, GenP has totally relinquished all responsibility in the matter by transferring the palm oil development permit obtained by its subsidiary in May 2013.

A Washington DC-based NGO, Mighty Earth, called GenP’s actions ‘an old dirty trick’. In stark contrast, the Musim Mas Group has declared that it respects the decision made by GenP.

Greenomics Indonesia, which has long warned of the serious threat posed by the clearing of the Bornean orangutan’s habitat in the PT PSM concession, presented ESA Sentinel-2 images illustrating that the clearing of forests which play host to this rapidly disappearing species has begun.

GenP has intentionally set out to wash its hands of any responsibility for the ongoing HCS forest destruction, going back on its publicly-announced commitment by pocketing USD3.2 million in cash from the sale of the palm oil concession which is home to the Bornean orangutan.

More alarmingly still is how the issue is being treated as nothing out of the ordinary. Wilmar, for example, saw fit to merely write the following brief, matter-of-fact announcement in its grievance progress update report: “On 16 March 2017, Genting announced that PT PSM has ceased to be a subsidiary of Genting.”

Ironically, for months prior to this Wilmar had been providing public updates to the effect that Genting remained committed to not developing the HCS forests situated in the PT PSM concession.

Wilmar responds

When Wilmar was asked by foresthints.news for its reaction to the onset of the clearing of the Bornean orangutan’s habitat in the formerly-controlled GenP concession (Sep 11), Sharon Chong Choy, spokesperson for the world’s largest palm oil trader, wrote in reply (Sep 12): “We have been made aware of the allegations regarding PT PSM, and are currently investigating the matter.”

The key words in this latest response from Wilmar are “currently investigating the matter”, which implies a promise to disclose the investigation results. It is very relevant to demand that this promise be kept.

Of course, the public doesn’t need to wait for these investigation results given that the HCS forests in the PT PSM concession are being converted into palm oil plantations, just as GenP did in another one of its concessions (PT CSC) directly adjacent to PT PSM, where HCS forests - also home to the Bornean orangutan - have largely been converted. The clearing carried out in this concession is seen in the Google Earth images below.

When asked to comment on the matter in its capacity as a member of the PONGO Alliance - which aims to save 10,000 orangutans found on non-certified palm oil concessions in Borneo - the Wilmar spokesperson declared, “Wilmar is part of the PONGO Alliance but we are not its official spokesperson; we will raise this matter with the PONGO Alliance.”

This pledge by Wilmar - to bring up the issue of the clearing of the Bornean orangutan’s habitat in the PT PSM concession through the PONGO Alliance forum - and its outcome also deserve great scrutiny.

In early December 2013, Wilmar was the very first palm oil business group to announce the cleaning up of its supply chains, especially with respect to deforestation and peat destruction. However, this policy also stipulated a ‘transition period’ of two years until late 2015.

As a result of this, Wilmar’s supply chains continued to be associated with deforestation and peat destruction practices due to loopholes that were exploited in the policy during that period.

Extremely strangely, however, after 2015 Wilmar’s supply chains remained linked to deforestation and peat destruction. The latest update, as of the end of August this year, indicates that Wilmar’s supply chains continue to act irresponsibly, in that they are still involved in the deforestation of Papua’s HCS forests.