September 21, 2018

Minister underlines key points of new palm oil moratorium

( - President Joko Widodo has signed a presidential instruction imposing a three-year moratorium on palm oil plantation expansion (Sep 19), halting the issuance of new permits and demanding a review of existing permits in areas with good forest cover. 

A day later, Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya elaborated on some key points of the moratorium.  

“There will be no more new permits for the expansion of palm oil plantations in locations with good forest cover, whether this is a completely new or ongoing permit process,” she asserted to (Sep 20) at the ministry building.

Meanwhile, the minister added that the development of new palm oil plantations based on existing permits in areas with good forest cover will be subject to evaluation. 

“All this will be done in sequence and will be processed using clear measures,” she emphasized. 

The minister gave a reminder of how much effort her ministry has put in to enforcing improved peat governance, in particular by trying to end new peat development, since the President placed a ban on any new draining of peatlands in early December 2016.

She pointed to the new peat development carried out in two concessions controlled by First Resources/CAA situated in Central Kalimantan's Pulang Pisau regency (seen in the photos below). The companies concerned, the minister explained, were duly sanctioned but they continue to commit peat violations.  

Nonetheless, according to Minister Nurbaya, the two companies have legally declared that they are complying with prevailing regulations, whereas the ministry is taking relevant legal steps of its own in the case. 

"This shows that it is not easy to end new development, so we have to remain consistent. Another case like this is sure to arise during the implementation of this new moratorium on the expansion of palm oil plantations involving good forest cover," she said.

Most permits from previous regime  

The Environment and Forestry Minister pointed out that almost all of the existing permits for palm oil concessions, which derive from the relinquishment of state forest areas, were issued during the 10-year Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono administration, including in the provinces of Papua and West Papua.

“The ongoing clearing of good forest cover to make way for the development of new palm oil plantations, especially over the last four years, has almost exclusively taken place in concessions whose permits were granted by the SBY administration. This is an undeniable fact,” she stated firmly. 

The following photos portray a palm oil concession (PT GAN, owned by GAMA Plantation) lying in West Kalimantan’s Kubu Raya regency which was also hit with a sanction from Minister Siti Nurbaya, compelling it to stop new peat development. This concession’s permit was issued one month before the end of the SBY administration. 

The minister also said that the commitments made by a number of global palm oil players to clean up their supply chains from deforestation and peat destruction still exist on paper only for most of these companies. 

"A set of clear evidence easily sourced through our law enforcement efforts confirms the failure of global palm oil supply chains to help stop deforestation and peat destruction," she lamented. 

Monitoring essential

Minister Nurbaya explained that during the evaluation process for existing permits involving good forest cover, spatial monitoring would definitely be an important instrument in observing land cover changes in near real-time.

“Of course, we need to exert as much effort as possible to reduce the clearing of good forest cover during the evaluation process for existing permits. This, however, will require extra efforts, referring to our experience in halting new peat development,” she cautioned.  

In addition, the minister brought up the matter of the 20% community rights, most notably from existing permits, that must still be fulfilled by palm oil companies, seeing that the President has ordered this issue to be prioritized.

The minister went on to say that the issues of land banks, the trading of permits, and illegal palm oil plantations across state forest areas are also among the President’s key concerns to be resolved.  

In concluding her elaboration, Minister Siti Nurbaya warned that the moratorium on the development of palm oil plantations in areas which retain good forest cover must also be complemented by efforts aimed at improving good governance of a sustainable palm oil industry.

“Strengthening legal certainty, improving guidance for oil palm farmers and continuing to increase the productivity of palm oil plantations; the issues are very complex, it is not just about reducing emissions from the deforestation of good forest cover,” she said in closing.