January 22, 2019

NGOs, minister present contrasting stances on new palm oil permit

JAKARTA ( - In late November last year, Indonesian Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya signed a new state forest relinquishment decree for a palm oil development permit covering the equivalent of almost ten thousand soccer fields in Central Sulawesi’s Buol regency.

According to Indonesia’s largest environmental NGO WALHI (Jan 21), this newly-granted permit - which was issued only around two months after a palm oil expansion moratorium was put into effect by President Joko Widodo - paints a bad picture.

Meanwhile, forestry-based research NGO Greenomics Indonesia (Jan 18) has stated that large swathes of the land cover spread across these new palm oil concession blocks, which were granted to PT Hardaya Inti Plantation/HIP (PT Cipta Cakra Murdaya/CCM), consist of high carbon stock (HCS) forests, making up around 80% of the area concerned.

Of this area, secondary forests dominate to a large extent, accounting for about 75% with the other roughly 5% composed of primary forests, based on Greenomics’ calculations which also refer to the ministry’s land cover data published in 2018.  

The following Google Earth images, presented by Greenomics, portray parts of the predominant secondary forests that were relinquished for palm oil development situated in the new PT HIP concession blocks. These forests, in fact, remain relatively intact.

Alongside the fact that primary forests were also relinquished for PT HIP’s palm oil expansion, this means that good forest cover is still being targeted for new palm oil development despite the President’s signing of the aforementioned palm oil expansion moratorium. 

The Google Earth images below, also from Greenomics, show parts of the primary forests granted to PT HIP for new palm oil development.   

The land cover evidence presented in this news report, according to Greenomics, still represents the latest situation on the ground, backed up by satellite images, as of early January 2019.

Existing palm oil plantations 

The newly-granted palm oil development permit also includes existing palm oil plantations. Greenomics pointed out an area equal to nearly a thousand soccer fields consisting of existing palm oil plantations in one of the PT HIP concession blocks, as seen in the Google Earth images below.

The situation involving these existing palm oil plantations  is legally questionable given that they were there before a state forest relinquishment decree was issued for this location.  

Minister’s reaction

With respect to this case, Minister Siti Nurbaya has asserted to KOMPAS, one of Indonesia’s leading newspapers (Jan 22), that her move to issue the decree relinquishing state forests for new palm oil development did not break any rules

“From the legal perspective, there is no problem. All the requirements, the legal basis, and relevant documents are strong,” she was quoted telling KOMPAS.

The minister also stressed that her actions have in no way contravened the President’s palm oil expansion moratorium policy.

Nonetheless, both WALHI (Jan 10) and Greenomics are sticking to their positions, urging Minister Nurbaya to immediately revoke the new state forest relinquishment decree granted in favor of PT HIP. 

These NGOs are arguing strongly that the new permit should be cancelled by the minister in an effort to maintain consistency in implementing the President’s palm oil expansion moratorium.