The Palm Scribe

Greenpeace seen as excessive in accusing Indonesian palm oil industry of deforestation

In accusing the Indonesian palm oil industry of deforestation, environmental watchdog Greenpeace has been excessive and has not shown an understanding of the country’s development policy, Tungkot Sipayung the executive director of the Palm Oil Agribusiness Policy Institute (PAPSI) said.

ILLUSTRATION. Oil palm plantation in Ketapang, West Kalimantan. ILLUSTRATION. Oil palm plantation in Ketapang, West Kalimantan.

Speaking to the Palm Scribe on Tuesday, (29/11/2017) , Sipayung said that deforestation is a common occurence in development in any countries, including in Europe and the United States.

“All landmass that have now become cities in Europe are also the result of deforestation in the past. The difference being that Europe and the United States engaged in total deforestation while indonesia implements a selective deforestation policy,” Sipayung said.

He was commenting on a report issued by Greenpeace on Monday, (27/11/2017), in time with the annual meeting of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RT15) in Bali. In the report, Greepeace said that the Indonesian palm oil industry which supplies Crude Palm Oil to leading consumer brands across the world, could not yet guarantee that their palm oil were grown free from deforestation.

Greenpeace international said that the statement was the conclusion after having checked with 11 of the Indonesia’s largest CPO traders to see how far they had progressed in implementing the policy of “zero deforestation.”

“Three years after a number of the world’s larges palm oil trader adopted the ‘Zero Deforestation” policy, none of them could prove that no deforestation had occurred in their palm oil supply chain,” Greenpeace said in its press release.

Bagus Kusuma, a campaigner of jGreenpeace Indonesia, named the 11 companies as AAK, Apical, Astra Agro Lestari, Cargill, GAR (Sinar Mas), IOI Group, KIK, Musim Mas, Olam, Pacific-Interlink, and Wilmar. “The eleven companies were chosen because we deem them as bing the largest suppliers,” Kusuma told the Palm Scribe.

Not only did they fail to prove that their supplies did not involve the destruction of forest, most also could not say when their supply chain would be free from any deforestation Kusuma said.

Greenpeace said that Indonesia has lost 31 million hectares of forest, or an area almost as big as Germany, since 1990. Deforestation also poses a big threat to rare wildlife living in forests, including orang-utans. A study conducted on orangutans this year said that In Kalimantan and  Sumatra where the great apes live, their population had significantly dropped because other  deteriorating forest habitat.

Therefore, Greenpeace is asking the palm oil traders, and the consumer good companies using the palm oil, to meet their promise and stop buying from companies which are still engaging in destroying forests.

Greenpeace has highlight this deforestation issue because the government of Indonesia had signed a moratorium for two years on the clearing of primary forests. The Moratorium implies the temporary cessation in the issuance of new concessions for tropical forests and mangrove areas. The moratorium came into effect on May 20, 2011 and expired in 2013 but then the president at the time, Sudsilo Bambang Yudhoyono further extended the moratorium for another two years.

In return for the moratorium, Indonesia became eligible for a one billion dollar assistance package from Norway.

However, the international media has already repeatedly reported alleged violations of the moratorium by Indonesian companies. Although some international media reported that the moratorium had been violated by a number of Indonesian company, the real fact on the field is that the moratorium has led to a temporary halt in the expansion of palm oil plantation in the country.

Those who were sceptical of the moratorium, including Greenpeace, have shown that before it had become effective, the Indonesian government had already issued concession rights for 9 million hectares to clear for new plantations. Big plantation companies also were reported to still have half of their concession unplanted, meaning that there were more than enough room for expansion.

Palm oil in numbers.  Palm oil in numbers.

In May 2015, President Joko Widodo once again extended the moratorium for another two years.

Sipayung deemed that Greenpeace had a mistaken view of Indonesia and was trapped in the paradigm of development in Western countries that had conducted total deforestation. “Indonesia subscribes to the sustainable development paradigm that manages diversity, which can live harmoniously with people in their respective areas,” Sipayung said.

He said that from the some 190 million hectares of land in Indonesia, at least 30 percent is being maintained as protected forests and conservation forests while the remaining 70 percent are for people, including for palm oil plantation. This ratio is in line with the Law on Forests, the Law on Spatial Planning and the Law on Environment.

At present, some 88 million hectares or 47 percent of the total landmass in Indonesia are still in the form of primary forests. The total surface taken up by palm oil is only at around  seven percent of the total. “Therefore it is not true that Indonesian forests are threatened by palm oil,” said Sipayung who is also a member of team writing the book “Myths and Facts on Palm Oil.”

He explained that Greenpeace is still trying to enforce IPOP (Indonesia Palm Oil Pledge) that prohibits CPO processing plant and mills to buy fresh fruit bunch of palm oil from farmers. This according to Sipayung was not in favour of small palm oil farmers, known as smallholders, but rather were favouring large corporations and rich palm oil consumers in Europe.

“Palm oil plantations have in fact saved millions of people from poverty. It is as if Greenpeace is prohibiting people from lifting themselves out of poverty. Greenpeace appears to be happier if the farmers remain poor,” he said.

There are at least 17 million people whose livelihood are linked to the palm oil industry, directly or indirectly, in Indonesia  Farmers manage at least 4.7 million hectares or 41 percent of the total of 11,9 million hectares of palm oil plantation in Indonesia  Palm oil is also the country’s largest foreign exchange earner with palm oil exports in 2016 bringing in Rp 240 trillion, or eight percent up from the previous year.

Palm oil plantation. Source: Indonesia Investmens. Palm oil plantation. Source: Indonesia Investmens.

Tiur Rumondang, RSPO Country Director and spokeperson for Indonesia Operation, said that RSPO is aware of the report published by Greenpeace. “We remain committed to transparency and accountability and welcome independent reviews by third parties, including NGOs,” Rumondang told the Palm Scribe.

While the issue of palm oil sourcing remains a controversial one, Rumondang said, RSPO members sourcing sustainable oil palm products are required to comply with supply chain certification, which has ramifications for members who do not comply.

“RSPO members are also required to set time-bound plans to implement their sustainability commitments, and we must allow them the necessary time to achieve this. Transformation cannot be done in isolation, nor can it be achieved overnight, and only through a collaborative, transparent, and inclusive approach, such as that created by the RSPO, can we transform the market together,” Rumondang told the Palm Scribe.

Until this  report was written, the Association of Palm Oil Producer (GAPKI) declined to comment on the Greenpeace report.

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