A number of environmental and labor activists on Tuesday (21/1) welcomed new data on Indonesian oil palm plantation area released by the agriculture ministry that added two million hectare to the previous official figure, but all added that more needed to be done to make the data meaningful.
Ahmad Surambo, Deputy Executive Director of Sawit Watch, welcomed the new data as an “initial reference” but added that much still needed to be done to provide more details on the sector.
“This map of oil palm cover should better be followed up with ground checks in the field,” Ahmad said.
He said that the checks should be conducted by the ministry of agriculture but added that the public should also be able to give inputs.
Under Decree of the Agriculture Minister Number 833/KPTS/SR. 020/M/12/2019 issued last month, the total surface planted with oil palm in the country now stood at 16.381 million hectares, spread in 26 of the country’s 34 provinces. The previous official figure put Indonesia’s oil palm plantation at 14.3 million hectares.
The new figures, based on satellite imaging show Riau as being the province with the most oil palm plantation at 3.38 million hectares. It is followed by North Sumatra with 2.079 million hectares, West Kalimantan with 1.807 million hectares, Central Kalimantan with 1.78 million hectares and South Sumatra with 1.47 million hectares.
Marselinus Andri, who heads the advocacy department of the Union of Oil Palm Farmers (SPKS) said the new data was related to business certainty in all oil palm plantations but still needed much more sharpening.
“In the future, these data on oil palm cover should be further clarified, which belong to corporations and which belong to smallholders,” Marselinus said.
He further added that the government should not stop at merely determining the extent of oil palm plantations but also needed to address the many problems besetting the oil palm sector. He cited the problem of ownership, their land and business legality aspects, what seedling they used ect.
“This is important because these data will become the basis for government policies and programs for smallholder plantations,” he said. He cited as the problems that have to be addressed by policies and programs the matter of resolving land legality issues, the mandatory certification under the Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) scheme, replanting and how to empower smallholders.
Soelthon Gussetya Nanggara, Executive Director of Forest Watch Indonesia said that the new data should become a baseline for the implementation of the moratorium on new oil palm concessions.
But he added that to that effect, there was a need for a further identification of who owned the lands planted with palm oil, whether they were corporations, plasma scheme farmers or smallholders.
“From their locations, their correlation with forest areas, spatial zoning and also the territory of customary societies can be analyzed and their problems identified,” he said.
“The data can also answer whether palm oil is a cause of deforestation or not,” he added.
Soelthon also aired hopes that the spatial data would be made open to the public so that if can become a trustable reference. “If the access is only limited to the government, the accountability of the data would not be able to be tested by the public.
Ahmad, echoed Soelthon, saying that the data, including in the shapefile format, should be made open to the public.