The Palm Scribe

Research Institute Debunks Charges that Oil Palm Expansion is Behind Forest Fires

In a discussion on forest fires convened by the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) involving various government ministries and institutions as well as the private sector in Jakarta on Tuesday (8/10), the Independent Research and Advocacy Institute (IRAI) said that low world prices for palm oil commodity did not present an incentive for companies to expand their plantations.

“At present, there is no incentive for companies to clear new land because CPO (crude palm oil) is really low based on prices in 2017,” IRAI founder Lin Che Wei said in the presentation obtained by The Palm Scribe, adding that prices were at around $498 per ton compared to the $753 it fetched in 2017.

He pointed out that the government in 2018 had already come up with a moratorium on new palm oil concessions and that data showed no spike in the purchase of seedlings which would have been the case if the land clearing were for new plantations.

Data from LMC International cited in the presentations showed that although sales of seedlings did increase from some 75,000 in 2016 to around 90,000 in 2018, the slight rise was attributed to the government’s intensive replanting drive in the oil palm sector. According to the data, the sales of seedlings in 2019 were not even half the level in 2008.

In the presentation document, he laid the blame on individuals outside of concession areas, saying that the data showed that deforestation was slowing down after peaking in 2015 when massive forest and ground fires took place.

“The fact is, a majority of the land burning that have taken place, were outside of the concessions of companies and were conducted by individual in the population for the purpose of shifting cultivation,” he said.

Lin also said that current sanctions against the user of fire in clearing land were stiff, including confiscation of the land, fines, criminal pursuit and the potential of revocation of license, posing a further disincentive.

National deforestation data showed that while in 2015 deforestation was at 1.1 million hectares, it had gradually declined to 0.63 million hectares in 2016, 0.48 million hectares in 2017 and 0.44 million hectares last year.

Global Forest Watch Fires which monitor real-time forest and ground fires across the globe, including in Indonesia, has also shown that the vast majority of fires took place outside of concession areas. The real-time fire mapping uses NASA Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS) near real-time (NRT) active fire data from the MODIS and VIIRS satellites to map fire locations.

It said that in the October 1-8 period, there were a total of 15,196 fire alerts with the South Sumatran district of Ogan Komering Ilir topping the list in terms of the number of fires at 1114 instances. During the period, it said that 20 percent of the fires were in the primary forest but that none were in intact forest areas.

Fires percent of the fires alerts in that period were in oil palm plantation areas but none of them in concessions of members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.

The overwhelming bulk of fire alerts in oil palm concessions, 624 fires were in concessions not belonging to any of the large palm oil plantation groups. A total of 101 other fires were found in concessions belonging to seven palm oil groups.

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