While the Indonesian government says the country’s oil palm plantations cover some 14 million hectares, a study conducted by palm oil industry watchdog Sawit Watch puts the figure much higher, at more than 21 million hectares.
According to Sawit Watch Executive Director Andi Inda Fatinaware, in her presentation at a national workshop on improving management in the palm oil industry held here on Monday (13/8), a mapping conducted by her organization on existing permits in the palm oil industry showed that palm oil plantation covers 21, 025,336.95 hectares, including those with or without land cultivation rights.
Smallholders account for 35 percent of the total plantation surface while another 10 percent is in the hand of the government, through its state-owned plantation enterprises. The rest, some 55 percent, is in the hands of large corporations and investors.
“This already depicts the imbalance in the structure of land tenure in the palm oil industry,” Fatinaware said.
While more than three million families depended on 35 percent of the palm plantations, the 55 percent was in the hands of just some 30 large business groups, she said.
“This imbalance gives rise to various conflicts,” Fatinaware said, citing tenurial and social conflicts. She also said that the imbalance in land tenure also ran against the constitution which guarantees social justice and a livelihood that is independent and comfortable for the nation.
Fatinaware, emphasizing that both she and her organization were not anti-palm oil but only wanted a sustainable palm oil industry, said that in order to deal with this imbalance, the government needed to fully implement the Agrarian Law or an agrarian reform.
However, there was a need for a moratorium on the issuance of permits for new plantations, she said. “Agrarian reforms cannot be completed while new permits continue to be issued.”
A moratorium must also proceed in parallel with a revision of existing permits in the palm oil sector, she added.
Fatinaware said that the moratorium could ride on the momentum provided by the ongoing political year in the run-up to presidential elections next year. The government, she said, should make use of this momentum to push the moratorium, something that is not popular among businesses and would consequently face a lot of resistance from this sector.
“This is a political year, this (a moratorium) should become a political agenda,” she said, adding that the current government should build the foundation for a betterment of the management of the palm oil industry for the next government to implement.
“It should become a momentum at the end of this period, the foundation should be laid,” she said.
The plan for the moratorium was mooted by President Joko Widodo in April 2016, covering the palm oil and coal mining sectors, two industries often blamed for deforestation and environmental degradation. The plan, however, has yet to materialize.
According to the plan, the moratorium would be for a period of at least three years.