The Palm Scribe

Watchdog wants RSPO members operating on peatlands to form forum

Photo: AFP

BANGKOK – Palm oil watchdog Sawit Watch is calling on the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to have its members with concessions that include peatland to form, for better coordination on the protection and conservation of those areas and better prevention from getting burned during dry seasons.

“We hope that for the future, there is a need to form a forum in a peatland hydrological unit (KHG). This forum is hoped to provide a room for collaboration between the various sides in jointly protecting and managing peatland in one single KHG,” Inda Fatinaware, the executive director of Sawit Watch said.

In a meeting on the sidelines of RT17, which is the 17th annual roundtable conference on sustainable palm oil held by the RSPO here, Inda said that her group’s research has shown that some RSPO members in Sumatra and Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo island, had operations in peatland and fires were found in their concessions.

She gave the example of one company she identified as PT DIL, which has seen annual fires develop on its concessions located within the Sungai Rumpit-Sungai Rawas peatland hydrological zone.

“The concession of this oil palm plantation, which is a member of the RSPO is located in peatland and there are indications that it suffered from fires in September and October 2019, and it has had fires almost annually since 2015. This shows that the water in the peatland of PT DIL is not well managed so that the peatland under the management of PT DIL has already dried up,” Inda said.

She said that it was imperative that a landscape approach is used in supporting efforts to prevent and handle forest and ground fires in KHG, adding that basically the essence of such approach was integration and adaptation in finding a joint solution.

“It would be much better if the RSPO consolidate companies within one single KHG to coordinate between themselves so that in this case the role of the RSPO becomes very important in forming a forum for sharing challenges and problems in preventing and handling forest and ground fires,” Inda said.

The forest and ground fires that have hit Sumatra and Kalimantan this year, according to Sawit Watch was one of the worst in years. The fires sent a thick smoke blanket to cover many areas in the country as well as in neighboring Singapore and Malaysia.

Sawit Watch said that this year, there were fires discovered in the concessions of 19 RSPO members in Sumatra and Kalimantan which were in KHGs. It also cited figures from the National Disaster Mitigation Agency (BNPB) that showed that fires in those same two areas had caused 919,516 cases of acute respiratory ailments.

Clark Bek-Nielsen, Co-Chair of RSPO had said earlier on the same day that some 70,000 fires were recorded in the country in this year’s dry season but that less than 0.5 percent originated from RSPO member concessions.

“This does also not mean that they have intentionally set up the fires, they could have spread from elsewhere or lit by lightning,” Bek-Nielsen said, adding that climate change was also a factor to consider.

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