July 19, 2016

Existing permits not to be left out of palm oil moratorium, according to ministry

( - Indonesia's Ministry of the Environment and Forestry has reaffirmed that the moratorium on palm oil expansion also involves reviews of existing permits with the aim of terminating the practice whereby natural forests with good forest cover are cleared to make way for additional oil palm plantations.

"Reviews of existing permits form an integral part of the palm oil expansion moratorium. I am conveying this on behalf of the Environment and Forestry Minister," said Professor San Afri Awang, Director General of Forestry Planology and Environmental Governance at the ministry, while confirming the measures that are to be taken by the government at a media briefing held on Monday (Jul 18) at the office of the ministry.

The Director General emphasized that natural forests that remain productive - in other words natural forests with good forest cover - located in existing palm oil concessions will be incorporated into the palm oil expansion moratorium.

He cited existing palm oil concessions in the provinces of Papua and West Papua, measuring around one million hectares, which are going to be incorporated into the palm oil expansion moratorium, given that these existing concessions still enjoy good forest cover, or can be categorized as productive natural forests.

"For the purpose of reviewing these existing permits, the palm oil expansion moratorium will be regulated in the form of a Presidential Instruction. This was already agreed to in a meeting of the relevant ministers held last Friday (Jul 15).”

The Director General explained that, on top of this, millions of hectares of forest with good forest cover situated in state forest areas (convertible production forest) outside of the existing moratorium map must also be subject to the moratorium.

"Deforestation taking place in productive natural forests (with good forest cover) must be stopped. There’s already been enough palm oil expansion. We actually need to diversify our commodities. This is the President’s message. Sufficient land has already been allocated to palm oil plantations. We should now be focusing on enhancing the productivity of existing concessions and strengthening the role of smallholders.”

He went on to say that there had, of course, been input from palm oil industry players who asked for reviews of existing palm oil permits not to form part of the palm oil expansion moratorium. They argued, he added, that the existing moratorium map was adequate. The Director General seemed, however, to rebuff such requests.

“Once again, I would like to underline that we are simply implementing the message and instructions of the President.”

Prof San said that the final draft of the Presidential Instruction on the five-year palm oil expansion moratorium would be submitted to the President in early August and represented an initiative of the Indonesian government, and the President specifically.

"It should be noted that the palm oil expansion moratorium is not being carried out by the government due to pressure from NGOs or international donor groups. Whatever they claim to be the case is irrelevant.”

He also pointed out that palm oil expansion to date had only been allowed for certain business groups for the purpose of land banks, to the neglect of local and indigenous communities.

"These business groups control 80% of the palm oil land, while the rest - a mere 20% - is owned by communities. These business groups have a serious obligation to assist these communities and they have failed to fulfill this.”

Prof San also touched on the results of his team’s assessment showing that 2.3 million hectares of palm oil concessions were located in state forest areas. In the moratorium phase, he explained, his ministry will be focusing on resolving these kinds of illegal cases.

"Some of this area will be subject to legal measures owing to the presence of these palm oil concessions. In fact, not only do they violate the forest area map, but they are also inconsistent with provincial and regency/municipality-level spatial plans. This all forms part of the reform and strengthening of forestry governance.”

President Jokowi announced a moratorium on the expansion of palm oil and mining in mid-April. The Environment and Forestry Minister, Siti Nurbaya, recently disclosed that there were five considerations underlying the President’s decision.

These five considerations were to prevent the clearing of natural forests with good forest cover, to boost the productivity of existing palm oil concessions, to strengthen the role of smallholders, to enhance the downstream palm oil sector, and to control emissions emanating from deforestation.