Govt indicates giant agribusiness group linked to illegal peat exploitation

(foresthints.news) - There are indications that the supply chain of Asia’s leading agribusiness group, Wilmar International, is involved in illegal peat exploitation in state forest areas by developing new palm oil plantations. This came to light after an authorized official from Indonesia’s Ministry of the Environment and Forestry performed an on-the-ground monitoring operation in the city of Dumai, in Sumatra’s Riau province on Friday (Dec 9).

Furthermore, the illegal palm oil plantation development in question also took place in peatlands that were burned last year and have been included in the indicative targeted peat restoration map of Indonesia’s Peat Restoration Agency (BRG).

“We have seen indications that Wilmar is involved (in illegal peat exploitation). A legally-based investigation is currently underway. This case was also immediately reported to the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) as it concerns losses to the state,” San Afri Awang, the ministry’s Peat Restoration Monitoring Chairman, told foresthints.news on Tuesday (Dec 13) at his office.

Professor Awang, who is also Director General of Forestry Planology at the ministry, explained that the findings of the ground check will be used as an entry point for taking legal actions against existing illegal palm oil plantations across state forest areas, in cooperation with the commission.

“I have already coordinated with the KPK on this matter and they have declared their full support.”

Targeted peat restoration areas exploited

A week before the Director General went to the field, a ground check was conducted (Dec 2) specifically to ascertain to what extent last year’s burned peatlands, located in one of the province’s most important cities, had been dug up by excavators for the development of new palm oil plantations.

“It turns out that targeted peat restoration areas have been continually exploited for developing new palm oil plantations. These areas form part of last year’s burned peatlands which should have been monitored by the peat agency,” bemoaned the Director General, who is also a member of the peat agency’s steering team.

The following photos demonstrate exactly how last year’s burned peatlands have been exploited and turned into stretches of new palm oil plantations, all indications of which, according to the Director General, show a link to the supply chain of Wilmar.

“The ground check conducted at this location indicated the involvement of the Wilmar supply chain. I’m also sure that at other locations, indications will be found of the involvement of supply chains of other palm oil business groups.”

Professor Awang confirmed that President Joko Widodo has explicitly rejected the possibility of whitewashing illegal palm oil plantations situated in state forest areas, before going on to draw a contrast between corporate and community actions in the area.

“The facts on the ground illustrate that a very significant number of palm oil plantations distributed among state forest areas, particularly in peatlands, are being professionally developed. There is a blatant difference between these plantations and those being developed by local communities.”

He sought to further reassure these communities that, unlike the palm oil giants, they were at no risk of recriminations. “Of course we will try to find legally-based solutions for smallholder palm oil plantations that are genuinely owned by local communities. We have no intention of criminalizing local or indigenous communities.”