No room for palm oil, mining expansion as Irwandi returns as Aceh Governor

(foresthints.news) - Today (Jul 5), Irwandi Yusuf, was inaugurated as the new Governor of Aceh for a five-year term of office. This is his second term as Aceh Governor, having held the post from 2006-2012.

The inauguration ceremony, which took place at Aceh’s parliament building, was attended by President Joko Widodo, who transited in Aceh on his way to Turkey and then to Germany to attend the Group of Twenty (G20) Summit.

Aceh Green

One of the most controversial aspects of Irwandi’s leadership during his first term was his issuance of a new permit for palm oil plantation development in peatlands and orangutan habitat in the Leuser Ecosystem.

This palm oil permit was subsequently revoked by his successor Zaini Abdullah in 2012, a few months after he became governor, replacing Irwandi. Now it is Irwandi's turn to replace Zaini as Governor of Aceh.

The reputation of the 'Aceh Green' program, one of Irwandi's flagship programs in the period from 2006-2012, was severely tarnished due to the abovementioned issuance of a palm oil permit in the Leuser Ecosystem's Tripa peat swamp forests.

As part of his new leadership, Irwandi has vowed to resume the 'Aceh Green' program, including by designing a program aimed at fostering Aceh's green economic growth.

Another one of Irwandi’s pledges is to take strategic steps towards climate change mitigation and adaptation.

The newly-inaugurated Governor has also promised to protect and restore important critically-endangered species, in particular the Sumatran orangutan which is one of the key species in the Leuser Ecosystem.

The resumption of the 'Aceh Green' program makes it seem certain that Irwandi will not repeat his previous action of issuing a new palm oil permit in forested peatlands which include the habitat of the orangutan in the Leuser Ecosystem.

This photo below were taken at Irwandi’s inauguration ceremony which sees him become Governor of Aceh for the next five years.

No room for expansion

During his leadership, Zaini Abdullah along with Wali Nanggroe Aceh (Guardian of Aceh) Malik Mahmud and Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya declared a moratorium on all palm oil and mining expansion in the Leuser Ecosystem in April last year.

The following photo show the Wali Nanggroe Aceh Malik Mahmud entering Aceh’s parliament building to attend the new Aceh Governor’s inauguration ceremony.

With reference to the ‘Aceh Green’ program which the new Governor has promised to undertake until 2022, Irwandi of course needs to continue enforcing the moratorium imposed by his predecessor, and refrain from issuing any palm oil or mining permits as he did during his first term.

In October last year, Zaini Abdullah also issued a circular letter to plantation companies operating in the Leuser Ecosystem, forbidding them from carrying out land clearing in the Leuser Ecosystem, an area considered to be the last place on earth for several crucial species.

Since the declaration of the moratorium and subsequent issuance of the circular letter, a number of violations have still been committed by several palm oil companies which form part of the supply chains of some giant palm oil companies, most notably Wilmar. These violations include forest clearing and peat drainage.

The photos below depict a palm oil company (PT ABN) linked to the Wilmar and Nestle supply chains that continues to clear the habitat of Sumatran elephants even after the declaration of the moratorium.

In light of these continuing violations, it is essential that enforcement of the implementation of the Leuser Ecosystem moratorium be strengthened further under the leadership of Irwandi over the next five years.

Not only in the Leuser Ecosystem

In October last year, Governor Zaini Abdullah also issued a Gubernatorial Instruction ordering a moratorium on the granting of new palm oil permits throughout Aceh, not just in the Leuser Ecosystem.

This freeze on the granting of new permits extended beyond the palm oil sector, also encompassing new permits for mineral and coal mining.

The resumption of the 'Aceh Green' program until 2022 should thus also ensure that Governor Irwandi prolongs the palm oil and mining expansion moratorium, not merely covering the Leuser Ecosystem but also the rest of the province of Aceh.

In early November last year, Environment and Forestry Minister Dr Siti Nurbaya also revised a ministerial decree on forest areas in Aceh, thereby making the Leuser Ecosystem a legal and integral part of the existing Aceh Spatial Plan.