April 23, 2018

Palm oil expansion in LiDAR-mapped peat still undetected

( - New evidence has once again shed light on the weakness of the monitoring performed by the Indonesian Peat Restoration Agency (BRG), in that parts of its targeted peat restoration areas are currently being developed into new palm oil plantations.

Even more embarrassingly for the peat agency, these palm oil expansion spots are actually situated in the Norwegian-funded LiDAR mapping areas in the Sungai Kahayan-Sebangau peat hydrological landscape. This lies in Central Kalimantan's Pulang Pisau regency, one of four priority peat restoration regencies designated by President Joko Widodo in early January 2016.

Based on a spatial analysis conducted by the team, this new palm oil plantation development has been clearly evident from December last year. In other words, it has been going on for about five months during which time the peat agency has completely failed to detect it.

At present, an area roughly equivalent to one thousand soccer pitches has already been converted into new palm oil plantations in this location. Unfortunately, to date there has been no intervention whatsoever by the peat agency to end these actions.

The following photos, taken by the team (Apr 20), depict just how aggressively these peat areas, which were classified by the peat agency as 2015 burned peat areas to be targeted for restoration, are being excavated (3°1'23.52"S 114°5'6.00"E).

The absence of the peat agency in ending this new peat development raises serious questions about its effectiveness, while underlining that its peat restoration efforts are not backed up by any kind of adequate spatial and field-based monitoring system.

Important milestone achieved?

This unrelenting, aggressive expansion of palm oil plantations should really not be happening, given that the burned peat areas concerned form part the LiDAR-based maps produced with the financial support of the Norwegian government.

In fact, the Norwegian embassy in late August last year went as far as to declare that the LiDAR-based peat restoration maps were an “important milestone in peat restoration work in Indonesia.”

However, the ground-based evidence indicating the building of new palm oil plantations in LiDAR-mapped areas to some degree invalidates this declaration by Norway.

What is really confusing is how this new palm oil plantation development in the LiDAR-mapped peat areas to the extent seen in the photos below could go completely undetected by the peat agency - especially over a five-month period of operations.  

Ironically, the LiDAR-based maps which were supposed to be utilized for accelerating peat restoration work - as pointed out by Peat Agency Chief Nazir Foead on various occasions - have instead created arenas for new and vigorous palm oil expansion. Making matters worse, the peat agency seems to have been wholly unaware of this. 

Who is behind the development?

Based on the peat agency’s data published in mid-September 2016, the locations of the new palm oil plantation development in question are classified as non-concessions.  

However, information obtained by (Apr 20) from the local community reveals that the new palm oil plantations belong to PT BSG, a subsidiary of a major Indonesian-listed palm oil company.

This was also acknowledged by the company’s workers who were asked while working on the construction of these new palm oil plantations. Nonetheless, it is certainly appropriate for further steps to be taken to confirm this legally.

Regardless of who is carrying out the development, evidence of this new palm oil expansion - in peat areas classified by the peat agency as 2015 burned peat areas targeted for restoration - represents another smear on the reputation of the peat agency.