March 5, 2019

Palm oil expansion moratorium potentially weakened

JAKARTA ( - Indonesian Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya has made the surprising move of delegating the evaluation of good forest cover situated in existing palm oil concessions - which originates from the relinquishment of state forest areas - to provincial government forestry offices.

The delegation of this task, which is enshrined in a new ministerial regulation promulgated in December 2018, effectively means that responsibility for the evaluation of existing good forest cover in existing palm oil concessions lies at the provincial government level. 

As a result, the implementation of these evaluations, which were one of the core aspects of President Joko Widodo's instruction for a moratorium on palm oil expansion signed in September last year, has potentially been weakened.  

The President clearly instructed the Environment and Forestry Minister in his palm oil expansion moratorium order to evaluate good forest cover lying in existing palm oil concessions, something that should not be delegated to provincial government offices. 

Five cases 

In early February last year, revealed that four new palm oil permits that were granted involving Papua and West Papua provinces, covering the equivalent of more than 60 thousand soccer fields, were dominated by intact forest cover.

The following Google Earth images show the land cover situation when these new palm oil permits were granted to the four palm oil companies concerned, as previously reported by

The evaluation of the good forest cover distributed in the four new palm oil concessions, as seen above, clearly depended on the evaluation results from the Papua and West Papua provincial forestry offices respectively. 

Accordingly, the peat ecosystem and good forest cover, which largely dominated the four palm oil concessions, should most certainly be excluded from the areas set aside for development into new palm oil plantations.

In addition to these cases, an NGO coalition also uncovered the granting of another new palm oil permit to PT SMA for an area equal to more than 28 thousand soccer fields in Papua province in April last year, as reported by Mongabay in early September last year.

A subsequent analysis conducted by the spatial team found that nearly the entire PT SMA palm oil concession was still composed of intact forests, with reference to land cover situation data from the Environment and Forestry Ministry (2018).

The Google Earth images below portray the intact forests blanketing nearly the whole PT SMA concession. These should also have been the subject of a good forest cover evaluation with the result that they were not developed into new palm oil plantations.

Level of leadership

The ability to revert good forest cover in existing palm oil concessions into state forest areas certainly starts from the level of leadership in evaluating existing good forest cover in existing palm oil concessions.

The level of leadership in evaluating the intact forests spread across the aforementioned five palm oil concessions will unquestionably serve as a lesson learned in the implementation of the President's palm oil expansion moratorium.

Furthermore, the level of initiative on the part of the provincial governments in evaluating good forest cover in these five palm oil concessions which were granted permits in 2018 also serves as an important lesson learned pointing to the fact that closer observation is required.