Palm oil expansion still ongoing in Indonesian peat ecosystem 

(foresthints.news) - Two palm oil companies owned by the Ciliandry Angky Abadi (CAA) group are continuing to carry out deforestation and destroy the peat ecosystem for the expansion of their palm oil plantations in Central Kalimantan’s Pulang Pisau regency, one of the peat restoration priority regencies designated by President Joko Widodo in early January 2016.

Considering that the CAA group is among the suppliers to the world’s largest palm oil trader, Wilmar International, this situation reflects the extent to which the world’s palm oil supply chains remain linked to deforestation and peat ecosystem destruction.

Such deforestation and peat drainage practices in peat ecosystems naturally give rise to serious questions concerning the current implementation level of Indonesia’s new peat regulations.

Based on USGS Landsat 8 and ESA Sentinel-2 satellite images, derived among other sources from the LandViewer, the foresthints.news spatial team has been able to expose these business-as-usual practices which are taking place in a peat ecosystem lying in Central Kalimantan province.

The first company

A ban on any new peat drainage went into effect when President Joko Widodo signed a newly-revised government regulation in early December 2016. This prohibition, however, has been ignored by one of the CAA group companies, PT AGL, which has been proven to have continued clearing the forested peatlands scattered within its concession.

The map below shows the new palm oil plantation development plan in the PT AGL concession. Meanwhile, the two USGS Landsat 8 images below depict how the clearing of the forested peatlands in this CAA group palm oil concession has not ceased, even after an on-site field inspection was conducted by the Environment and Forestry Ministry in July last year.

The two satellite images above confirm that the CAA group is continuing to expand new palm oil development in line with its plan, despite its infringement into the peat ecosystem, according to the ministry map.

The second company

The second palm oil company from the CAA group involved is PT CAA which has begun to develop a new palm oil plantation in its concession, the permit for which was issued by the Indonesian Investment Coordinating Board (BKPM) on the day President Joko Widodo announced a moratorium on palm oil expansion in mid-April 2016.

According to the ministry’s land cover data, PT CAA has quite clearly been clearing part of the high carbon stock (HCS) forests situated in the peat ecosystem in its concession in this peat restoration priority regency. PT CAA is located precisely adjacent to PT AGL, the first CAA group-owned palm oil company whose peat violations were exposed in this news report.

The USGS Landsat 8 images below reveal the ‘progress’ that has been made by the CAA group with its new palm oil expansion in this peat ecosystem, raising a big question mark about why this peat ecosystem destruction appears to be unstoppable.  

Major parts of the forest cover across this palm oil concession are classified as HCS forests, the removal of which could certainly have been prevented - in addition to the use of the new peat regulations - if there had not been an absence of a legal basis to the palm oil expansion moratorium as a follow up to the President’s announcement.

However, from the supply chain perspective, the ongoing clearing of HCS forests in the peat ecosystem by the CAA group demonstrates in parallel  how low the level the cleaning up of the world’s palm oil supply chains from deforestation and peat destruction is.

If peat ecosystems across the country continue to be used as a source of land for new palm oil expansion, and the Indonesian authorities fail to act against this, this would represent a bad new chapter after two good years of engaging in effective peat protection efforts.

Furthermore, in the event that the Indonesian government keeps allowing new palm oil expansion in peat ecosystems - while at the same time continuing to undertake peat recovery efforts - this could certainly be deemed a strange lesson learned, both for the current generation and future ones.