May 14, 2018

Prominent business player continues to drain peat forests

( - Major parts of the Ketungau peat forest landscape, which lies in West Kalimantan’s Sintang regency, have been destroyed by two palm oil companies (PT SKL and PT DRM) that are associated with the Salim Group. These two companies have undertaken palm oil expansion over an area of nearly 20 thousand soccer fields.

Furthermore, according to a Rainforest Action Network (RAN)Rainforest Foundation Norway (RFN) and SumOfUs-commissioned report, which was prepared by AidEnvironment and published last month (Apr 11), this peat destruction remains underway to a certain extent. 

The report revealed spatial and ground-based evidence of the eradication of significant parts of the peat forest landscape concerned for new palm oil plantation development.

In a further update, using Planet Explorer, the spatial team produced new evidence, backing up the already existing evidence, that the two Salim-linked companies are indeed carrying out palm oil expansion in this peat forest landscape, as seen in the following images. This practice clearly constitutes a violation of Indonesia's peat-related regulations.

This update was performed after RAN’s Forest Policy Director Gemma Tillack informed via email (May 4) that one of the Salim-controlled palm oil companies (PT SKL) was still developing new palm oil plantations. Included in the correspondence was evidence of these destructive practices in the form of satellite images taken between the third week of October 2017 and early April this year. 

The subsequent update confirms that the palm oil company in question continued to commit peat violations from early April to early May this year, as depicted in the above-displayed images.

Minister’s circular letter ignored 

In early November 2015, Indonesian Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya issued a circular letter intended for forestry and plantation companies, in which it was made explicit that any new peat development was banned.

The letter, which was sent out on the order of President Joko Widodo, also demanded that the companies concerned revise their respective work plans. 

However, the two aforementioned Salim Group-controlled companies went ahead with palm oil plantation expansion in the Ketungau peat forest landscape anyway. In fact, they continue to clear and drain peat forests in their concessions in flagrant contravention of the government prohibition.

The Google Earth images below depict how the two palm oil companies simply ignored the minister's circular letter by progressively expanding palm oil plantations in the Ketungau peat forest landscape, most notably from early November 2015 to late December 2016.

What's more, in mid-September 2016, the Indonesian Peat Restoration Agency (BRG) released its indicative targeted peat restoration map which covered most of the concession areas of the Salim-linked companies. The report commissioned by the three NGOs highlighted this point.

Continuing disregard

Nevertheless, the Salim-linked palm oil companies carried on clearing the peat forest complex for palm oil expansion, even after a newly-revised government peat regulation signed by President Joko Widodo in early December 2016 was enacted, unequivocally banning any new peat development.

The following Planet Explorer images show how this important government regulation was disregarded by the two Salim-associated companies, in that they both went forward with new palm oil plantation development until early May this year.

To make matters worse, the two palm oil companies also violated another set of new ministerial regulations concerning peatlands, which included a peat ecosystem map, signed by Minister Nurbaya in late February 2017. This map indicates, among other things, that parts of the two Salim-linked companies' concessions fall into peat protection zones.

The report commissioned by the three NGOs emphasized that the two Salim-controlled palm oil companies have clearly been engaging in peat violations by undertaking new palm oil plantation development in peat areas where such practices are outlawed, as seen in the following photos. 

Despite the mountain of evidence against it, one of the implicated Salim-controlled palm oil companies has insisted that, “it has a commitment to best business practices and compliance with the laws and regulations of The Republic of Indonesia.” Tillack informed of this response from the company in her email (May 4). 

With respect to the company's attempted clarification, RAN told by email that it had challenged the company to publicly disclose relevant evidence supporting its comments.

In spite of a claim of legal compliance from one of the companies, all the evidence outlined above, including the new evidence pointing to new peat development between early April and early May this year, makes it clear that the two Salim-controlled companies have been consistently carrying out peat violations.

The key legal argument in this case refers to the law enforcement sanctions imposed on palm oil and pulpwood companies by Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya for committing peat violations of a similar nature to those committed by the two Salim-linked companies.