Oil palm fruits

Job not yet done – why Indonesia’s palm oil moratorium needs to be extended to clean up the sector

Against a backdrop of palm oil companies operating illegally and in supposedly protected forests, the Government of Indonesia is being urged to extend a national palm oil moratorium due to end in September.

The three-year moratorium was put in place in September 2018 but has yet to be fully implemented and achieve its objectives.

Oil palm plantation, Indonesia (c) EIA

Crucially, it requires existing palm oil permits to be reviewed and halts the issuing of new permits within the country’s Forest Estate, areas identified by the Government to be permanently maintained as forest.

In a new briefing, 15 Indonesian NGOs – including EIA’s long-term partner Kaoem Telapak – make the case to extend the moratorium, a key purpose of which was to address land governance issues in the country.

Indonesia’s palm oil sector has been plagued by overlapping land claims and irregularities in the process of granted permits and, according to analysis by the NGOs, nearly seven million hectares of palm oil concessions are still located within the Forest Estate area, which is not allowed.

In addition, nine million hectares of palm oil concessions overlap with other concessions. The moratorium was meant to resolve these.

Siobhan Pearce, EIA Forests Campaigner (Palm Oil), said: “Despite the positive intentions of the moratorium, there’s been a lack of transparency on the results to date, no clear targets or budget and a lack of coordination between national and local governments.”

Oil palm plantation on deforested land in Papua, Indonesia

Oil palm plantation in Papua, Indonesia (c) EIA

West Papua is the only province to date to have completed its palm oil permit evaluation, where it has been found that up to 14 palm oil companies are operating in violation of the law. The permits of these companies are starting to be revoked.

It is hoped that customary land in West Papua – land owned by indigenous communities and administered in accordance with their customs – will be given back to local people to manage, rather than permits being issued to new companies. The area to be revoked covers 267,857 hectares, two-thirds of it forest which could be conserved.

This case highlights the positive results that could come from the moratorium and the briefing sets out a number of strategic reasons why it is important to extend it. These includes increasing the credibility of Indonesia’s palm oil sector, creating a conducive business environment by resolving land claims, contributing to Indonesia’s climate change commitments and boosting smallholder productivity.

A patch of freshly cleared forest

Forest freshly cleared for oil palms (c) EIA

Rahmadha, Kaoem Telapak Palm Oil Campaigner, said: “Currently, the Government of Indonesia is on the right track in realising sustainable palm oil governance as reflected in the Presidential Instruction on the Palm Oil Moratorium. However, this strategic opportunity is likely to be lost if this regulation is not extended.”

Without an extension, it is feared that Indonesia’s controversial Job Creation Law passed last year will further threaten forests and legalise concessions which have been operating illegally in the Forest Estate.

Pearce added: “Civil society is also pressing for the moratorium to be made a regulation, rather than just an instruction, to give it greater legal status.

“Doing so would be a clear signal that the Government is committed to addressing poor land governance in the palm oil sector.”