Translate page with Google

Story Publication logo June 11, 2024

Absolution of Sin for the Forest Demolishers



Reporting will provide an overview of forest damage caused by illegal oil palm plantations.


Hundreds of companies, some of which are certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO), have planted more than 3 million hectares of illegal oil palm in forest areas. Instead of subjecting them to criminal sanctions, the government actually offered to legalize their oil palm land. Tempo, together with,, and, which are partners of, supported by the Pulitzer Center Rainforest Journalism Fund, revealed the pardoning of illegal oil palm plantation in Kalimantan and Riau.

Midway through December 2023, trucks laden with new bunches of oil palm fruit were observed traveling back and forth at the PT Suryamas Cipta Perkasa (PT SCP) plantation located in Paduran Sebangau Village, Sebangau Kuala District, Pulang Pisau Regency, Central Kalimantan. There are rows of palm trees with yellow leaves and sloping trunks on either side of the road, indicating that the trees were grown on peat land and lacked nutrients.

PT SCP, a subsidiary of the massive palm oil company PT Best Agro International, has converted more than 22,000 hectares of forest in the peat hydrology area into an oil palm plantation. Records from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (KLHK) show that the protected peat ecosystem function area comprises of 15,596 hectares, or an additional 67% of the total area. The cultivated peat ecosystem function area comprises 7,951 hectares, or 32% of the total area.

Meanwhile, the very deep peat hydrological unit area encompasses nearly the whole PT SCP concession, which is 20,324 hectares, according to the records of the Ministry of Agriculture. The remaining area, totaling about 2,271 hectares, is classified as having medium and deep peat area depths.

As a nonprofit journalism organization, we depend on your support to fund more than 170 reporting projects every year on critical global and local issues. Donate any amount today to become a Pulitzer Center Champion and receive exclusive benefits!

"Planting oil palm in the Peat Hydrological Unit (KHG) areas increases the risk of forest and land fires," said Wahyu Perdana, Pantau Gambut Campaign and Advocacy Manager.

There are numerous environmental issues associated with oil palm plantings on peatlands, particularly in KHG areas. Peat oxidation, which raises CO2 emissions, is the first problem, followed by soil sensitivity to floods and fires, as is usually the case in PT SCP's palm oil fields, which regularly catch fire.

In 2023, 291 hectares of PT SCP crops were burned by fire accidents that occurred between August and October. Approximately 256 hectares were destroyed by the majority of the fires, which took place in the protected peat ecosystem function area. The other burned 35 hectares area of the plantation, happened in the cultivation ecosystem function area.

There had also been some land fires in the past. A total of 888 hectares of land were reported as burned between 2015 and 2020. Also, 259 hectares of tree cover were lost during that time.

Similar to PT SCP, PT Best Agro International has a poor track record when it comes to land fires. According to a Greenpeace research, the Best Agro group owns nine plantation companies that together account for 127,220 hectares of forest areas. 539 hectares of this property are conservation areas, while 6,210 hectares are protected forest.

Consequently, the Tjajadi conglomerate family's corporation has a history of large-scale land fires. This massive producer of palm oil is included in the group of businesses with the biggest burn area, which is 3,605 hectares. As a matter of fact, some of these subsidiaries hold the Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil certification, or ISPO.

The goal of the Ministry of Agriculture's ISPO policy is to make the palm oil sector more competitive while protecting the environment. It is evidently against the spirit of ISPO for there to be oil palm land in forest areas, particularly at conservations and protected forests.

RSPO and ISPO. Image by Indonesia, 2024.

Conflicts with indigenous people in the area are common for PT Hamparan Masawit Bangun Persada (PT HMBP), another subsidiary of Best Agro International. One such instance is the dispute with the Dayak community in Peyang Village, East Kotawaringin Regency, Central Kalimantan. It is suspected that this corporation has taken community land outside of the HGU (right to cultivate) area for oil palm plantations.

In 2020, PT HMBP reported multiple local residents to the police. It was known that these individuals had doubted the legitimacy of the company's oil palm land. PT HMBP then accused them of pilfering oil palm fruit bunches. Three Peyang Village inhabitants, Dilik Bin Asap, Hermanus Bin Bison, and James Watt, were arrested by East Kotawaringin Police in February 2020. Hermanus died of illness while being detained awaiting trial.

The persecution of those who disagree with PT HMBP has prompted protests from various environmental and human rights conservation institutions. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has also sent a letter of inquiry into the issue.

In October 2023, the local villagers and PT HMBP clashed once more. This time, the company refused to give a plasma plantation that a number of locals from Bangkal Village, Seruyan Regency, Central Kalimantan had requested. Numerous persons were hurt as a result of the locals' actions, which led to altercations with police personnel. One person died and two residents were hit by live rounds.

The Central Kalimantan Regional Police and PT HMBP were then subject to customary fines from the Central Kalimantan Dayak Traditional Council. This customary fine does not absolve the shooter of their criminal responsibility. The police officer who is suspected of being involved in the shooting is currently being sued in court.

H Rizky R Badjuri, the head of the Central Kalimantan Province Plantation Service, acknowledged that palm oil companies had intruded into several forest areas. In reality, Central Kalimantan is currently on the government's list of priority regions for the pardoning of oil palm plantations located in forest areas.

When Tempo visited Rizky at his office on December 22, 2023, he stated, "The total area of oil palm land in Central Kalimantan is around 1.3 million hectares, some of which is in forest areas." However, he said that he was unsure of the exact area of the oil palm plantation in the Central Kalimantan forest region where the request for a forest area release permit had been made.

A scheme called "oil palm land pardoning" allows oil palm plantations that have previously been established in forest areas to become lawful. Midway through 2023, President Joko Widodo, also known as Jokowi, established the Oil Palm Task Force, with the goal of enhancing palm oil industry governance and maximizing state revenue. The responsibility of pardoning oil palm land in forest areas falls to this task group. Greenpeace's analysis indicates that there are about 817,693 hectares of oil palm land in forest areas in Central Kalimantan. As a result, Central Kalimantan surpasses Riau as the province with the most forest area breaches.

The pardoning of illegal oil palm land. Image by Tempo. Indonesia, 2024.

The government claimed that by implementing this initiative, the disorganized management of oil palm estates will be improved. Pardoning oil palm land is also thought to be able to boost state tax collections and improve the reputation of Indonesia's palm oil sector abroad. One of the major producers of palm oil is Indonesia; however, because some of the plantations are situated in forest areas, the palm oil industry in this nation is seen as being environmentally harmful, including in Central Kalimantan’s forest areas.

A delegation from the Oil Palm Task Force paid a visit to the Central Kalimantan Provincial Plantation Service in August of 2023. Rizky claims that the Oil Palm Task Force promised to follow the Job Creation Law in resolving the conflict regarding land permissions for palm oil in forest areas. In the meantime, the corporation independently uses the Plantation Licensing Information System (Siperibun) application to apply for pardoning oil palm land in forest areas.

"Siperibun is not accessible to us. We have no idea because it's all under the control of the central government "explained Rizky. Siperibun is an online database and management system for plantation licenses. The Ministry of Agriculture's Director General of Plantations oversees this application.

According to Rizky, the local administration is not aware of the advancement of this policy because the Siperibun application is being used in the application process to legalize oil palm land in forest areas. Rizky feels that the choice to pardon the unlawful oil palm land is the appropriate one, even though he does not dispute the harm that the expansion of oil palm plantation has caused to the peat ecology. "After all, the status is only a protected forest, the forest doesn't exist now," he stated.

It appears that PT Suryamas Cipta Perkasa is legalizing its oil palm land in forest areas by means of the oil palm land pardoning program. Tempo was able to obtain data that indicated PT Suryamas has proposed a pardon for their 19,189 hectares of oil palm land.

In December 2023, Tempo made an attempt to verify this with PT Suryamas Cipta Perkasa by going to its Paduran Sebangau, Pulang Pisau, Central Kalimantan office. But the corporate office that is located in the center of the plantation appeared to be deserted. Tempo also did not receive a response to the letter requesting an interview that it sent on February 2, 2024, to the Best Agro International office located on Jalan Gatot Subroto, Kuningan, South Jakarta.

The invasion of forest areas by oil palm plantations has happened in several other places outside Central Kalimantan. The growth of oil palm plantations has not spared the forests of Papua, Sulawesi, Kalimantan, or Sumatra. There were also other breaches in conservation forests and environmental reserve regions.

Sumatra and Kalimantan got the worst forest destruction. Image by Tempo. Indonesia, 2024.

Similar to South Kalimantan's Kelumpang Bay Nature Reserve. Many excavators were observed dredging a section of ground with a half-hill contour that protruded into the seas of Kelumpang Bay on Monday morning, November 13, 2023. Previously bushy areas of the landscape have been replaced with oil palm plantations. On the newly created openings in the plantation area of PT Sinar Kencana Inti Perkasa (PT SKIP) Senakin Estate, palm seedlings that are one or two meters tall are sprouting up.

Water canal ditches that are not entirely built can be seen in several places. In the first quarter of last year, a Sinarmas Group subsidiary in Sembilang Village, Kelumpang Tengah District, Kotabaru Regency, South Kalimantan, started clearing forest lands for oil palm plantations.

The head of Sembilang Village, Ahdiyat, stated that PT SKIP Senakin Estate had breached the village's asset, the Kelumpang Bay Nature Reserve. He objected to the firm, but they disregarded him. "The company said the land was part of its HGU (right to cultivate)," stated Ahdiyat.

Greenpeace and Sawit Watch's examination of satellite images supports reports that the PT SKIP Senakin Estate oil palm plantation is intruding on the Sembilang Village natural reserve. Preliminary data from a land cover analysis using satellite imagery indicates that PT SKIP Senakin Estate is intruding into a conservation area.

The HGU (right to cultivate) of PT SKIP Senakin Estate, which is suggested to be included in the Teluk Kelumpang, Selat Laut, Selat Sebuku (Kelautku) Nature Reserve is 1,789 hectares, according to Syahrul Fitra, a forest campaigner for Greenpeace Indonesia. Of this area, around 333 hectares are in the special block zone, 201 hectares are in the protection or core block zone, and 535 hectares are in the protection zone. "The remaining 720 hectares have no known block zone," Syahrul stated.

The claim that the oil palm land property owned by PT SKIP Senakin Estate was encroaching on the nature reserve area was also verified by the Banjarbaru Region V Forest Area Stabilization Center using the two provided coordinate locations, Lat -2.905649 Long 116.177441 and Lat -2.899056 Long 116.164072. "Points one and two in CA Teluk Kelumpang, HGU (right to cultivate) of PT Sinar Kencana Inti Perkasa," stated Head of BPKH V Banjarbaru M Firman Fahada at the end of November of the previous year. Firman did acknowledge that he was unaware of the company's HGU there, though.

In order to expedite the conclusion of the continuance of oil palm plantation business activities in South Kalimantan, PT SKIP Senakin Estate is currently one of the 26 palm oil firms requesting for pardon. PT SKIP Senakin Estate is among the companies requesting that its oil palm land in forest areas be pardoned, according to Agustinus Adie, Head of the Plantation Division of the South Kalimantan Plantation and Livestock Service.

"They have submitted the process, the area of SKIP's oil palm plantation is 346 hectares," stated Agustinus. He did acknowledge, nevertheless, that he was unaware of the location of the land that SKIP Senakin Estate had suggested be pardoned.

Mahrus Ariyadi, the head of the Provincial Natural Resources Conservation Center, has learned that PT SKIP Senakin Estate broke into the Kelumpang Bay natural reserve. Mahrus acknowledged having written to PT SKIP about the discovery of an oil palm plantation spanning 400–700 hectares, which the company own, within the nature reserve.

The endemic animals in the vicinity of the Teluk Kelumpang Nature Reserve now have different living spaces as a result of the expansion of oil palm plantations in forest areas. The white forehead langur is one of them. The white-browed langur primate is indigenous to Kalimantan, protected under Number P.106/MENLHK/SETJEN/KUM.1/8/2018, and classified as vulnerable (VU) 1 Appendix II CITES by the IUCN Red List. There were only 37 members of the animal species in the population that was discovered during observation.

The animal species that are threatened by illegal oil palm land. Image by Tempo. Indonesia, 2024.

Chief Sustainability and Communication Officer Anita Neville of Sinarmas Agribusiness and Food said that her party has settled land in forest areas in accordance with government directives. When reached on Wednesday, December 13, 2023, Anita stated, "We support regulatory measures and are actively involved in providing the requested information and other required documents."

In West Kalimantan, disputes over oil palm land in forested regions often arise. There are more than 198 palm oil companies in the forest areas there, according to data from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry. Out of these hundreds of companies, 88,000 hectares are included in the forest areas.

PT Riau Agrotama Plantation (PT RAP), a division of the Salim Group, is one of the businesses suspected of possessing oil palm land in forest areas. It is said that PT RAP is encroaching forest areas in Kapuas Hulu Regency's Bukit Penai Village and Silat Hilir District. This company is the only one indicated to be entering the Kapuas Hulu forest area covering an area of 2,171 hectares.

PT RAP is also listed as a palm oil company in conflict with residents of Bukit Penai Village, Silat Hilir District, Kapuas Hulu Regency. It is suspected that this corporation has stolen 573.5 hectares of land from the locals. Even though this company resigned from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in 2019 after 15 years of membership, it still holds an RSPO accreditation.

After the company took their land, the locals blocked it up in 2021 and asked that the company to give it back. For a total of 206 families, or 371.5 hectares, the corporation was required to release 1.5 hectares of land from the Bukit Penai Village community for every head of family. In addition, the corporation was requested to give back 62.5 hectares of village treasury land. The company may hold the rest of the land. But the company didn't meet these expectations.

The locals sued the company once more in 2023. The government of the Kapuas Hulu Regency stepped in this time. It was agreed to temporarily suspend the company's operations because PT RAP did not show up for the meeting that was organized by the government of the Kapuas Hulu Regency. PT RAP is only willing to execute a contract to fence the company's main land and assume ownership of it in May 2023.

The dispute between the corporation and the locals is still being worked out, according to Eko Budi Santoso, the head of Bukit Penai Village. "It has been mediated," he declared in October 2023. One of Penai Village's traditional chiefs, Tumenggung Rajang, expects that the locals will be able to reclaim their rights despite the fact that their customary forest is currently being converted into oil palm plantation. "Rather than having nothing," he said.

Infoborneo visited the PT RAP office at Nanga Silat in Kapuas Hulu Regency on November 23, 2023, but the staff refused the interview request. Instead, they asked for a confirmation request to be sent to the head office. The letter sent to the email address of PT Salim Ivomas Pratama on December 25, 2023, was even left unanswered.

In addition to PT RAP, there are 23 other companies listed by the province of West Kalimantan as having forest concessions. West Kalimantan Province recorded that the two largest companies that have concessions in forest areas are PT Wirata Daya Bangun Persada with 7,250 hectares and PT Ceria Prima with 5,083 hectares owned by Surya Darmadi. The third largest is PT Inti Sarana Makmur with 3,798 hectares. All the land is located in Bengkayang.

In 2022, the West Kalimantan Plantation Department said that the number of plantation permits issued in the province of West Kalimantan was 378 companies covering 3,321,731 hectares spread across 12 regencies and cities.

Spatial analysis conducted by the province of West Kalimantan found evidence of oil palm plantation permits in a forest of 38,616.98 hectares owned by 23 companies. However, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (KLHK) has different data. According to KLHK, oil palm plantations in West Kalimantan forest areas reached 88,841 hectares.

Oil palm land according to KLHK. Image by Tempo. Indonesia, 2024.

Oil Pal land according to Greenpeace. Image by Tempo. Indonesia, 2024.

Hendarto, the head of consulting, processing, marketing, and development of West Kalimantan Plantation Business, said the difference in the number was due to different data between the regional government and KLHK. "The map that was used was a site permit map, it must refer to a plantation permit map instead. The task force also never coordinated with the regional government on this issue. Even though the regional government is the custodian of the data," he said.

Meanwhile, the SIAR agency recorded that oil palm plantations in West Kalimantan forests reached 109,000 hectares. "This is nine times the area of Bogor City," said SIAR Executive Director Erlangga Rizky Ananta. He added that there's negligence in the case of private oil palm plantations in forest areas because it has been going on for so long.

The situation is even worse in Riau. Based on Greenpeace records, approximately 1,232,614 hectares of oil palm plantations in Riau are located in forest areas. This makes Riau the province with the largest area of problematic oil palm plantations in Indonesia.

One of the palm oil companies allegedly involved in forest clearance is PT Palma Satu, a subsidiary of the Darmex Group. This company has cleared about 12,277 hectares of forest for oil palm plantations in Penyaguan village, Batang Gansal district, Indragiri Hulu regency.

Marwan, the head of Penyaguan Village, confirmed that the oil palm plantation managed by PT Palma Satu in the village was previously a forest area. “It was indeed a forest area,” he said.

According to Marwan, PT Palma Satu started to clear the forest there in 2004, causing damage to the forest ecosystem that is the basis of the people's livelihood. From 2006 to 2020, the villagers tried to resist, only to be arrested. "Almost every day we chase away the heavy machinery that works in this forest," said Marwan.

In addition to PT Palma Satu, several other companies planted oil palms surrounding the Penyaguan Village. Most of them are companies under the Duta Palma Group (Darmex Group). They are Banyu Bening Utama, PT Kencana Amal Tani, PT Palm Lestari Makmur and PT Panca Agri Lestari. The total oil palm land area is expected to be approximately 50,000 hectares.

“All of them, the plantations are in forest areas,” Marwan said.

Surrounded by palm oil companies, the village of Penyaguan is not thriving. The people lost almost all of their agricultural land, while the companies chose to import workers from outside the village. The lack of jobs in the village forced people to migrate. "Currently, what's owned by our village is only the road, the rest is plantations owned by companies," Marwan said.

Arya Sitepu, a public relations officer for PT Palma Satu, claimed he was not aware that their land was in forest areas. He argued that there was no clear statement from KLHK. However, Arya admitted that his side was proposing to release a forest area in Indragiri Hulu.

"Well, yesterday the Riau LHK Department conducted a survey on our plantation," he said. The survey conducted by the Riau LHK department, Arya said, included five companies of the Darmex Group in the areas near Penyaguan Village in Batang Gansal Subdistrict.

"There's a separate department for licensing. So I am not familiar with this matter," he said.

Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs Airlangga Hartarto, who led the National Coordinating Meeting for the National Sustainable Palm Oil Plantation Action Plan 2019-2024, regrets the negative view of the international world towards Indonesia's palm oil industry. In the meeting, which was attended by representatives from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Ministry of Land and Spatial Planning, Airlangga urged the acceleration of the pardoning of oil palm land in forest areas. 

According to Airlangga, the move could be Indonesia's strategy to counter the EU's Deforestation Regulation (EUDR). Indonesia's palm oil is considered to be unsustainable because it causes massive deforestation. As a result, Indonesia's palm oil exports could be halted.

"This is important so that the international world no longer views it negatively," Airlangga said on March 28, 2024. "In this way, we can make a statement to the public that the status of deforestation in forest areas has been completed and has become legal."

In the forum, the Ministry of Agrarian Affairs and Spatial Planning or the National Land Agency presented data that currently the total national oil palm plantations have reached 16.38 million hectares. Of this amount, 3.37 million hectares are forest areas. This area is almost comparable to the Central Java Province area, which reaches 3.4 million hectares.

Several companies have proposed to release forest areas for oil palm plantations. Iljas Tedjo, Director General of Land Disputes and Conflicts, said that as of March 28, 2024, the forest areas released for oil palm plantations reached 713,299 hectares. Meanwhile, the remaining 2,659,316 hectares have yet to apply for a release.

Meanwhile, the Secretary General of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Bambang Hendryono, reported that Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar had issued 21 Decrees (SK) granting legality to oil palm plantations in private and community forest areas. The decree consists of 6,556 legal subjects. Of these, the Palm Oil Task Force aims to pardon land belonging to 2,130 palm oil companies and 1,493 community plantations.

“Currently, 365 companies have proposed for land pardon with mechanism 110 A, and 49 units with mechanism 110 B ,” he said.

The 110 A and 110 B are the mechanisms for oil palm land pardon regulated under the Job Creation Law. Article 110 A applies to plantations in forest areas with site permits or business permits in plantations issued before the enactment of the Job Creation Law. Companies can obtain the release of forest areas if they fulfill their obligations by paying reforestation funds and providing forest resources. Companies that fail to do so will be subject to administrative sanctions in the form of fines and revocation of business permits.

Meanwhile, Article 110 B applies to plantations in forest areas without a forestry permit. Companies that meet these criteria will be subject to administrative sanctions in the form of temporary suspension of business activities, payment of administrative fines, or government coercion.

According to Bambang, the number of companies and individuals applying for land pardons will continue to increase in line with the accelerated efforts of the Oil Palm Task Force. The Task Force aims to complete the process of granting legality to oil palm land in forest areas by September 20, 2024.

The release of oil palm land in forest areas has been implemented since July 2012 through the issuance of Government Regulation No. 60 of 2012 on Amendments to Government Regulation No. 10 of 2010 on Procedures for Changing the Designation and Function of Forest Areas. This amendment gives companies six months to apply for a permit to release forest land.

The second pardon took place in 2015, through Government Regulation No. 104 of 2015 on Procedures for Changing the Designation and Function of Forest Areas. This time, the period for companies to propose the release of forests was extended to one year. In addition, the government allowed companies to operate in protected forests and conservations for one planting cycle. The planting cycle for oil palm can be around 30 years.

The third program began in 2020 and continues to this day. This time it is carried out under the Job Creation Law, which provides a longer time limit, while also changing the criminal sanctions to administrative sanctions.

The government established the Oil Palm Task Force in June 2023 for implementation. The Task Force consists of representatives from several ministries and all working groups to restore government revenue from taxes rather than the palm oil industry tax, including setting fines.

At the time, Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan said the government had decided to pardon millions of hectares of palm oil plantations that had been planted in forest areas. "Yes, (it has been pardoned). What else should we do? Do we have to remove (the plant)? "Just use your logic, we're forced to pardon (them)," Luhut said.

The pardon of oil palm land in forest areas has become a red carpet for hundreds of palm oil companies - including Best Agro Group, Sinarmas Group, Salim Group, and Darmex Group - to control the land and escape their responsibility for the destruction of millions of hectares of forests in Indonesia.

However, the pardon mechanism is still not enough to satisfy palm oil entrepreneurs. The chairman of the Indonesian Palm Oil Association (IPOA, or GAPKI in Indonesian), Eddy Martono, said that the mechanism for pardoning oil palm plantations is still being debated among the entrepreneurs. Several entrepreneurs admitted that they already have HGUs or permits, so they should not be classified as being in a forest area and should not have to pay fines.

Gapki believes that the release of forest land for palm oil companies that have received HGUs must be done through a special mechanism. "The government needs to use a mechanism of continuity because there is a lack of synchronization in spatial planning between the central and regional governments," it said. Gapki has already submitted the matter to the Indonesian Ombudsman, hoping for a solution to the maladministration of the policy.

Agustina Arumsari, second deputy of the Oil Palm Task Force, has identified and verified the permits of 1,027 companies whose land is reported to be in forest areas. Next, the Task Force will determine the problem-solving mechanism for each company.

"The regulations are not digitized, so it will take more time to analyze," Agustina told Tempo in October 2023. The Task Force said it would continue to investigate emerging issues, such as the data up to the companies that claimed to have received the SGUs.

The head of the Advocacy Department of the Oil Palm Farmers Union, Marselinus Andry, has a different view. According to him, the existence of HGUs in forest areas points to allegations of fraud in the licensing and granting of land rights. According to Marselinus, the problem is not just an administrative issue but needs to be examined for its potential for corruption.

Achmad Surambo, director of Sawit Watch, echoed the same sentiments. According to him, entrepreneurs who claim to have HGUs but are still being asked to apply for the release of forest land indicates that their permits are not yet complete. "Including not yet having a letter to release the forest area," he said.

According to Surambo, Oil palm land disputes in forest areas should be resolved through criminal law, not just as an administrative matter. Sawit Watch believes that the government should continue to adhere to Presidential Regulation No. 88 of 2017 on the settlement of land tenure in forest areas.

Director General of Plantation Andi Nur Alam Syah, who is also a member of the Oil Palm Task Force, was reluctant to comment on the issue of oil palm land clearing in forest areas. “We’re not eligible to speak, there is Mr. Chief (of the Task Force) in that position (to talk about it),” Andi said when met at the Agriculture Ministry’s office.

Pantau Gambut believes the government's reasons for pardoning illegal oil palm land are not on the side of the environment and the people. Pantau Gambut's Advocacy and Campaign Manager, Wahyu Perdana, asserted the danger of pardoning illegal oil palm land in forest areas. In addition, oil palm plantations in the peat hydrological unit area will worsen the occurrence of land and forest fires.

Based on Pantau Gambut's analysis, of the total 3.3 million hectares of oil palm plantations that the government intends to pardon, 407,267,537 hectares or about 13 percent are located in the Peat Hydrological Unit (PHU). From this figure, 72 percent of the oil palm plantations in the PHU to be pardoned are in the medium fire-prone category. The remainders, approximately 27 percent, are in the high fire risk category.

"It has been proven that most of the fires occurred in illegal oil palm plantations, not the legal ones," Wahyu said.

In addition, 91.64 percent of the concession holders in the forest areas allegedly did not restore the ecosystem they destroyed. Meanwhile, the groups of companies identified as being linked to the illegal oil palm plantation are the big players in the country's palm oil industry, Wahyu said. Even some of the companies have received RSPO and ISPO certifications.

In 2019, the Supreme Audit Agency (BPK) found that more than 83 percent of ISPO members failed to meet their certification obligations. This, Wahyu said, shows that many companies were denying their commitment to preserving the environment.

He also questioned the government's claim that pardoning oil palm land in the forest area would increase government revenue. According to Wahyu, this claim has never been proven. Wahyu cited TUK Indonesia's research in Central Kalimantan, which showed that even from the legal palm oil sector, tax revenue was still far from its potential.

Of the potential revenue of more than Rp6.4 trillion, only Rp2.3 trillion has been realized. "So the claim of increasing revenue through the legalization agenda of oil palm plantation in forest areas is no longer relevant," Wahyu said.

Greenpeace Indonesia campaigner Syahrul Fitra said land clearing for oil palm plantations has been the main cause of deforestation in Indonesia for the past two decades. Some 600 large companies own oil palm plantations in forest areas across Indonesia, causing huge environmental damage.

Illegal oil palm land chart according to Greenpeace. Image by Tempo. Indonesia, 2024.

Instead of restoring the image of Indonesia's palm oil industry in the eyes of the international community, pardoning illegal oil palm plantations shows the government's lack of commitment to eradicating environmental crime. Through the pardoning program, palm oil companies that damage the forest can escape responsibility and legal traps. "This policy is certainly not on the side of the environment and the affected indigenous communities. It only benefits the palm oil oligarchs in power circles," said Syahrul.


yellow halftone illustration of an elephant


Environment and Climate Change

Environment and Climate Change
a yellow halftone illustration of a truck holding logs





yellow halftone illustration of a logging truck holding logs


Rainforest Reporting

Rainforest Reporting

Support our work

Your support ensures great journalism and education on underreported and systemic global issues