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Absolution of Sin for the Forest Demolishers

Translator

TEMPO

22 May 2024 22:20 WIB

PT Suryamas Cipta Perkasa's oil palm plantation is indicated to be in the forest area in Paduran Sebangau Village, Sebangau Kuala District, Pulang Pisau Regency, Central Kalimantan, Thursday, December 21, 2023. TEMPO/Riani Sanusi Putri

By: Riani Sanusi Putri and Agung Sedayu

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 Riauterkini.com, IniBorneo.com, and BanjarHits.co, which are partners of Teras.id, 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.

"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.



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