Minister discloses five considerations concerning palm oil expansion moratorium

JAKARTA ( - Dr Siti Nurbaya, Indonesia's Minister of the Environment and Forestry, has revealed that President Joko Widodo brought up five considerations when she was in discussions with him prior to his announcing the moratorium on the expansion of palm oil and mining in April 2016.

“The first consideration was the need to preserve forests with good forest cover, which in the Indonesian forestry regulations are known by the term productive forests. In other words, the expansion of palm oil plantations in productive forests is no longer permitted, both for new and existing permits. As for peatlands, it is definitely not allowed,” the minister told on Thursday (Jun 16) in Jakarta.

Minister Siti explained that, in contrast, the expansion of palm oil plantations is still allowed in non-productive forests, which refer to forests dominated by scrubland, open land or a mixture of vegetation.

“Rigorous analysis of forest cover using high resolution images, coupled with the results of field observations, is obviously very important in determining the status of forest cover and is one of the main requirements in the licensing process for palm oil plantation expansion in non-productive forests.”

The minister pointed out that analyses of forest cover, as stipulated in the licensing process, have often been found to have been manipulated in such a way that perfectly good forest areas are classified as being non-productive. Meanwhile, she continued, productive forests with a potentially high volume of timber are classified as non-productive forests with a potentially low volume of timber. In this regard, she issued an open threat.

“My team is conducting a special investigation into this type of manipulation because this modus operandi clearly causes losses to the state. Palm oil permits which have already been granted and are then proven to have involved the manipulation of forest cover data will be revoked by me in the near future.”

According to the minister, the second consideration the President conveyed to her was the need to encourage enhanced productivity by intensifying operations on existing plantations using the latest technological and scientific developments.

She neatly encapsulated the President’s strategy. “On one hand, boost the productivity of existing palm oil plantations, while on the other hand conserve productive forests. This was a shrewd move on the part of the President.”

Minister Siti elaborated on the third consideration of the President which was to initiate a policy, in the form of the palm oil expansion moratorium, more aligned with the interests of smallholders.

“It makes me sad to see the (vast majority of) forest and land in Indonesia being controlled by just a few business groups, both in the palm oil and forestry sector,” she said. The government now, she added, has no other choice but to take action that favors smallholders.

The fourth consideration outlined by the President, the minister disclosed, was to improve the downstream palm oil sector so that Indonesia is no longer reliant on CPO exports in the future. The President, said Minister Siti, declared that this can only be achieved if development of the domestic downstream industry can be expedited.

“Don’t think about land banks while the downstream industry is yet to be prioritized,” she cautioned.

Meanwhile, the fifth consideration of the President, as described by Minister Siti, was that Indonesia has to play a role in controlling emissions, in particular those caused by the clearing of forests which still enjoy good forest cover.

Minister Siti wrapped up her interview with by making an appeal for her own country to be more assertive in its efforts. “The five considerations put forward by the President were extremely clear. Indonesia needs to adopt his enthusiasm and be bolder in acting quickly, improving and demonstrating leadership of its own.”

The minister gave an update that intensive discussions are currently underway about the drafting of a presidential instruction on the palm oil and mining expansion moratorium under the auspices of the coordinating minister for the economy.