Minister and Aceh Governor prove their commitment to protecting Leuser Ecosystem

JAKARTA ( - Indonesia's Ministry of the Environment and Forestry and the Aceh Government have already taken far-reaching actions to protect the Leuser Ecosystem by shutting down all land-clearing operations for the purpose of expanding the plantations, especially palm oil plantations, spread among the Leuser Ecosystem.

On 14 June 2016, the Minister of the Environment and Forestry, Siti Nurbaya, sent a radiogram to the Governor of Aceh, Zaini Abdullah, conveying the results of monitoring performed by the ministry which showed that land-clearing operations were indeed being carried out by palm oil company PT ABN in the Leuser Ecosystem.

In the radiogram, the minister requested that the Aceh governor terminate the land-clearing operations being conducted by the company.

Land-clearing operations conducted by PT ABN in part of the Leuser Ecosystem located in East Aceh Regency (9 June 2016).

The radiogram message went further, also asking the Aceh governor to end land-clearing operations in all palm oil concessions situated in the Leuser Ecosystem.

These instructions form part of the concrete actions that have been undertaken by the ministry after a joint declaration of a moratorium on the expansion of palm oil and mining was made by the minister, the Wali Nanggroe Aceh (Guardian of Aceh) and the governor on 19 April 2016.

In the wake of that declaration, the ministry has been performing intensive spatial monitoring and on-the-ground observations of land-clearing operations taking place in the Leuser Ecosystem. Greenomics has also been participating in the ministry’s monitoring efforts.

On 16 June 2016, a meeting was held between the Aceh governor and the minister at the ministry’s office, which was also attended by Greenomics. In the meeting, the attendees watched a video showing land-clearing operations being carried out by PT ABN on 9 June 2016.

The upshot of the meeting was an agreement that the Aceh governor would send a letter to all holders of HGU (Land Cultivation Rights) permits/plantation permits demanding that they stop all land-clearing operations in the Leuser Ecosystem.

Subsequently, on 17 June 2016, the head of the Aceh forestry office, on behalf of the Aceh governor, issued a circular to all plantation companies operating in the Leuser ecosystem instructing them to shut down their land-clearing operations while awaiting the issuance of a presidential instruction on the palm oil plantation expansion moratorium.

This circular was also forwarded to the minister, all regents/mayors whose jurisdictions lie within the Leuser Ecosystem, the head of the Aceh plantation office, all heads of forestry and plantation offices in every regency/city associated with the Leuser Ecosystem, as well as ministry offices located in the province of Aceh.

All of these measures taken by the ministry and the Aceh government have been summarized from relevant reports and information received by from the ministry and Greenomics Indonesia.

“I hugely appreciate that the Aceh governor has been so cooperative in putting an end to all land-clearing operations in the Leuser Ecosystem. This is a genuine reflection of the shared commitment we made when declaring the moratorium on palm oil expansion in the Leuser Ecosystem in April,” the minister told on Thursday (Jun 16).

She then told of how the ministry is currently reviewing all palm oil plantation operations, in particular those taking place in the Leuser Ecosystem, while it waits for a presidential instruction which will regulate the nationwide enforcement of the palm oil plantation expansion moratorium.

The Governor of Aceh, the Minister of the Environment and Forestry and others attend a meeting held to follow-up on the minister's radiogram and the results of on-the-ground investigations. From left to right: Husaini Syamaun (Head of the Aceh Forestry Office), the Aceh Governor, the Minister, Bambang Hendroyono (Secretary General of the Environtment and Forestry Ministry), and Vanda Mutia Dewi (Executive Director of Greenomics Indonesia).

No real action from IPOP signatories

On-the-ground investigations conducted by Greenomics Indonesia revealed that PT ABN, which has continued to clear part of the Leuser Ecosystem located in its concession, has actually been selling fresh fruit bunches (FFB) to mills which supply the palm oil giants Wilmar International and the Musim Mas Group.

These two prominent palm oil business groups, both of which are Indonesian Palm Oil Pledge (IPOP) signatories, have consistently claimed that they are completely committed to cleaning up their supply chains from deforestation of the Leuser Ecosystem.

However, these claims were disputed by Vanda Mutia Dewi, Executive Director of Greenomics Indonesia, in remarks made to on Thursday (Jun 16).  “We have yet to see them taking action on the ground. In fact, the PT ABN case once again demontrates that both Wilmar and Musim Mas have actually been remiss in implementing their commitments.”  

Vanda lamented that the commitments made by Wilmar and Musim Mas - to clean up their supply chains so as to help avoid the destruction of the Leuser Ecosystem - have been shown to be mere empty promises in the guise of pleasant words expressed through press releases and progress reports.

“Our previous reports also showed that both Wilmar and Musim Mas have failed to prove that they are truly committed to protecting the Leuser Ecosystem.”

In contrast, the numerous recent steps taken by the minister and Aceh governor demonstrate the concrete role they are playing in attempting to clean up the supply chains of IPOP signatories, thereby preventing any further wrecking of the Leuser Ecosystem.