Friday, June 22, 2007

Palm Oil, Biofuel and Deforestation

Rully Syumanda

Indonesian natural forest were in crisis point. Each year, Indonesia has lost forest around 2 million hectares. In 2006, more than 2,72 million hectares of forest were destroyed. This equal with one and half of Netherlands or four times of Bali Island! Damages also occurred in the protected areas. It was assumed that 30% of national parks were in the damaged condition. Even though illegal logging has often pointed at as the major problem, the conversion for the large scale oil palm plantation basically was the main cause deforestation in Indonesia.

Up until now, the forest conversion was generally assigned for the improvement of palm oil cultivation. Since it became a primadona, million hectares of tropical forest were cleared away. From 15,9 million hectares of forest that have been released for palm oil plantation in 2004, only 5,5 million of hectares were planted . In 2006, WALHI has assumed that 16,8 million hectares of forest were released for palm oil plantation and only 6,7 million of hectares were planted. That leaves the rest of forest areas in the damaged condition after they took the wood out of them.

It was not a secret anymore that the opening of a palm oil plantation was made to be a modus in gaining woods. This could be recognized from the composition of the palm oil companies that “by chance” also the same owner of timber industry, among others: Sinarmas and Raja Garuda Mas. Two conglomerates who dominated the upstream and downstream industries in the forestry and palm oil plantation in Indonesia.

Modus of gaining timber out of palm oil concession emerged and one of the reasons was corruption and the large gap existed between supply and demand in Indonesian forestry sector. In 2006, it was assumed that the demand in Indonesia’s wood industry has reached 96,19 million of meter cubic per year. Meanwhile, the ability of natural forest and timber plantation industry in supplying raw materials has only reached 46,77 million of meter cubic. Less than half of it, 17,04 million of meter cubic, were gained from the logging of palm oil plantation concession .

From 6,7 million hectares of palm oil plantation in Indonesia, more than 90 of it were located in Sumatra and Kalimantan. Sharing the spatial with plantation industry and logging concession. Reliable sources have stated that Papua for instance, has allocated 9 million hectares of its forest to be opened for plantation. Meanwhile the regional government in Kalimantan has also allocated approximately 5 million hectares. They were all made to be palm oil plantation.

The history of the development of palm oil plantation in Indonesia could not be discharge of the history of deforestation. Million hectares of forest were opened. After took the timber, they burned small trees and coarse grass that led to the forest fire. That has made Indonesia suddenly placed itself in the third position as carbon producer caused by the fire in the forest. WALHI itself prefer to use the term of the burning out of forests”. The incidents of the burning of forest and areas could not be discharge from the area cleaning practiced all this time. Fire was the cheapest way. The weak of law enforcement has made tens of companies have used fire in cleaning out the areas including increasing salinity of the soil.

In 2001, Manager of PT Adei Plantation, a Malaysian, was punished for 2 years of prison by State Court of Kampar, Riau in 2001 for the fact that he was proven given an order to burn out an area in order to increase salinity of the soil to 5 - 6 to be able for palm oil plantation.

Palm oil plantation also entering community territory and causing unsettled conflicts until now. The conflict often involved private security corps and or police department regarding the settlement of the conflict that often ended up with victims. In the past, the involved of military as security officers could not also be discharge from this sector .

The forest conversion for palm oil plantation was basically has reached its limit and it has exceed its carrying capacity. It has reached its limit for the fact that this industry has entered areas with high level of ecological susceptibility. Other than just entering the productive public areas, palm oil plantation has also entered the peat land. Sumatra and Kalimantan are two island that owned peat land with various depth between 2 meter - > 3 meter. All this time, conversion in cathment area and peat land has caused problems for the relevant provinces.

Peat is irreversible. It stores water in large amount however it would not keep the water if it was opened. Peat also stores carbon. If we opened this area, we’re not only released million tons of water, but we also would release million meter cubic of carbon to the open air. It would added the issue of global warming. The practice of area opening by utilizing fire for the peat land were oftenly took place. It was very difficult to put the fire out of the burning peat land. The fire was not visible on the surface, however it was spreading under the surface of the soil. Fire was not only utilized for landclearing, it was also to increase the salinity of the soil.

Rethink of Biofuel as a sustainable energy

With various problems emerging from the palm oil plantation opening,it is important for us to take a look once again to the policy of energy fulfillment from the source that up until today considered as sustainable energy, palm oil.

Palm oil was not a sustainable energy. The price that we had to pay for a sustainable energy from palm oil was very expensive. Million hectares of forest that was previously cut out further created the ecological dissaster where the people could live normaly has failed as a result of extraordinary dissaster, both because the natural dissaster or dissaster caused by human.

Indonesia is a sensitive country to dissaster, most caused by human behaviour. In the last seven years, 2000 – 2006, 392 flood and landslide have happened in the entire areas of Indonesia except Papua, Jakarta and other capitals. The number of victims has reached 2.303 people, more than 188.000 homes were seriously damaged and 502 thousand hectares of damaged areas and other half million hectares were failed to be harvested. Total loss has reached 36 quintillion of rupiah and indirect loss has reached 144 quintillion .

The exprts have called this as a dissaster of development, defined as a mixture between the environmental crisis as a result of development and natural indication itself, worsen with the damage of natural resources and environment and injustice of social development policy. Dissaster as flood, dryness and landslide often considered as natural dissaster and also fate. Whereas, the relevant phenomenon mostly happened because the missmanagement of environment and natural assets, that were accumulatively and continuously took place.
Beside flood, dryness was other form of dissaster beginning to happened in Indonesia. Lately, the dry season in Indonesia has become longer and not uniformed, although geographicaly and naturaly Indonesia located in the line of South Oscillation-El Nino (ENSO). 78 drynesses has recorded took place in 11 provinces. The main impact of dryness was the decrease of water supply, both in reservoir and the river of the body. Dryness also attached with the burned out of the forest, caused by dry weather has urged the expansion of fire in the forest and areas as well as the smoke.

Significant threat has threatening three fundamental sectors of pre-conditions of sustainable life, they are water, food and energy. Regarding water, the biggest threat came from the significantly increase of demand and the limits of water supply that could be consumed. The sovereignity of energy was also put on the line. Transnational Corporations has sucked 75% Indonesian oil reserve up until today. Meanwhile 58% total of natural gas production and 70% of coal per year have been exported. Meanwhile, 90% of the necessity of energy of Indonesian people was made to be depending on oil and gas and 45%of home have not been given access to electricity .

Meanwhile, the choice of cheap, accessable and clean energy has become a rare option. Today, when the state subject to the dictation of free market, the people who were already dependent have been forced to buy the energy with the price of world market. The increase of fuel price, according to a number of researches has increased poverty to the level of 11 %. The total Indonesian people who suffered poverty after the drastic increase of fuel price was 41%.

Generaly, ecological dissasters were marked by several indications and could be recognozed in our daily lives, such as: no more options to survive, the failure on function of the ecosystem, the decrease of quality of life in the form of exclusion and poverty, in the extreme point that led to death.

The entire abovementioned stories were originated from missmanagment of natural resources. The development of palm oil plantation has urged the emerged of a number of ecological crisis, not only in the areas where concession took place but also in the downstream areas. All the abovementioned stories also related to the consumption pattern of consumary countries along with leaving ecological footprint in Indonesia.

The palm oil plantation development has caused a number of anomalies caused by the forced opening of natural forest regarding the palm oil plantation. It took large number of areas and dan energy to create biofuel energy from palm oil. The opening of forest and the fire that had took place has provoked the change of climates. It was impossible to supress the climate out of biofuel when its creation process has also contribute to the global warming. It was important for all of us to re-analyze the policy of energy fulfillment of the unsustainable source as palm oil.

With wrong paradigm, we could stated that there still sufficient areas available in Sumatera and Kalimantan in term of fulfilling the necessity of energy in Europe made from palm oil. Also with wrong paradigm, the palm oil plantation paradigm could also be imrpoved in catchment areas and tenurial areas, as it was usually took place up until today.
There was still enough time to find more sustainable source of energy. It is about time for the European and American people would decrease the consumption of energy along with finding other alternative that would guarantee the decrease of greenhouse effect.

Palm oil plantation does created a number of work positions and urged the increase the income from export sector. However, the palm oil plantation also has trapped the people community in poverty and ecological dissasters caused by it were not equal with the gained economical value. Conversion of natural forest for palm oil plantation has caused misery, not only to the exporting countris like Indonesia, but also to the change of climate which its impacts would be felt by most of European people in the future.

What we want to plant is indeed important. However, the location of it was way more important. This colonialization has to be stopped.

Jakarta, June, 20th 2007

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