Saturday, June 23, 2007


Rully Syumanda[1]

Diemont and Verhagen claim that it is possible to increase oilpalm acreage without a high price (De Volkskrant, DATUM). In Indonesia we have a lot of experience with oilpalm plantations and their impact on the environment and the people. It is from this background that I would like to react to their article.

Deforestation continues in Indonesia. Even though illegal logging often was pointed at as the major problem, the conversion for the large scale plantation basically was the main cause deforestation in Indonesia with the figure 2,8 million hectare per year in 2004, descended from 3,2 million hectare during 2001 - 2002[2].

The conversion of the forest until now generally is allocated for the development of the oil palm cultivation. Since becoming the supreme commodity, there’s millions hectare of tropical nature forest being cut down. Between 1995 to 2003 more than 15.6 million hectare of nature forest was cut down. During 2004, this figure increase to 15.9[3] million hectare. However, the concession that was planted did not experience the significant increase. From 3.17 million ha in 2000, only increase to 5.5 million hectare in 2004[4].Hence, 15,4 million ha has been converted with the excuse of setting up oilpalm plantations.

From the total area for the oil palm plantation in Indonesia, 90 percent among them was in Sumatra and Kalimantan. Often, oilpalm concessions oevrlap with logging concessions for timber and pulp.

For example, in Riau Spatial Planning 2001-2005 there was more than 400 thousand hectare the concession that mutual overlaps.

Many of the concessions conflict with local community's landrights and landuse. Some of these conlicts have remained unresolved for decades until today. In one example in North Sumatra, the community of Pergulaan village is struggling to get back a plot of a modest 130 hectares which was illegally taken from them and cleared for palm oil. Despite a court order confirming the rights of the village, the oilpalm company still has not returned the plot of land.

In the Province of Riau (Sumatra) alone, of the 654 conlficts over landuse that occurred between 1998 and 2003, over 70%[5] was caused by oilpalm developments.

Even in cases where the primary forest may have been gone, there is still local communities living off the land. Their free, prior and informed consent needs to be guaranteed before any expansion of oilpalm can take place.

The forest conversion for oil palm plantation and industry plantation basically achieved saturation point and exceeded/over carrying capacity. Since 2002 the expansion of the oil palm plantation entered High Conservation Value Forest area. [probably before that as well I guess?] Several among them were in catchments area and the rest were the peat swamp area with the depth more than 3 meter. Riau and Jambi in Sumatra as well as land typology in Kalimantan were the peat swamp with the varying depth between 2 meter to > 3 meter.

With the (logging for) plantations encroaching into natural forests, water catchments areas and peat swamps come under increasing threats.

The conversion in catchments area caused so many problem. The trivializing of the river [In catchments area that was clear cut, the soil and sand will be brought by the rain water to the river. The river will become shallow. During heavy rain, the river could not keep the amount of big water so as to flood the surrounding area (the flood)made the river no longer could accommodate the overflowing of water that emerged suddenly. The flood became the annual Sumatran menu and Kalimantan, nearby forest fire.

As the picture, during 2004, the flood that struck the Jambi province caused the loss of Rp. 204 billion. In the year before, the flood in Riau caused the loss Rp. 684 billion or was equal to 64% Riau Annual Budget in 2002[6]. Hundreds of people lost their house and thousands hectare failed to harvest.

This figure basically depicted not balanced between revenue from the oil palm plantation sector and the impact. Made peat swamp as the oil palm plantation also caused the problem that approximately similar

Peat swamp was irreversible. It kept water in large quantities but when being opened it no longer could catch water. Peat swamp also functioned as carbon storage. When opened, not only millions ton water being released but also millions cubic meter carbon was released to the air[7].

At least there were three main problems of the forest conversion in the peat swamp area. Firstly, clearing peat swamp will release millions ton of water. At the same time the intrusion of sea water could not be evaded. In the Inderagiri Hilir Regency, Province of Riau, hundreds of head of household could no longer make use of their well water because of being most polluted with sea water[8].

Secondly was the forest fire. Peat swamp was the area with the Ph 3 - 4. It needs special treatment with the big cost to increase the Ph level in order to accordance with oil palm. For example, PT Adei Plantation Manager was punished 2 years in prison by the Kampar District Court in 2001 because ordered burning the land to increase the Ph level to 5 - 6 in order to be able to be planted the oil palm.

The burning of the forest in peat swamp and, third, the opening of the peat swamp area region will cause the greenhouse effect and influenced the global temperature. With the rate of nature damage at this time, was estimated some Scandinavian regions will experience the decline in the temperature through to 6 degree Fahrenheit during 2012, caused drought and cold that forced the Scandinavian population to be migrating from Europe[9].

Climate Change in 2012 was estimated also will cause conflict within the EU over food and water supply leads to skirmishes and strained diplomacy relation. [10]

With several anomalies that emerged from clearing the natural forest for the oil palm plantation, it is important for all of us to reconsider the policy of the fulfillment energy need from the unsustainable source like oil palm. This was important remembering several impacts will emerge that not only caused a loss to the exporter's country like Indonesia but also against several countries in Europe, mainly Scandinavian.

Considering the huge negative impacts of the large scale oilpalm monoculture, palm oil cannot be considered a sustainable source of energy for imports into Europe by anyone concerned with sustainable development.

The Netherlands should rather look into energy savings and truly sustainable sources of energy, in stead of looking at the people and remaining forests in Kalimantan and Sumatra to solve the energy problems for them. Only a cynical approach would allow for oilpalm developments to expand into forested areas, water catchments areas, and community's territories.

Conversion of forests and peat swamps will release huge amounts of CO2 in the atmosphere, with associated effects on climate change. The effects will extend beyond Southeast Asia and affect European countries as well. It is therefore also in the interest of the Netherlands to seek real solutions rather than to increase their palm oil consumption.

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