There are positive indications that President Joko Widodo’s recent promise to place a moratorium on new oil palm permits across Indonesia may soon become reality. Statements from key figures in the Forestry and Environment Ministry suggest that one of the main aims of this new policy is to stop the same kind of decimation of forests happening in Papua as has already taken place on Sumatra and Borneo.
The news website foresthints.news has been reporting on developments, and most recently has published an interview with Forestry and Environment Minister Siti Nurbaya, copied below. The minister described the four stage process currently underway at the ministry to review all permits to release land from the state forest estate for plantations. Apparently all new applications have already been rejected, and the next stages will be to terminate the process for all applications which already have in-principle permits, and then revoke forest release permits granted in 2015 and 2016.
The fourth stage would happen at a later date, but would go even further, a review of old permits which were granted before 2015. The example she gives, 300,000 hectares of forest which has been granted permits but is being treated as a ‘land bank’ by Malaysian companies, appears to refer to the concessions granted to the Menara Group in Boven Digoel, now sold on to Tadmax Sdn Bhd and Pacific Inter-link. Cancelling these permits alone would save a significant tract of undisturbed lowland forest.
If all this is true, it would undoubtedly be good news for the forests of Papua, where over a million hectares is thought to be at risk from oil palm development. It would also be good news for indigenous communities, as there are almost no existing palm oil plantations which have not brought serious social problems, such as conflict and loss of livelihood.
However, any optimism must be tempered with caution. The policy governing this new moratorium has not been published, and some parts of the oil palm industry have been lobbying against it. The government’s existing moratorium on new permits in primary forest and peatland hasbeen shown to be a weak instrument, and has been gradually reduced in size as companies lobby for new permits. How effectively any new moratorium is implemented would also be an important issue.
Finally, a oil palm moratorium alone would not solve all the problems that rural indigenous Papuans face as a result of the structural discrimination and structural violence that pervades Papuan society, including Papuan communites who have to deal with the effects of plantations which have already started work around Papua. Nevertheless, if the plans the minister outlines below do come to fruition, it would be an extremely positive step forward. Read More