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A new report released today (Wednesday 13 April) reveals how the Indonesian government could develop up to three million hectares of oil palm plantations on the island of Borneo, threatening wildlife and local livelihoods to cater for international demand for cheap palm oil [1].

One of the justifications given for this huge plantation project is the increasing international demand for palm oil to be used in food, feed and biofuels.

The report reveals how earlier plans to develop a two million hectare plantation on the Indonesian side of the border with Malaysia, are not yet off the table. Indonesia's initial proposals to develop the border area had met with international protest. The Indonesian president Yudhoyono acknowledged there were conservation concerns to be taken into account. But the Indonesian Ministry of Public Works appears to have responded to this in January 2006 by simply enlarging the area defined as the "border zone". In this broader area, up to 3 million hectares of oilpalm could be planted, according to the Ministry.

The project still threatens mayhem, damaging wildlife including threatened populations of orang-utan and elephants, and the livelihoods of local people in the Kalimantan region. Friends of the Earth Indonesia (WALHI) and local palm oil organisation Sawit Watch ('Oilpalm Watch') are calling on the Indonesian government to officially cancel the border mega-plantation plan.

The new report reveals that the area deemed suitable for oil palm includes forests used by thousands of people who depend on them for their livelihoods. In new larger border zone, a special regulation (Presidential Decree No. 36/2005) would allow the government to take land away from communities that do not want oil palm plantations in the name of 'public interest'. The report shows that those communities who are aware of the new proposals are strongly opposed to the plans.

Evidence shows that in the last decade, many areas have been deforested supposedly to make way for oil palm plantations but have then been abandoned after the timber has been sold. In East Kalimantan alone, 3 million hectares of forest disappeared for oil palm concessions. Of those, only 300.000 hectares have actually been planted with oil palm.

Sixty per cent of the forests converted into oil palm plantations in 2004-2005 were still good forests, despite the commitment made by the Indonesian government in 2000 that no more forests would be converted to palm and pulp plantations.

"Communities should not be forced to change their livelihoods simply for the benefit of oil palm companies and consumers overseas. They have not been consulted on these proposals and certainly have not agreed to abandon their land," said Rudy Lumuru of Sawit Watch, in the Netherlands to present the report.

'European importing countries should not increase their imports of palm oil until environmental and social issues are solved, added Anne Van Schaik of Friends of the Earth Netherlands. 'This also means we should be very hesitant to embrace palm oil as a biomass-solution to the current energy crisis. To start with, companies and governments should ensure that palm oil used in food and feedstock is in line with the criteria laid out by the so-called Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil as soon as possible," said Van Schaik.

Note

[1] The Kalimantan Border Oil Palm Mega Project (PDF)


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Published by Friends of the Earth Trust