Conflicting developments in Indonesian land management

Progress on converting peatlands to conservation areas is a step in the right direction, but the issues emerging from a proposal to legalise land ownership status of small farmers in the palm oil industry have prompted cause for concern.

Several  recent developments highlight the complexity of land management and the palm oil industry in Indonesia. Progress on converting peatlands to conservation areas is a step in the right direction, but the issues emerging from a proposal to legalise land ownership status of small farmers in the palm oil industry have prompted cause for concern.

 

After the massive 2015-16 fires, that saw environmental damage to Indonesia’s peatlands, and dangerous haze across the region, the Indonesian government adopted Regulation (PP) No. 57/2016 [1] in December 2016. It placed a permanent moratorium on cultivation on peatland.  It prohibits the clearing of new land until a zoning system for the protection and cultivation of the peatland ecosystem is in place.

Image Credit: Rights and Resources
Image Credit: Rights and Resources

In February 2017, the Indonesian government began a process of  conversion of peatland concessions into conservation areas [2]. This signalled an intention to strengthen the spirit of 57/2016 and consolidate the moratorium on further peatland oil palm developments.

 

Small oil palm holdings on peatland consistently present a higher fire risk. About 41 percent of the Indonesia’s total of 11.3 million hectares under oil palms is made up of small holdings. The majority of these small holdings are in Sumatra, where haze affecting Singapore is mainly generated.

 

Of course, there are still many illegal operations but, if implemented, this additional measure could offer a stronger and more effective legal framework for protecting the environment, and communities throughout the region. An immediate impact for Singapore could be the reduction of serious haze in the future.

 

Potential for conflict

 

Despite these optimistic signs there now seems to be a push-back from certain Indonesian interests seeking ways of getting around the moratorium.  As recently as March 14 Indonesia’s Agrarian and Spatial Planning Minister Sofyan Djalil announced that he is drafting a presidential regulation [3] to legalise the land ownership status for small farmers in the palm oil industry. Many of these farmers cultivate oil palms illegally in protected forest areas some of which are on peatlands.

 

Whether the Minister intends the planned regulation to open opportunities for the legalisation of small oil palm holdings on peatlands, is not yet clear. Examining the Minister’s intention, in the context of recent recommendations from academics in Indonesia does raise grounds for concern.  

 

According to the Jakarta Post, academics from several Indonesian universities have recommended that the government revise 57/2016 [4] claiming it is not pro-people and its implementation could damage plantation activities in Indonesia.

 

Budi Mulianto, Indonesia Land Science Association (HITI) chairman who is also a land expert from the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB), acknowledged that many farmers and plantation companies cultivated oil palms on peatlands. But he is worried that if 57/2016 is not revised, farmers and plantation companies operating on peatlands would have to stop their plantation activities.This seems to be in direct contrast with the intent of both 57/2016 and plans for conversion of peatland concessions into conservation areas.

According to Indonesian sources Budi is close to the crude palm oil production industry.  He was formerly a proponent of the now disbanded IPOP [5], a partnership of palm oil companies. Its mission was to create an environment in Indonesia  which enabled and promoted the production of sustainable palm oil. What is being suggested is clearly not sustainable.

 

These conflicting issues highlight the competing interests that could contribute to the creation of more serious haze problems in the future.  PM. Haze will continue to monitor such developments, raise awareness and engage with relevant stakeholders as appropriate.

 

[1] Antara News, 6 December, 2016

[2] The Jakarta Post, 22 February, 2017

[3] Global Indonesian Voices, 14 March, 2017

[4] The Jakarta Post, 17 March, 2017

[5] Indonesia Palm Oil Pledge (IPOP) http://www.palmoilpledge.id/en/