A leading non-governmental organization has urged Indonesia not to take pride in being the world’s biggest producer of crude palm oil because the production process has yet to meet standards for environmental sustainability.
“There are many palm oil plantations ignoring sustainable principles, [and are] planting in forest areas, including production forests and protected and conservation forests,” Elfian Effendi, executive director of Greenomics Indonesia, said on Tuesday.
“We should not be proud of being the biggest producer, when in fact we’re only damaging our forests.”
Elfian cited a 2008 report issued by the Ministry of Forestry that revealed that there are 3.5 million hectares of palm oil plantations located in forest areas that lack the necessary license.
He pointed to palm oil plantations located in production and protected forest areas in Kapuas Hulu, Ketapang and Sanggau districts in West Kalimantan.
There are palm oil plantations in conservation forests in Riau, he added.
Elfian did not mention the name of the plantation companies involved.
Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan said the cases were related to “uncontrollable” moves by regional governments to issue local licenses to palm oil companies.
However, he said the plantation companies operating in forest areas without the appropriate license from the ministry would have their land seized by the state.
“If it is proven that the companies are breaking the regulations by planting palm oil in forest areas, they must be evicted from these areas,” Zulkifli said before attending the international Forest Eleven meeting in Nusa Dua, Bali.
Given that many palm oil companies operate in forest areas, Elfian said the government should evaluate its policy of giving licenses to new palm oil plantations.
Because demand for crude palm oil is expected to continue rising, he said he is concerned that more forests will be opened up for palm oil production in the future.
Minister of Agriculture Suswono said in a press release at the International Conference on Oil Palm and Environment that by 2020 global consumption of edible oils would be 232.4 million tons, an increase of about 16 percent from 2006.
“Of the edible oil consumed, palm oil is expected to account for 27 percent,” Suswono said.
In addition to food, palm oil is used in the production of oleochemicals and biodiesel.
Suswono acknowledged the many downsides to the growing numbers of palm oil plantations, including deforestation and the destruction of the natural habitat of endangered species such as orangutans and tigers.
Therefore, he urged palm oil producers to follow sustainable principles to avoid harming the environment.
Indonesia is the world’s biggest producer of crude palm oil. The country was expected to produce 23.2 million tons in 2010, an increase of 10.7 percent from last year. Most of it is exported to China, India and the European Union.
Malaysia is expected to produce 18.2 million tons of crude palm oil this year, an increase of 3.5 percent over last year.