World Rainforest Movement

Indonesia: A call to cancel plans to develop 3 million hectares of oil palm plantations

On April 12, 2006, the report “The Kalimantan Border Oil Palm Mega-project” was released to show the plans of the Indonesian government to develop up to 3 million hectares of oil palm plantations on the island of Borneo, of which 2 million hectares along the Kalimantan-Malaysia border and 1 million hectares elsewhere –in areas still heavily forested and inhabited by indigenous communities–, to cater for international demand for cheap palm oil to meet the domestic and global demand for bio-fuel.

An earlier plan had been launched in Indonesia to develop the world’s largest oil palm plantation –2 million hectares– in a 5-10 kilometre band along the border of Kalimantan and Malaysia. The oil palm mega-project, presented under the banner of “bringing prosperity, security and environmental protection to the Kalimantan border area”, turned sour when a business plan developed by the Indonesian State Plantation Corporation (PTPN) began to circulate. This document contained a map that showed beyond doubt how the 1.8 million hectare oil palm project would trash the primary forests of three National Parks, cut through rugged slopes and mountains utterly unsuitable for oil palm cultivation and annihilate the customary rights land of the indigenous Dayak communities in the border area.

Those plans were met by several campaigns and lobby by the Indonesian civil society as well as international protest which forced the Indonesian government to revise its stance and make changes acknowledging that there were conservation concerns to be taken into account. However, the new report reveals that the initial plans are not yet off the table and that oil palm expansion continues. Palm oil companies have already moved into the border area in many places, and plans to continue the expansion into the Kalimantan border area are still very much alive. The planners of the National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas) found a solution to the problem that the new expansion plans cannot be accommodated within the immediate border area, where the total area suitable for oil palm cultivation is negligible: they simply changed the definition of what comprises the border zone by extending its width from 5-10 km to 100 km.

The area deemed suitable for oil palm includes forests used by thousands of people who depend on them for their livelihoods and are inhabited by indigenous communities. In the 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”.

Within the immediate and extended border area, few indigenous communities are aware of the government’s development plans. Statements issued by local communities and their village leaders indicate that of those who are familiar with the plans strongly, and univocally, oppose oil palm development in their areas. Of particular concern to the customary rights land is Presidential Regulation (Pepres Nr. 36/2005), which allows the government to force the release of land in view of the “public interest”. Since the border project is justified by reasons of the public interest (security, prosperity and environmental protection) and involves the Indonesian Armed Forces, the government may opt to use this regulation to force oil palm plantations in the border area. Plans of the Ministry of Forestry and the Ministry of Agriculture to promote cash crops, other than palm oil (such as rubber, coffee, tea, cacao, pepper etc) in the border area could deliver benefits, but these plans will encounter resistance from local communities if the government intends to bring in large investors from outside to plant these crops on customary rights land.

Friends of the Earth Indonesia (WALHI) and the local organisation Sawit Watch (“Oilpalm Watch”) are calling on the Indonesian government to officially cancel the border mega-plantation plan.

Article based on information from: “European Hunger for Palm Oil and Timber Triggers Expansion of Destructive Palm Oil Plantations on Kalimantan”, from Friends of the Earth Netherlands, Sawit Watch, Friends of the Earth Indonesia (WALHI), Friends of the Earth England, Wales and Northern Ireland,; “The Kalimantan Border Oil Palm Mega-project”, Eric Wakker, AIDEnvironment, Commissioned by Milieudefensie – Friends of the Earth Netherlands and the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (SSNC), publicaties/rapporten/KalimantanOilPalmMega-lowres.pdf