By Feri Irawan
from Simpul Jaringan Pantau Gambut
Presidential Instruction Number 8 of 2018 concerning Postponement and Evaluation of Oil Palm Plantation Permits and Increasing the Productivity of Oil Palm Plantations, or what is often referred to as the Presidential Instruction on the palm oil moratorium, has expired on 19 September 2021.

However, until now there has been no sign from the government to continue or stop the policy. Many parties hope, even urge the palm oil moratorium to be continued, because it is considered to have a good impact on the environment.

Extending the palm oil moratorium is an important step to save peatlands in Jambi from the threat of more severe damage. Currently, most of the peatlands are degraded due to the concession's activities.

Referring to data from the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (WALHI) Jambi, there are more than 1 million hectares of ​​oil palm plantations in Jambi, and almost half of them are on peatlands. Around 70 percent of the total 751,000 hectares of peatlands in Jambi have been converted into oil palm plantations and industrial forest plantations.

The wetlands, which store millions of tons of carbon, are being ripped apart by thousands of canals built by the companies to drain them. As a result, peatlands are very prone to fires. WALHI also noted that the 2019 fires had destroyed 114,000 hectares of medium and deep peat areas.

Peatland fires have also caused a smog disaster that made thousands of people in Jambi suffer. More than 63,000 Jambi residents were reported to have suffered from acute respiratory infections (ARI) due to smog during the 2019 fires. Jambi City had the highest number of ARI cases. Data from the Jambi City Health Office from August to the second week of October 2019 recorded more than 24,000 ARI cases, 60 percent of which were children. Dozens of pregnant women also suffered. More than 1,000 schools were closed as air quality deteriorated. State losses due to forest and land fires in 2019 reached IDR 12 trillion, a very large number when compared to the value of Jambi Province's Original Regional Revenue.

The Regional Disaster Management Agency (BPBD) of Jambi Province also noted that in 2020 there were 258 villages listed as prone to forest and land fires, more than 100 villages of which are located in peatlands spread over the districts of Tanjung Jabung Barat, Tanjung Jabung Timur, and Muaro Jambi. Generally, these villages are located in the vicinity of oil palm concessions.

The fires not only damage the peat ecosystem, but also increase greenhouse gas emissions. Data from the European Union's Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS) stated that forest and land fires in Indonesia in 2019 released 709 million tons of carbon dioxide into the air. That is 22 percent greater than the carbon dioxide emissions produced from the Amazon forest fires, which was 579 million tons of carbon dioxide.

Indonesia is one of the 55 participating countries of the United Nations (UN) which ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change. Indonesia targets a 29 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030.

The government has also established a long-term strategy document in an effort to reduce emissions to 540 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MTon CO2e) by 2050. The extension of the palm oil moratorium is an important step not only to achieve emission reduction targets, but also to save peatlands.

Permit Evaluation

The Palm Oil Moratorium provides a big opportunity for the government to reorganize the messy management of palm oil. For the last three years, this policy has stopped the issuance of new oil palm plantation permits.

Although it has not been that long, this instruction can at least temporarily stop the expansion of oil palm plantations in peatlands, forests, and the remaining natural forests.

Based on data from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry (2018), there are 12.8 million hectares of forest area classified as Convertible Production Forest (HPK) that can be legally converted into oil palm plantations, and 6.3 million hectares in the HPK are natural forests. By extending the palm oil moratorium, the natural forests can be protected.

President Joko Widodo's policy also instructs to evaluate previously issued oil palm plantation permits, including oil palm plantations in forest areas.

Around 3.47 million hectares of oil palm plantations are located in forest areas so there is a potential for deforestation. Unfortunately, even though the threat is so real, the law enforcement process against illegal oil palm plantations in forest areas is still far from the expectation.

However, the West Papua Provincial Government and the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) have taken a bold step by revoking 12 permits for oil palm plantation companies covering an area of ​​267,000 hectares. This bold step is an implementation of the Presidential Instruction to improve the management of sustainable palm oil plantations.

The Jambi government should also have the courage to take firm steps as the West Papua government did. Many palm oil companies in Jambi are irresponsible when fires occur in their concessions.

Several companies have obtained permits in deep peat areas that should be protected and excluded from concession permits. This is an important warning for the local government to immediately conduct a thorough evaluation on the management of concession permits, especially on peatlands. If necessary, a special team should be formed so that the chaotic peatland issue in Jambi can be immediately addressed.

Potential Conflicts

It is undeniable that palm oil is the backbone of the Indonesian economy. At least 13 percent of Indonesia's total exports are palm oil and it has contributed to 3.5 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). This is why the government continues to push for sustainable palm oil.

However, the government must also pay attention to the many ecological and social problems that arise as a result of oil palm plantation permits. The development of oil palm plantations has triggered many conflicts with local communities and indigenous peoples as well as environmental pollution issues that have not been resolved.

Considering these many problems, there is no reason for the government not to continue and strengthen the palm oil moratorium.*

*This opinion was written by the Director of Perkumpulan Hijau Jambi and the Coordinator of Simpul Jaringan Pantau Gambut Jambi


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