By Arkilaus Kladit
My name is Arkilaus Kladit. I'm from the Knasaimos-Tehit tribe in South Sorong Regency, West Papua Province, Indonesia. For decades my tribe has been fighting to protect our forests from outsiders who want to log it or clear it for palm oil. For my people, the forest is our mother and our best friend. Everything we need to survive comes from the forest: food, medicines, building materials, and there are many sacred sites in the forest.
We have been taught for generations about how to maintain a good relationship with the forest. If it is cut down, it will be the same as cutting down our lives. This has been critical for us during this Covid pandemic because, with the shortage of rice, we have been relying on our traditional staple food, sago, that comes from the forest. And we have gone further by harvesting it to provide food for the surrounding area.
Map of the Knasaimos traditional lands.
The first threat to our forest was in 1988-89 when I was young. The government wanted to make a transmigration scheme settlement in our area but our elders rejected it because we were worried a lot of new people would harm the forest. Then in the early 2000s companies came wanting to log the valuable trees in our forest. After some years of struggle, we saw them off in 2005 but only after they did some damage to our forest.
The most recent threat is from oil palm. We heard news reports in 2012 there was an oil palm company going into a neighboring village. The news was quite alarming. Our tribe was sad. We had heard about thousands of hectares being cleared for oil palm plantations in Merauke and Sorong Districts. We thought that if oil palm is planted in a neighboring village, it is certain that the forests around our villages, Sira and Manggroholo, could also be under threat. But we stood firm on protecting our forest for our children and grandchildren. Our people consistently oppose oil palm, because we realize that our economic, customary and cultural lives depend heavily on the forest.
After our earlier fight with the illegal loggers, we decided in 2006 that we wanted to gain recognition for our customary forests. What has interested me most was getting the rights of the people to manage their forest. We worked with our Non-Government Organization friends, including Bentara and Greenpeace, to do participatory mapping of our own village lands and mark the boundary of all 81,446 hectares of our tribal lands. It is our custom to pass down from generation to generation where the boundaries of our forests are. Everything is collective, or is inherited collectively through the clans; it comes from our ancestors.
In 2008 we made a declaration to reject logging and palm oil. We invited the Regent and local Parliament to tell them that our area is small, if these forests are cut down, where do we go then? Where will we find wood to build our house? Where will we go to make our gardens? Where do we go to get medicines? If forests in these two villages are cut down, where will we move to?
So then we began the process of getting the recognition for our customary forests so that it will not be continually disturbed by logging licenses or permits for oil palm plantations. In 2014, after a long struggle, we had success with Village Forest permits for 3,545 hectares of customary forests of the two villages Mangroholo and Sira. We celebrated securing permits from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry as part of the government's social forestry program. We now have the legal rights to face the threat of illegal deforestation, oil palm planting that damages the environment.
A good example of how different it is now with the Village Forest permit. One day when we were patrolling in our forest we found merbau or ironwood trees (Intsia bijuga) had been illegally cut. Merbau is one of the main trees targeted by the illegal loggers. We caught the people doing this and issued them with a customary fine of Rp40 million ($2,700).
As well, since we obtained the status of Village Forest and we manage the forest ourselves, we are more organized in using Non Timber Forest Products (NTFP) such as damar (tree resin), agarwood, and sago, from a big palm that grows in our swamp forests. But our people have always made use of forests sustainably by taking forest products as needed. Especially with sago we have done a lot of work to turn it into a small enterprise that makes a good income for the village so we can pay things like school fees. We have had training, received new processing machines to speed up production, and help with local marketing to sell what we make. We have been providing food for the local region during Covid as the local government was buying our sago and giving it to the people. We are proud to make some money from our protected forest using our customary management without harming it. The forest is still here tall and strong.
But we still have a long way to go. We are now fighting for the recognition of the whole Knasaimos tribal area of 81,446 hectares as Customary Forest. We were very happy in 2018 when the Governor of West Papua Dominggus Mandacan made his commitment to make 70% of West Papua Province protected areas. For us it means the Governor is fighting alongside us.
For the future we hope that the regent of our District, Mr. Samsudin, will soon issue a regional regulation that recognizes Knasaimos rights and forest, and that the Ministry of Environment and Forestry will support our application for a Customary Forest permit through the government Social Forestry Scheme so we can be on the frontline in supporting the government to protect Papua's forests.
I hope that every village in the Knasaimos customary area can experience the customary forest program to protect the future of our mother, the forest, and the rights to life of communities in Papua. Getting rights to forests in one's own area is the key to protecting the forest and community-based forest management. That is our aspiration, and this will make me very happy.
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
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By Hans Nicholas Jong
Construction of a hydropower plant in the only known habitat of a critically endangered orangutan species on the Indonesian island of Sumatra might be delayed for up to three years due to COVID-19 and funding issues.
Muhammad Ikhsan Asaad, who oversees the project for state-owned utility PLN, said the Batang Toru plant was supposed to start operating in 2022, based on the agreement between PLN and project developer PT North Sumatra Hydro Energy (NHSE).
"But it might be delayed to 2025, mainly because the drawdown from lender Bank of China is stopped due to environmental concerns as well as COVID-19," he said.
In construction, a drawdown refers to a situation in which a company receives part of the funding necessary to complete a project, and the rest of the funding might be disbursed gradually over the course of the project.
The project is estimated to cost $1.68 billion, financed through equity and loans.
NSHE initially sought loans from funders like the World Bank's International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). But following the description of a new orangutan species, the Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis), in the Batang Toru ecosystem in northern Sumatra in 2017, environmentalists have called for the project to be stopped or at least halted to allow for an independent scientific study of its impact on the newly known species.
They say the project might devastate the most critical areas of the Batang Toru ecosystem and drive the Tapanuli orangutan to extinction. Only 760 of the great apes are estimated to survive in a tiny tract of forest less than one-fifth the size of the metropolitan area that comprises Indonesia's capital, Jakarta.
Shortly after its description, the Tapanuli orangutan was categorized as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List due to its decreasing population trend — down by 83% in just three generations — and heavily fragmented distribution.
The IFC and ADB subsequently distanced themselves from the project. And in March 2019, the Bank of China, which is also involved in financing the project, said it had "noted the concerns expressed by some environmental organizations" and promised to carefully review the project. It has not issued any further public updates, leaving the funding for the project uncertain.
NSHE has previously confirmed that the project's funding was in doubt as a result of campaigns against the dam.
PLN director Zulkifli Zaini said environmental issues were among the reason why the project might be delayed.
"It is true that the project faced hurdles from NGOs over environmental issues," he said. "There are apes and other [animals] there."
The coronavirus outbreak has also proved to be a setback, with the work on the hydropower plant put on hold since January after construction workers from Chinese state-owned contractor Sinohydro, who had gone home for the Lunar New Year holiday, were barred entry back into Indonesia over health concerns.
NSHE has submitted a request to PLN, as the buyer of the plant's power, to push the start of the dam's operation to 2025. But the utility said a decision hadn't been made yet.
"NSHE and PLN are still in the stage of discussion or collective review regarding the target of the Batang Toru hydropower dam operational target," NSHE spokesman Firman Taufick said. "Whatever the result of the discussion between NSHE and PLN, we will always follow the policy and direction from PLN."
A decline in electricity consumption as a result of suspended economic activity during the pandemic is another factor that could delay the project, according to Riza Husni, chairman of APPLTA, a national association of hydropower plant developers.
Dana Tarigan, the head of the North Sumatra chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), said he hoped PLN would take into account the environmental concerns over the project in making a decision.
"We're hoping PLN could see the rejection well," he told Mongabay. "There's not only the problem with COVID-19, but also rejections from many parties, whether it's because of [the potential impact on] the orangutan and other biodiversity, or on the safety of the people [living in nearby areas]."
Dana said Walhi had staged a protest in 2018 against the project outside the offices of PT Pembangkit Jawa Bali (PJB) Investasi, a subsidiary of PLN that serves as the project sponsor and a shareholder in the Batang Toru power plant.
The protesters demanded that PJB Investasi, which holds a 25% stake in NSHE, to withdraw from the project.
Dana also urged PLN to take into account a recent fact-check report by the IUCN that analyzes the many contradictory claims being made about the project's potential impacts, specifically assertions made by NSHE.
The Batang Toru River, the proposed power source for a Chinese-funded hydroelectric dam. Ayat S. Karokaro / Mongabay-Indonesia
The report identifies several significant claims found in NSHE's publications or press releases as being inaccurate or misleading.
"In at least ten cases, assertions made in public-facing NSHE literature or on the NSHE website are found to be inconsistent with findings presented in earlier impact assessments conducted on behalf of NSHE," the report says.
The report also finds other claims made by NSHE contradict findings in peer-reviewed literature and technical reports.
"Some of these relate to the most controversial aspects of the project such as its impact on the Tapanuli orangutan and the ecology of the Batang Toru river, the demand for the power that the plant would produce, and the project's compliance with international investment standards," the report says.
Emmy Hafild, a senior adviser to NSHE's chairman, said the report mistakenly accounted for the whole project permit area, instead of its actual footprint, to assess its potential impact on the orangutan. She also said the permit area referred to in the report was based on the company's permit area during exploration stage, which was larger than the current permit area post-exploration.
"The IUCN fact check report is clearly wrong," Emmy said. "The report uses data that's already outdated and this is the location permit, not the footprint of the project."
Serge Wich, the co-vice chair of the IUCN primate specialists' section on great apes (SGA) and one of the researchers who described the Tapanuli orangutan, said it's clear the IUCN report refers to the whole permit area in fact-checking the company's claim.
"[A]nd we have always said that this indicates the maximum impact," he told Mongabay.
Wich said that while the project might not occupy the full area, its impact on the orangutan could still be devastating due to the location of the project, which lies at a key location for connectivity between the orangutan's subpopulations, split up across three separate blocks: west, east and south. By locating the dam there, the project would jeopardize that connectivity, he said.
Emmy denied the location of the project would impact the potential for a future forest corridor linking the western and southern populations of the orangutan.
"The footprint of the project has been checked by our friends [researchers] and it will not disturb the corridor," she said.
Wich said that might not be the case, as the latest Batang Toru ecosystem map provided by NSHE clearly shows that the project area is "a long wall-like structure cutting those three areas from each other."
The map of the Batang Toru ecosystem and the hydropower dam project area. PT North Sumatra Hydro Energy (NSHE)
Didik Prasetyo, an orangutan researcher at Jakarta's National University, who conducted a study on the project, said he's confident the hydropower dam will not threaten the orangutan as long as NSHE sticks to his recommendations. Among them: limiting the amount of traffic passing over the project's roads; and designing the project's overhead power lines to allow the orangutans to travel safely beneath them.
"If it's safe, then [the orangutans] will not be scared to briefly walk on the ground [to cross from one population to another]," Didik said. "The width of the road is not too dangerous for the orangutans if there's no one passing on the road. So we're recommending the traffic be limited to particular hours."
He said rehabilitating impacted areas is also crucial.
"We're recommending to the company that there are three areas that will be impacted significantly if the company doesn't manage [the project] sustainably," Didik said. "So we recommend these most-threatened areas to be restored as soon as possible."
He said there are 273 hectares (585 acres) of orangutan habitat in the project area, of which 84 hectares (207 acres) will be used as a location for permanent buildings by the company. The remaining 189 hectares (467 acres) will be reforested, he added.
NSHE said it will offset permanent forest loss caused by the project by planting trees in other areas, while temporary forest loss will be restored.
The IUCN report, however, says restoring affected areas might not be feasible. NSHE literature identifies heaps of dug-up dirt as the areas intended for restoration, but the IUCN says this might not be realistic because these areas consist of large amounts of unconsolidated material.
"The material is from underground and is potentially sterile to rehabilitation efforts and/or volatile to erosive processes," the report says.
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
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Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
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And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
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"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
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"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
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Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
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Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
The program that Indonesia started, Keluarga Harapan program, or "Family Hope" program, which provides direct cash transfers to low-income households to bring them above the poverty line, had no intention of helping the country's forests, which have been slashed down at a remarkable rate.
Instead, the program gave families money if they met certain conditions, like attending regular doctor visits, keeping kids in school, and participating in health and nutrition training. While conditional cash transfers are used in several countries around the world to alleviate poverty, they are not viewed as an environmentally friendly action, according to Science News.
That's because economic growth is often correlated with environmental degradation. But, that's correlation, not causation.
The new study, published in Science Advances, examined the habits of 266,533 households in 7,468 rural villages across 15 provinces on multiple islands between 2008 and 2012. The researchers then compared where the cash was distributed to satellite images of forests during the same timeframe. That's when they noticed that forests where the government was making payments were faring far better than other regions of Indonesia.
"For decades, people have been debating whether alleviating poverty and protecting the environment are at odds with each other. Resolving this debate is important because lots of poor people are found in the same areas where we find the most endangered ecosystems, like the rainforest," Paul Ferraro, an author of the study from Johns Hopkins University, told Newsweek.
Saving Indonesia's forests is crucial for the health of the planet and wildlife. The forests are home to a diverse range of species and are efficient at capturing carbon. However, forest destruction is responsible for 10 percent of human carbon dioxide emissions, and much of it is the result of extreme poverty, as Bloomberg reported. For rural villages, selling timber and clearing land for cultivation is often an income stream of last resort.
Indonesia is home to the world's third-largest tropical forests, but it's also the top global producer of palm oil, which generates millions of jobs but is blamed by environmentalists for forest loss and fires, according to Reuters.
Not only does Indonesia suffer from troubling rates of deforestation, it also has terrible income inequality. According to Global Forest Watch, Indonesia had the third-highest rate of rainforest loss in the world in 2019. It also saw the divide between its richest and poorest citizens grow faster than any other country in Southeast Asia over the last two decades, and now has the sixth-largest wealth inequality gap in the world, according to Oxfam International, as Mic reported.
"No matter which way we looked at it, the anti-poverty program on average leads to reduction in deforestation in the villages receiving it," said Ferraro, as Reuters reported.
The researchers suggest their results may spill over to other countries in Asia that have similar experiences, such as cutting down forests to grow rice as a supplement to a poor harvest. They also say that their study shows that's what's good for people is also good for the environment.
"The value of the avoided deforestation just for carbon dioxide emissions alone is more than the program costs," said Ferraro, as Science News reported, adding that the economic benefits of saving the forests justify the intervention.
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By Rizki Nugraha, Michaela Cavanagh and Holly Young
Just like his father and grandfather, Alfian has spent his whole life working as a fisherman on the banks of the Batang Hari river in Rukam, Indonesia.
In the village of 1,200 residents, rows of houses sit low to the ground beside the water, buttressed on the other side by swampy peatlands.
The natural environment has long sustained the life of this village on the island of Sumatra. But now 48-year-old Alfian is struggling. "The fish are gone from the river," he says. "It's barely enough for daily survival."
Alfian remembers when many fish species lived in the peatlands. He could feed his family for a week with the money from one day's catch.
The fate of both Alfian's daily catch and Rukam itself is intertwined with that of an estimated US $60 billion-dollar industry.
Indonesia sits at the heart of the global palm oil trade. In 2002, it arrived on the banks of Rukam when the Indonesian company PT Erasakti Wira Forestama (EWF) offered the villagers a one-time payment for their land.
Some villagers resisted. Syafei, a 68-year-old who was chief of Rukam at the time, advocated for joint ownership and management of the lands between villagers and the company. But he says some residents pressured him to accept the terms.
They were offered roughly €55,000 (700 million Rupiah, $62,333 according to conversation rates at the time) for approximately 2,300 hectares (5684 acres) in total.
"At that time, that amount of money was really huge," says Syafei. The villagers were "yearning for the compensation."
In the end the community sold the land. Valuable peatlands were converted to plantations — and the repercussions of the decision are still felt today.
The Environmental Cost of Palm Oil
Touted as a wonder commodity, palm oil is found in a vast array of products and has been an undeniable driver of economic growth in the country.
But the environment has paid the price — namely through deforestation, loss of biodiversity, soil degradation, and polluted water and air.
Slash-and-burn techniques, used to clear large swathes of land for plantations, are particularly devastating in peatlands like those found in Rukam. Peatlands are made up of thick layers of decomposed organic material and burning them releases huge amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.
Rukam's residents have witnessed their landscape transform since they sold their land.
The peatlands were drained to make them usable for palm oil. A water pump brought in for irrigation disrupted the natural flow of water, redirecting it from the river to the plantation — which made it difficult for Rukam's residents' to access water for their own fields.
The situation worsened when a flood dam, used to protect the oil palm plantation from flooding, was built in 2009.
"As a consequence, villagers experience more damaging floods in the rainy season and don't have enough water in the dry season," says Rudiansyah, from WALHI, Indonesia's largest environmental organization. Farming has become difficult.
The profits from the sale of land, which were split evenly among residents, were not long-lasting. In fact, Rudiansyah claims Rukam's economy shrank significantly after the land conversion. While there is no data from before EWF came to the village, a study from WALHI and the University of Jambi found 366 of 494 families in Rukam were considered "poor" or "very poor" in 2018.
WALHI and many villagers put this down primarily to the loss of fishing ground due to the palm oil expansion.
Residents say the lakes they used to fish in disappeared after the land conversion and that they've seen fish stocks dramatically decline. When peatlands were drained many valuable species lost their breeding grounds. Now, there are only 53 fishermen, making around €8 ($8.70) per day.
With few alternatives left, many residents have turned to working on the palm oil plantations to earn a living.
Roughly 150 people, or about 16% of the village, work on the EWF plantation, which covers more than 4,000 hectares of land between the Batang Hari and the Kumpeh rivers.
"The only way to survive is to work on the plantation," says Hikmawati, a 35-year-old Rukam resident. Hikmawati worked distributing fertilizer on the plantation but eventually quit because of the high workload and low wages.
Now Hikmawati is trying to earn a living as a seamstress, while her husband works as a driver for the few remaining fishermen.
Loss and Regret
Hikmawati can't imagine any future for Rukam and would turn back the clock if she could: "I'd go back to the olden days where we could grow rice, or when there were still plenty of fish around."
She's not alone. "When I see the vanishing forest, I feel sad... The future looks bleak," fisherman Alfian says. "If nothing changes, then the next generation will leave, and this village will go extinct. Because there is nothing to live for anymore."
Alfian expects he will be the last in the family line of fishermen. "Maybe my children will only learn the names and types of fish that used to live here," he says.
For former village chief Syafei, regret is tinged with frustration: "Everything I had planned for the future has gone to the bottom of the ocean because they didn't want to listen to me."
Many in the community feel a sense of loss, and not just concerning their livelihood. "Countless species of medicinal plants are also lost because of the land conversion from peat forest to plantation," says Rudiansyah.
It's a response common to many villages impacted by the industry. "There is without question an enormous amount of regret for those communities," says Terry Sunderland, a senior scientist with the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR).
"Rukam's story is actually representative for a lot of the villages in Indonesia that are engaging palm oil," says Erik Meijaard, a conservation scientist and chair of the International Union for Conservation of Nature palm oil task force.
"Certain communities benefit from palm oil, but for communities in which residents go fishing or hunting or collecting plants as part of their livelihoods, they tend to lose out quite badly when palm oil goes in and cuts down the forest, because you've got major environmental impacts."
A study out of Kalimantan, Indonesia, found a marked decline in social and environmental well-being in communities with oil palm plantations between 2000 and 2014 — particularly those, like Rukam, that relied on subsistence-based livelihoods.
According to Rudiansyah, Rukam is an unusual case because it chose to sell its land as opposed to many communities plagued by conflicts with palm oil companies.
But Sunderland argues fully informed consent is often lacking: "People should be able to make a decision based on the full knowledge of what the implications are. And that's not the case — palm oil is sold as the financial answer to communities' problems.... Palm oil companies negotiate very disingenuously and essentially don't provide all the information."
As part of the concession agreement with the local government, EWF made regular corporate responsibility payments to Rukam, used to build infrastructure in the village.
Still, some villagers now say they were misled about the impact on water and degradation of their peatland forest.
"At that time [of the sale] we didn't know the impact will be like this. It wasn't known to us that there was a plan to build the dam," says Alfian.
"Flooding wasn't even a problem [before], not like now where the water has become dark and murky, probably caused by the pollution from the plantation," says Hikmawati. Although no official study has been carried out, residents have accused the company of dumping chemicals in the river.
EWF has not responded to requests for comment on these allegations.
"The company should have been fair towards the villagers, not trying to destroy their livelihood, but to embrace them as strategic partners," says Rudiansyah, arguing lack of proper education in the community also played a role.
Wildfires and Mixed Progress
Despite established criteria from the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in data from 2018, only 19% of palm oil produced globally was certified sustainable. Furthermore, Greenpeace have argued deforestation continues to happen even among certified palm oil companies.
The Indonesian government has frequently touted the economic benefits of the industry. However, in the wake of the 2015 wildfires, which destroyed 2.6 million hectares of land including large swathes of peatland, the government took steps that earned international praise.
The Peatland Restoration Agency (BRG) was set up in 2016 and by the end of 2018, it had restored more than 679,000 hectares. In 2019, the same year as more intense wildfires hit the country, the Indonesian government also issued a permanent moratorium on new forest clearance for activities like palm oil development and logging.
But not all are convinced of the progress.
"[Palm oil] companies benefit from poorly enforced laws, which in some cases are also poorly drafted," says Sol Gosetti from Greenpeace, referring to the creation of the BRG and renewed government action against companies destroying forests and peatland, such as mandating punitive fines and revoking licenses.
"The intentions [of government plans] seemed good, but there has been very mixed follow up and research in the field shows that the plantation sector is still not changing its practices," says Gosetti. "In the meantime, a number of plantation companies continue expansion; clearing forests and draining wet, carbon-rich peatlands."
Despite the moratorium, a Greenpeace investigation in 2019 found that more than 1 million hectares had been burned in protected areas. The government has also been criticized for a failure to enforce industry transparency or regulations and tackle human rights abuses.
Yet at the local level, some see reasons to believe the peatlands have a future.
Panace, 39, is a farmer living in Pematang Rahim, a village not far from Rukam. He used to cultivate palm oil on peatlands, but found it was very expensive as a smallholder farmer and was degrading the soil.
Now he is one of many farmers working to rehabilitate their land through the peat restoration program. The first step is rewetting the peatlands by installing infrastructure like deep wells and canal blockings to redistribute water. Then trees and other crops are replanted to repair damaged land.
"We are going to continue diversifying our own crops and try to establish polyculture," says Panace. "We have started with Pinang palm — which grows well in peatlands and has a higher price on the market than palm oil fruits — and so far, it looks really promising."
The program depends on the willingness of both farmers and palm oil companies to participate but Panace believes education is key in the future. The program also works with community groups, NGOs and universities to promote the advantages of peatland restoration.
Change will not happen overnight. "Peatland recovery takes decades, while restoration activities have only been running for four years," says Myrna Safitri, from BRG. But once established on a broad scale it could help mitigate the spread of wildfires.
While restoration has not yet reached Rukam, not all residents are resigned to their village's fate.
Following pressure from the region's provincial government and WALHI, EWF has agreed to meet three demands of the villagers in Rukam, set to be put into effect this year: To repair the health of the soil, to help residents set up rice fields and irrigation systems, and to restore the water source for agriculture and clean drinking water.
This comes almost two decades after the decision that changed everything for Rukam. "Years ago, we only needed to take what nature provided for us," laments Syafei. "Our entire way of life was dependent on the natural rhythm of the seasons."
But he hasn't completely given up hope there is still time to recognize what is at stake. "If we don't learn from the past, then this village might disappear."
Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.
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By Hans Nicholas Jong
The Indonesian government has backed down from a decision to scrap its timber legality verification process for wood export, amid criticism from activists and the prospect of being shut out of the lucrative European market.
On May 11, the Ministry of Trade issued a regulation revoking its decision from February to no longer require Indonesian timber companies to obtain export licenses that certify the wood comes from legal sources. That earlier decision caught environmental activists, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, and even timber businesses by surprise, prompting a widespread outcry.
Sulistyawati, the trade ministry's director of forestry product exports, said that with the revocation, the export process would go back to the previous system. She said the revocation was in accordance with a request from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry.
Under the trade ministry's controversial February regulation, which would have taken effect on May 27, exporters would no longer have needed to obtain licenses verifying that their timber and finished wood products come from legal sources. The so-called v-legal ("verified legal") licenses are at the heart of Indonesia's timber legality verification system, or SVLK, which took the country a decade to develop and implement in an effort to tackle illegal logging.
The European Union, one of the key markets for Indonesian timber and finished wood products, recognizes the SVLK as the basis for importing timber from Indonesia into its market. Scrapping the standard would have jeopardized exports to the EU, experts warned. Activists were also quick to criticize the move, saying it would open up the black market for illegally logged timber.
Businesses, meanwhile, were worried the decision would undermine hard-won gains for the reputation of Indonesian timber, which was heavily associated with illegal logging in the past.
A recent poll by Gadjah Mada University showed that nearly half of 137 timber businesses surveyed felt ending the v-legal license requirement for exports would harm their business. Industry groups in key export markets have also raised questions about the policy, including the International Wood Product Association (IWPA) in the United States and the Australian Timber Importers Federation (ATIF).
The Indonesian Furniture Entrepreneurs Association (Asmindo), a trade group, welcomed the government's U-turn and reinstatement of the v-legal license requirement. Robert Wijaya, the deputy head of regulation reviews at Asmindo, said the rationale that the licensing requirement put an onerous burden on exporters was baseless. He said data from the national statistics agency, the BPS, showed Indonesia's furniture exports increasing since the implementation of the SVLK.
In 2019, Indonesia exported $1.95 billion worth of wood furniture, a 14.6% increase from 2018.
"So it's not true that the SVLK is said to be hampering exports," Robert said.
Muhammad Kosar, from the Indonesian Independent Forest Monitoring Network (JPIK), which keeps track of the SVLK's implementation, said the trade ministry's about-face showed the lack of coordination between government institutions. As a result, he said, different government departments have different interpretations of the importance of the system.
Krystof Obidzinski, a timber legality expert at the European Forest Institute, agreed that appreciation of the SVLK and associated export agreement with the EU might have declined in recent few years. Thus it's important to communicate the importance of the SVLK to ministries other than the environment ministry, the main proponent of the system, so that the SVLK isn't jeopardized in the future, he said.
"Communication and understanding of the SVLK outside the environment ministry are very minimal," Obidzinski said. "Maybe that's because [of] staff turnover or other interests. So to increase export and [strengthen] the SVLK, it's important to build bridges with other ministries so that the level [of understanding] can be the same."
Under the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA), signed in 2013, all timber shipped to the EU from Indonesia must be certified under the SVLK, which aims to track the chain of custody of timber products and ensure that timber is harvested in compliance with Indonesian law. The agreement also requires Indonesia to commit to SVLK certification for all timber exports — not just to the EU — as well as timber traded in the domestic market.
That stringent implementation of checks at every stage of the process was the justification for cited by the trade ministry for dispensing with the requirement at the end stage — exports. In making this argument, the ministry adopted the main talking point of the Indonesian Furniture and Craft Association (HIMKI), a trade body that has been at the forefront of the lobbying efforts to drop the SVLK requirement for producers of finished wood items. It argued that if a piece of timber has already been legally certified at the logging stage, then there's no need to continue with legality checks further on down the line, including for exporters.
HIMKI chairman Sunoto denounced the trade ministry's backtracking, insisting the SVLK requirement made it difficult for producers to export their furniture products overseas.
"Two months ago, we were already happy because the SVLK had been cancelled at the downstream level [exporters]," he said. "Now it is resurrected. It's not that we don't agree with the SVLK. HIMKI doesn't agree if the SVLK is implemented at the downstream level."
This argument was echoed by Industry Minister Agus Gumiwang Kartasasmita during a government meeting on May 22. He suggested that the SVLK requirement should only be made mandatory at the logging stage, but not at the downstream level.
To address the concerns over the high cost of SVLK certification, the environment ministry will issue a regulation containing several changes to the system. Under the regulation, it'll be the government who verify SVLK certification, not third-party agencies, according to Bambang Hendroyono, the secretary-general of the environment ministry.
"So in the [planned] ministerial regulation, we will make sure that small-and-medium businesses no longer have problems for export, especially to China and Korea," he said.
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
A new company has begun clearing rainforest in an area of Indonesia's easternmost Papua province earmarked to become the world's largest oil palm plantation, in a vast project that has been mired in allegations of lawbreaking.
If seen through to completion, the Tanah Merah project will generate an estimated $6 billion in timber and create a plantation almost twice the size of London, at the heart of the largest tract of intact rainforest left in Asia. It will also release an immense amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, at a time when Indonesia has committed to reducing emissions from deforestation.
Since March of last year, the Digoel Agri Group, founded by a politically connected Jakarta family and now backed by an investor from New Zealand, has bulldozed 170 hectares (420 acres) of rainforest in a section of the project previously spared from land clearing, satellite imagery shows.
The clearance amounts to a fraction of the 280,000 hectares (692,000 acres) allocated for the project, now controlled by several different conglomerates. But it signals that deforestation could quickly accelerate after a decade of false starts by other investors.
A satellite view of Digoel Agri's forest clearance, seen in late November 2019.
Since it was first conceived in 2007, the rights to the project have changed hands several times, involving a string of investors who have deployed crude and complex corporate secrecy techniques to hide their identities.
The licensing process for the project has been plagued by irregularities. A cross-border investigation by The Gecko Project, Mongabay, Malaysiakini and Tempo, published in November 2018, revealed that key permits were signed by an elected official who was simultaneously serving a prison sentence for embezzling state funds.
A subsequent report found that officials believe other essential permits — for both the plantation and a giant sawmill to process the timber — were falsified.
Two companies, majority-owned by anonymous firms registered in the United Arab Emirates, began operating on the basis of these permits, to the north of the land now held by Digoel Agri. In response to written questions from The Gecko Project and Mongabay they have denied the allegation that the permits were falsified.
On paper, Digoel Agri's involvement in the project represents a clean break from those allegations. The firm arrived on the scene after the suspect permits held by earlier investors were revoked and reassigned to it.
Jackson Iqbal de Hesselle, 32, a member of the Rumangkang family, which is behind Digoel Agri, said its operations were clean. "We're obeying the rules," he said in a recent interview at the firm's office in Jayapura, the capital of Papua province.
However, while there are no apparent links between Digoel Agri and the previous investors, its ability to operate is partly predicated on the allegedly compromised licensing process that went before.
The legal basis of Digoel Agri's activities rests partly on decrees rezoning the land to allow development, issued by the Ministry of Forestry in 2012, following requests from earlier investors. The applications were based on the plantation permits that were allegedly falsified.
As of late last year, Indonesian authorities had yet to investigate the allegations, officials from several agencies said at the time.
NGOs scrutinizing the project assert that officials rushed into reallocating the lands to new investors without properly considering the allegations of irregularities in the licensing process and the environmental and social impacts the project would have.
Arie Rompas, the head of forest campaigns at Greenpeace Indonesia, called the Tanah Merah project a "public scandal" and said the permits underlying it should be examined and revoked.
"There is still an opportunity to save this area," he said.
Enter the Rumangkangs
Digoel Agri was set up by members of the Rumangkang family, according to the Indonesian government's corporate registry. The late family patriarch, Ventje Rumangkang, who died in February at the age of 74, was a founder of Indonesia's Democratic Party, the vehicle for Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's successful presidential run in 2004.
At their office in Jayapura, Jackson and his brother Jones Rumangkang, 44, said they had decided to invest in the Tanah Merah project after being encouraged to do so by bureaucrats in Boven Digoel, the district in which the project is located. They then formed several companies under the Digoel Agri brand and set about acquiring the permits.
The brothers said they were helped along by Fabianus Senfahagi, the head of a local indigenous people's association. He had played a role shepherding through the project in its early stages, accompanying surveyors sent by other investors around 2012.
A paper trail of correspondence among Fabianus and government officials shows he subsequently agitated for the permits to be revoked and reassigned to the Digoel Agri Group.
His letters to the district government in 2014 claimed the local Auyu people were anxiously waiting for the project to begin. By this time, the land concessions that would be transferred to the Rumangkangs were majority-owned by Tadmax Resources, a Malaysian logging and property conglomerate. Minority stakes were retained by the Menara Group, an enigmatic Jakarta firm that brought the project to life in 2010.
Over the next three years, the permits held by Tadmax and Menara were revoked by the district and provincial governments. The stated rationale for cancelling them was the companies' failure to begin operating. However, bureaucrats at the Papua investment agency had also raised concerns that some of the permits had been falsified.
Tadmax and Menara have not responded to repeated requests to comment on these allegations.
By 2017, the concessions previously held by Tadmax and Menara had been reallocated to the Digoel Agri Group.
In early 2019, Tadmax and Menara challenged this decision. A letter to the central government from Dr. Sadino & Partners, a law firm representing the joint investors, accused officials of illegally revoking the permits. They also argued that anyone using the same land on the basis of new permits — like the ones underlying Digoel Agri's operations — was committing a crime.
Jones and Jackson insisted that Digoel Agri was in compliance with the law and had obtained the permits it needed to begin operating, from the district and provincial governments.
Ordinarily, to convert rainforest to a plantation, Digoel Agri would also have needed to apply to the forestry ministry in Jakarta to rezone the land for development. But by the time the Rumangkangs arrived in Papua, this process had already taken place.
The Menara Group and its co-investors had obtained decrees rezoning the land from the then-minister in 2011. These decrees were issued on the basis of permits that provincial government officials have repeatedly reported were falsified.
In an interview last year, Sigit Hardwinarto, the ministry's director-general of forest planning, said the rezoning could be reviewed if the allegation that the permits had been falsified was reported to his department.
The rezoning of the land is a legacy of the administration of President Yudhoyono and then-Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan. During his tenure, Zulkifli reportedly rezoned 2.4 million hectares (5.9 million acres) of land for conversion to oil palm plantations.
Yudhoyono's successor, President Joko Widodo, and the new forestry minister, Siti Nurbaya Bakar, have sought to strike a different path. In 2018, Widodo signed a three-year moratorium on the issuance of new licenses for oil palm plantations.
The policy had been announced in the wake of Indonesia's 2015 fire and haze crisis, in which Indonesia's vast peat swamps burned as a result of agricultural fires from the oil palm and timber plantation industries. Toxic smoke from the fires drifted into neighboring countries, creating a public health crisis.
The moratorium explicitly barred the forestry ministry from rezoning land for oil palm development. It also instructed the cabinet to review all existing oil palm permits with an eye toward possibly revoking them. Several weeks after the president first declared he would sign the moratorium, in 2016, Siti singled out the Tanah Merah project as one that merited scrutiny.
In comments posted on her personal website, Siti referred disparagingly to the fact that the project appeared to have been established so the licenses could be "traded" to Malaysian investors, and said the president had instructed her to prioritize implementing the moratorium in Papua.
"We really have to safeguard [the forests of Papua] and must formulate and implement a development concept in Papua to the best of our ability," she quoted Widodo as telling her.
However, neither these policies nor the allegations around the Tanah Merah project have stymied its progress under the direction of new investors. NGOs monitoring the implementation of the moratorium have noted limited progress in Papua.
"There has been no significant progress in how this policy is implemented," said Arie, the Greenpeace campaigner. "The Tanah Merah project should be a strong case to see how this [policy] can be carried out seriously and effectively."
A road cuts through one of the Digoel Agri land concessions, seen in January. Pusaka
The Rumangkangs insist that the project will benefit the Auyu people. Jones said the ones he met were overjoyed about the prospect of a plantation on their land.
"They didn't just ask, they cried," he said. "The Auyu tribe is the poorest in Boven Digoel, even though they're so rich [in natural resources]."
The Rumangkangs have enlisted foreign investors to help them develop the plantation. Their chief partner is a New Zealand property developer named Neville Mahon. In 2018, Mahon became the majority shareholder of the Digoel Agri subsidiaries with land concessions in the project. He could not be reached for comment.
Mahon associate Thirunavukarasu Selva Nithan, an Australian national, is the sole director of the three companies, corporate records show. Contacted by email, he said he had resigned his position and directed questions to Jackson.
The involvement of these investors adds to a growing list of actors from across the world with a stake in what could become the world's largest stretch of oil palm. Malaysian logging giant Shin Yang has constructed a sawmill to process timber from the project.
North of the Digoel Agri concessions, investors whose identities are hidden behind anonymously owned companies in the United Arab Emirates have also begun clearing land, with the Menara Group and the sister of a prominent politician from Indonesia's National Mandate Party as their minor partners. So far, they've bulldozed 8,300 hectares (20,500 acres) of forest, nearly 3% of the project's total area.
Yet another firm holds the rights to the northernmost block of the project. Corporate records show it is majority owned by two holding companies registered to a letterbox address in Malaysia. The minor shareholder in that venture is the Malaysian logging giant Rimbunan Hijau.
Many Auyu remain steadfastly opposed to the Tanah Merah project, according to Franky Samperante, the director of Pusaka, an Indonesian nonprofit that advocates for indigenous peoples' rights.
Franky Samperante. Sandy Watt / The Gecko Project
On a recent trip to the area, he found that members of the Kemon clan, whose land has been targeted by Digoel Agri, did not want the plantation to go ahead on the grounds that it would destroy their food and water supplies.
He questioned the government's decision to allow the plantation to move ahead, without investigating the allegation that permits held by the earlier investors had been falsified.
"In light of the irregularities that have arisen, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry must review the decrees rezoning the land," he said. "The government must impose sanctions on the perpetrators."
Reposted with permission from Mongabay.
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After nearly 15 inches of rain fell in one day and caused flash floods and landslides in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, that destroyed 60,000 homes and killed at least 43 people, the Indonesian Air Force sent two planes to drop salt on approaching rain clouds to break them up before they reached the city, according to Reuters.
The slowly sinking capital that is crumbling into the Java Sea has started the new year with a humanitarian crisis as tens of thousands of people were displaced and over 190,000 were evacuated by the sudden deluge on Dec. 31, 2019.
To stave off further damage, Indonesia's technology agency BPPT teamed up with the air force to carry out three rounds of cloud seeding earlier today, with more expected when needed, a BPPT official said, as Reuters reported.
"All clouds moving towards the Greater Jakarta area, which are estimated to lead to precipitation there, will be shot with NaCl (sodium chloride) material," Indonesia's technology agency BPPT explained in a statement, as the BBC reported.
The two small planes dropped salt on rain clouds above the Sundra Strait. A larger plane was loaded and on standby if more rain clouds approached the city, according to the Guardian.
Indonesian authorities often use cloud seeding or salt flares into clouds to try to catalyze rainfall to help put out forest fires during the dry season, according to the Guardian.
"We will do cloud seeding every day as needed," said BPPT chief Hammam Riza to reporters, as Reuters reported.
Indonesia's president, Joko Widodo, who last year announced that the capital would move to East Kalimantan on Borneo to help relieve Jakarta's overcrowding, blamed stalled flood control infrastructure projects for the disaster. Meanwhile, authorities are using hundreds of pumps to try to suck water out of residential areas and from public infrastructure like roads and railways, as the Guardian reported.
However, even in areas where the water has receded, mud and debris have prevented people from returning to their homes, according to the BBC.
Jakarta regularly experiences flooding during the rainy season, which started in November. This week's flood was "one of the most extreme rainfall" events since records began in 1866, the Meteorological, Climatological and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) said on Friday, as Reuters reported.
This week's flooding is the worst since 2013 when dozens were killed by overflowing canals when monsoons struck the city. More than 50 people died in floods in the capital in 2007, as Reuters reported.
"This year's flooding was phenomenally bad because of the extremely high rainfall," said Yayat Supriatna, a Jakarta-based urban planning expert, as the AFP reported.
VIDEO: 🇮🇩 Hundreds of people displaced because of severe flooding in the Indonesian capital #Jakarta hold Friday pr… https://t.co/mPrp4C87qr— AFP news agency (@AFP news agency)1578057300.0
He added that Jakarta's many infrastructure problems, including poor drainage and rampant overdevelopment, worsened the situation.
"Yes, the weather conditions were terrible, but this was exacerbated by awful urban planning," said Supriatna.
Authorities said 17 died in floodwaters, while 12 were killed in landslides. Several people died after coming into contact with downed live electrical lines and from hypothermia. As a precaution, officials turned off the electricity in many districts in Jakarta as a precaution, according to the UPI.
- 21 Dead, 62,000 Displaced in Deadliest Flooding to Swamp Jakarta ... ›
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Unusually heavy rain began to fall in and around the Indonesian capital Dec. 31, 2019: 377 millimeters (approximately 14.8 inches) were recorded New Year's Eve at an East Jakarta airport by the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG). That's the highest rainfall tally for a single day since records began in 1996, BBC News reported.
"This rain is not ordinary rain," the BMKG said in a statement reported by The Jakarta Post.
At least 21 people have died in severe flooding in Indonesia's capital, Jakarta The city is having its most intens… https://t.co/2wt4JdNwS0— BBC News (World) (@BBC News (World))1577961899.0
The BMKG said the extreme rainfall was caused by the combination of a monsoon and the fact that warmer Indian Ocean temperatures south of Java had allowed more water vapor to accumulate in the atmosphere.
The climate crisis generally is causing more extreme rainfall because a warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture and because more water is evaporating off the ocean, The Climate Reality Project explained. Jakarta is also especially vulnerable to flooding because it is the fastest sinking city in the world: a combination of sea level rise and land sinking caused by the drilling of groundwater wells and the weight of its buildings means much of North Jakarta could be underwater by 2050. Because of this, Indonesian President Joko Widodo announced plans to relocate the capital last year.
The current New Year's flooding has displaced more than 62,000 people in Jakarta alone, according to Reuters.
A family use an inflated inner-tube to leave their home after rain caused flooding in Jakarta, Indonesia 📸 Bay Is… https://t.co/6ImDIwxb1R— AFP news agency (@AFP news agency)1577855935.0
"It has not flooded for so long here. We didn't have the chance to bring anything," 52-year-old evacuee Umar Dani told Reuters. "I have to live on the streets now."
The extreme weather also cut power and disrupted train service. Floodwaters swamped the runway at Jakarta's Halim Perdana Kusumah domestic airport, closing it and stranding around 19,000 people, Al Jazeera reported.
The death toll is the highest for flooding since 2013, BBC News reported. The victims, aged between eight and 82, died from hypothermia, drowning and landslides. One 16-year-old boy, Arviqo Alif Ardana, was electrocuted, Al Jazeera reported.
"I did not know what had happened until his younger brother came and told me that his brother had died and when I came to the scene, people said that my child was electrocuted when he was holding a lamp post and tried to be rescued by local residents (but failed and died)," his father, Al-Latif Ilyas Darmawan, said.
Widodo told reporters Thursday that evacuations and safety precautions would be prioritized, Reuters reported. He also said on Twitter that flood mitigation projects had been delayed since 2017 because of problems with land acquisition.Heavy rains are expected to last until Jan. 7, according to Indonesia's Cabinet Secretary. But Dwikorita Karnawati, head of the geophysics agency, told reporters rains could fall until mid February.
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In recent years, Bali has been called the trash island in the world after a British diver recorded himself in one of the island's most iconic dive spots fully surrounded in plastics. In December 2017, the Balinese Government even declared a trash emergency.
With 80 percent of plastic pollution in our oceans coming from rivers and streams, Make A Change World is launching 100 trash booms around Bali to prevent plastics going out to sea under its latest project Sungai Watch.
Sungai Watch is Make A Change World's newest project aimed at tackling the alleyways of plastic pollution, our rivers. "In the last 10 years, we have launched expeditions in some of the world's most polluted rivers and have seen first hand the urgent need for action." says Gary Bencheghib, founder of Make A Change World.
With the support of beer Bintang, Make A Change World are launching their 3 first river booms in tributaries of the Ayung river, Bali's most important waterway. The river booms will be set up in the coming weeks and will follow an interactive educational campaign aimed at raising awareness about the importance of not throwing plastics in our rivers.
"We did this to show our commitment to support the Indonesia tourism industry and keep Bali as the star destination. We believe that the best way to prevent trash running to the beach and sea should be started from responsible waste management behavior and the local habit of throwing rubbish into the river should be eliminated immediately," said PT Multi Bintang Indonesia Niaga Marketing Director, Mariska van Drooge.
The booms are engineered by the German based company Plastic Fischer, an environmental startup founded by three friends, Georg Baunach, Karsten Hirsch and Moritz Schulz. They have the goal to intercept plastic pollution in our rivers through affordable technology solutions. For the past 5 months, they have been setting up waste collection solutions in Java including their proven successful pilot trash booms on the Citarum river. "We invented effective trash booms that are made of local materials to provide a simple and cost efficient waste collection solution for rivers as soon as possible. They are easy to assemble and maintain" says Moritz Schulz, Plastic Fischer's leading engineer.
Two years ago, Gary and his brother Sam rowed down the Citarum River in Indonesia known to be the most polluted river in the world. Their two week expedition inspired Indonesian President Jokowi to clean the river. Since their expedition, Indonesia has deployed 7,000 military troops who are actively involved in the clean up. The clean up has become a priority on the President's agenda and a national concern. So much so that there is university programs dedicated to the clean up and an important journalist coalition who are documenting the progress daily.
"We came up with the idea for Sungai Watch as a way to monitor rivers and unite communities in doing so. Imagine watching the cleanup of the world's most polluted river in real time." says Gary. Sungai Watch's online platform will be made available to the public in early 2020. It uses GIS (Geographic Information System) mapping and artificial intelligence (AI) to see details in rivers of up to 10 centimeters. Gary hopes that it will be the go-to platform to clean rivers worldwide.
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By Hans Nicholas Jong
The makers of Oreo cookies and KitKat chocolate bars are among the companies getting some of their palm oil from producers linked to the fires that have razed large swaths of land in Indonesia, a new report says.
The fires, started mostly to clear land for planting, have burned 8,578 square kilometers (3,304 square miles) as of the end of September — an area the size of Puerto Rico. Many of the companies on whose concessions they've occurred are affiliated with groups that supply palm oil to companies like Mondelēz, Nestlé, Unilever and Procter & Gamble (P&G), according to the report published Nov. 4 by Greenpeace.
Many of the companies involved across the supply chain have made sustainability pledges that commit them to not sourcing palm oil from growers linked to deforestation and/or burning. The new findings show they've clearly fallen short, said Annisa Rahmawati, a Greenpeace Indonesia senior forest campaigner.
"Companies have created a facade of sustainability," she said. "But the reality is that they source from the very worst offenders across the board. The companies responsible for the fires and those who financially benefit from them should be held accountable for these environmental atrocities and the devastating health impacts caused by the fires."
Land burning in an oil palm concession owned by PT Agro Tumbuh Gemilang Abadi (ATGA).
Elviza Diana / Mongabay-Indonesia
The report first looks at the plantation companies with the highest number of fires on their concessions between January and September this year, the largest areas of burned land on their concessions between 2015 and 2018, and/or those that have been sanctioned for fires.
Greenpeace identified 30 such groups, 21 of which are current members of the leading certification body for ethical sourcing of the crop, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The RSPO has a strict "no burning" and "no deforestation" policy for its members.
Greenpeace then looked at whether the palm oil produced by these groups was present in the supply chains of major brands and traders. It found that all 30 of the palm oil producer groups most closely linked with the fires in Indonesia trade in the global market, supplying to leading consumer goods companies.
Four household names — Mondelēz, Nestlé, Unilever and P&G — are each linked to up to 10,000 fire hotspots, as they buy from palm oil producer groups with the highest numbers of fire hotpots in 2019. Mondelēz and Nestlé, the respective producers of Oreo and KitKat, among other brands, buy from 28 of these groups. Unilever buys from at least 27, and P&G from at least 22, according to Greenpeace.
These big brands also source from companies with legal problems or that are currently under public investigation for fires. Unilever, for instance, is supplied by eight plantation companies with court actions or sanctions against them, and 20 companies whose operations have been sealed for investigation as a result of the 2019 fires, according to the report.
Major palm oil traders are also still getting some of their supply from producers linked to the burning.
Wilmar, the world's largest palm oil trader, for example, is supplied by palm oil groups responsible for more than 1,400 square kilometers (540 square miles) of burned land between 2015 and 2018 and nearly 8,000 fire hotspots in 2019 to date.
Burned area in oil palm concession owned by PT ATGA.
Elviza Diana / Mongabay-Indonesia
Greenpeace's Annisa said burning-linked palm oil was being allowed to circulate through the global supply web because of weaknesses in the respective companies' monitoring of their supplies' provenance.
Some of the consumer goods companies failed to identify palm-fruit processing mills that were on their supplier lists as belonging to producer groups that they had in fact already banned. For instance, both Nestlé and Unilever's supply chain disclosures still show supply chain links to mills owned by Salim Ivomas Pratama, a member of Indonesia's Salim Group.
In a response to Greenpeace, Nestlé said that since April 2018, following a supply chain mapping process, "several mills have been suspended or otherwise removed. This includes ten upstream supply chain companies published on our website, like the Korindo Group and Salim. This underscores our commitment to achieving deforestation-free supply chains."
Unilever said it had "suspended sourcing from six of the indirect suppliers identified in the Greenpeace tables. These are: Austindo Nusantara Jaya [ANJ]; Best Agri Plantation; Citra Borneo Indah [SSMS]; Jaya Agra Wattie; Salim Group …; Sungai Budi/Tunas Baru Lampung. These six suspended groups are no longer in our Supply Chain and will not appear in the next scheduled update to our mill list."
However, they failed to attribute Salim Ivomas Pratama mills as belonging to the Salim Group, according to the report.
Nestlé says "Salim Ivomas Pratama isn't one group with Salim Group. But they're clearly one group," Annisa said. "This is amazing because it means [the brands] aren't aware of what's happening at the level of traders and producers. So most of them don't know. They just believe what they've been told by their suppliers."
This is also happening with traders such as Cargill, Annisa said.
Cargill's grievance tracker states that as of May 2018, Indofood, an arm of the Salim Group, is no longer in its supply chain. However, Cargill's most recent supply chain disclosure reveals purchases from "Gunta Samba" mills, which are part of the Salim Group but not classified as such by Cargill.
Greenpeace identified 332 fire hotspots within the concessions associated with the Salim Group (including subsidiaries IndoAgri, Indofood and IndoGunta) between January and September this year, and 78 square kilometers (30 square miles) of burned area from 2015 to 2018. Plantation company PT Kebun Ganda Prima, which had its concessions sealed off by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry this year, is also identified by Greenpeace as belonging to the Salim Group.
The Salim Group declined to respond to Greenpeace's fire hotspot and burn scar data on the grounds that "your information and data is neither specific nor detailed," according to the report.
A patrolling team hired by oil palm company PT ATGA to douse fires in the concession.
Elviza Diana / Mongabay Indonesia
Defining Producer Groups
Exposure to producer groups with links to environmental and social violations is common among big brands, but difficult to trace, the report says.
"[A]s a result of serious transparency failings, much of this exposure is not made explicit in their public supply chain disclosures, which require painstaking analysis to reveal the full extent of the companies' links to fires, deforestation, and human exploitation," it says.
This is in part because there's still disagreement over how producer groups are defined, Annisa said, even as many consumer goods brands and traders state that their sustainability policies are intended to apply to entire producer groups.
She said the definition should extend beyond formal parent-subsidiary corporate relationships because a large segment of the plantation industry, especially in Southeast Asia, has always been controlled by complex conglomerates owned by individuals and families.
Therefore, a group definition should take into account not only common ownership but also shared financial, managerial and/or operational control, Annisa said.
"So the definition of a group isn't firm yet, it's very elastic," she said. "But it's clear that if there's shared managerial and financial control, then it's a group. We also found many companies with the same addresses. Don't we include these companies in one group? So the definition of producer group has to be revised. Otherwise, companies can evade their responsibilities repeatedly."
Smoke rises from an oil palm plantation on a peatland in Sumatra.
Rhett A. Butler / Mongabay
‘No Business on a Dead Planet’
Annisa said there was an urgent need for drastic transformation in the palm oil industry, especially as the fires in Indonesia were contributing significantly to carbon emissions and hence climate change.
According to data from the Global Fire Emissions Database (GFED), this year's fires have released an estimated 465 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent as of Oct. 22 — almost the entire total greenhouse gas emissions of the U.K. in a year.
"If the forests are gone, we can't do anything," Annisa said. "This is what [the companies] fail to realize. We all know that there's no business on a dead planet."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.
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- Indonesian Journalists Critical of Illegal Palm Plantation Found Dead ›
By Ayat S. Karokaro and adapted by Basten Gokkon
Two Indonesian journalists who had reported on an illegal oil palm plantation in Sumatra while also allegedly trying to gain control of the crop have been found dead at the plantation.
The body of Maraden Sianipar, 55, was found on Oct. 30 in a ditch in the concession of palm grower PT Sei Alih Berombang (SAB). The body of Martua Siregar, 42, was found the next day in the bushes near a warehouse at the same site. Both men worked for a weekly publication, Pindo Merdeka, based in Medan, the capital of North Sumatra province.
Local media reported that Maraden had been found with his left arm hacked off and wounds to his head, while Martua appeared to have stab wounds in his abdomen, back and head.
Police have launched an investigation into the case amid mounting calls from Indonesian press groups condemning the deaths and demanding that the perpetrators be brought to justice. But it's not clear whether they were killed because of their critical reporting on SAB, whose concession was sealed off by authorities a year ago after it was found to have cleared 750 hectares of forest to plant oil palms.
Witnesses said the pair were also known to be part of a community group that had for years been locked in a dispute with the plantation company and had sought to take control of the oil palms once the local forestry office had ruled that the company's expansion onto forested land was illegal.
Other witnesses said Maraden and Martua had gone by motorbike to the plantation on Oct. 29 with a group of locals seeking to harvest the palm fruit. One witness said he had warned Maraden that plantation guards armed with machetes were guarding a checkpoint in anticipation of the group.
"We have questioned eight witnesses, and we're collecting as much evidence [as possible] to solve the deaths of the two victims," Budiarto, a local police chief, told reporters on Nov. 2.
An oil palm worker harvesting palm fruit at a plantation in North Sumatra. Nanang Sujana for RAN / Oppuk
Locals reported that violent conflicts were common between the plantation's security guards and people trying to take the palm fruit. The latter, who say they have just as much claim to the illegally cultivated crop as SAB, have sought assistance from environmental groups, including the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), to resolve the land dispute that has simmered since 2015.
"We suspect the deaths [of the two] to be unusual," said Khairul Buchori, who heads the advocacy and legal department at Walhi's North Sumatra chapter.
Maraden and Martua's deaths come less than a month after the suspicious death of Walhi environmental activist Golfrid Siregar, also in North Sumatra. He was found unconscious with severe head injuries on a traffic overpass in Medan, and died in hospital three days later, on Oct. 6, without ever regaining consciousness.
Golfrid was best known for his legal advocacy work for local communities ensnared in land conflicts with oil palm companies. At the time of his death he was also involved in a lawsuit against the North Sumatra government over alleged forgery in the permitting process for a controversial hydropower project in an orangutan habitat.
Police, however, ruled Golfrid's death the result of a drunken-driving crash. But his former colleagues dispute that claim, pointing to several holes in the evidence cited by police, including independent testimony from his family that he wasn't a drinker.
While the motives behind each of the recent deaths remain unclear for now, press and environmental activists agree that they ring alarm bells about the state of the free press and activism in the country.
The number of reported cases of violence against journalists rose to 64 in 2018 from 60 in 2017, according to the Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI). The group says the main perpetrators of abuse against journalists are companies and the state.
There were also 171 recorded cases of violence against activists in Indonesia between 2010 and 2018, according to the Indonesian Human Protection Foundation (YPII), with most of the victims environmental activists.
Walhi's Khairul called for the National Police to take over the North Sumatra police's investigations into the recent deaths, saying the latter had "failed to resolve" these cases.
Golfrid Siregar, left, protests against the proposed Batang Toru hydropower project, which threatens the only known habitat of the critically endangered Tapanuli orangutan. Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi)
Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.
Environmental activists in Indonesia have raised suspicions over the death this week of a human rights defender who was a staunch advocate of communities threatened by palm oil plantations.
Golfrid Siregar, 34, a member of the legal advocacy team for the North Sumatra chapter of the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), was found unconscious on a traffic overpass in Medan, the provincial capital, in the early hours of Oct. 3 and taken to hospital. He was found next to his motorbike, but personal items including his laptop computer, ring and wallet were missing.
Human rights activist and the legal council coordinator for the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), Golfr… https://t.co/mz410gJCeh— WALHI Nasional (@WALHI Nasional)1570493064.0
On Oct. 6, he passed away from severe injuries to his head.
Preliminary police reports suggested he was injured in a motorbike accident or in an attack by bike-riding robbers. But fellow activists have questioned this theory, saying that a traffic accident would have flung him away from his motorbike, and that in the case of a violent theft, the assailants would have taken his motorbike in addition to his other personal belongings. They also note that the injuries were only to Golfrid's head, and not the rest of his body, ruling out a bike crash.
Golfrid Siregar, center, and his colleagues show the lawsuit they filed against the North Sumatra government over an alleged forgery in the permitting process for a hydropower project in Batang Toru, Sumatra.
Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi).
"We suspect the victim was beaten up at another location," Roy Lumbangaol, Golfrid's manager at Walhi, told reporters on Oct. 7. "To eliminate the evidence, he was brought to the location where he was eventually found."
Walhi has called on police to launch a thorough and transparent investigation into Golfrid's death. The group also asked the National Commission on Human Rights to monitor the police investigation.
Associates last had contact with Golfrid on the afternoon of Oct. 2, when he left home to deliver a package and have a meeting. By the evening, he couldn't be contacted. At 1 a.m. on Oct. 3, a rickshaw driver found his body on the overpass.
The police have said they will call in the rickshaw driver for further questioning and check footage from CCTV cameras installed near the location where Golfrid was found.
Golfrid was best known for his work with legal aid and civil society groups in helping local communities ensnared in land conflicts with palm oil companies.
His most recent work was on a lawsuit against the North Sumatra government over the alleged forgery of a researcher's signature in an environmental impact assessment for a proposed hydropower project. Activists say the planned dam would threaten the only known habitat of the Tapanuli orangutan (Pongo tapanuliensis), a critically endangered species. According to Walhi, Golfrid had recently lodged a complaint to the National Police against the North Sumatra Police's decision to drop the investigation into the alleged forgery.
Golfrid's death is the latest in a disturbing pattern of environmental defenders dying under suspicious circumstances in Indonesia. From 2010 to 2018, there were 171 recorded cases of violence against activists in Indonesia, according to Ainul Yaqin from the Indonesian Human Protection Foundation (YPII). Most of the victims were environmental activists.
Earlier this year, the head of Walhi's West Nusa Tenggara chapter survived an arson attack after assailants barricaded him inside his home and set it on fire.
"The struggle as human rights defenders will always continue," Walhi said in a statement.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.
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