Indonesia’s Palm Oil Plantations on Path to Reforestation

4 mins

A total of 200,000 hectares – roughly the size of Luxembourg – of Indonesian palm oil plantations are set to be rewilded

Around 200,000 hectares of Indonesian palm oil plantations are set to be returned to the state to be converted back into rainforest.

It’s after Indonesia, the world’s largest palm oil producer and exporter, established regulations to clarify the legal status of plantations in regions initially designated as natural forests, habitats for endangered wildlife such as orangutans, tigers, rhinos, and elephants.

The country’s government said the move is part of its efforts to protect the environment and add to carbon capture in order to tackle global warming.

Approximately 3.3 million hectares of the country’s nearly 17 million hectares of palm plantation have been found in forests. However, only operators of plantations with a combined size of 1.67 million hectares have been earmarked by Indonesia’s Forestry Ministry.

palm oil plantation showing environmental damage in Indonesia

Companies have to submit paperwork and pay fines to obtain cultivating rights on their plantation by November 2nd 2023, according to the Indonesian government.

Officials are cataloging which of those are found in designated production forests, meaning owners will have to pay fines but they can continue to grow palm trees, and which are in protected areas and must be returned to the state for reforestation.

The ministry estimate that about 200,000 hectares will be returned, adding the figure may increase.

‘The ones in protected forests and conservation forests, the government wants to restore after they pay the fine,’ Bambang said, adding this will be part of the government’s efforts to mitigate global warming.

Indonesia’s Economic Lifeline

Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil, originally derived from the fruit of the West African oil palm tree. It is used for a host of purposes including biofuel, cosmetics, snacks, pizza, ice cream and soap, and is in about half of all products on store shelves.

The oil palm tree is grown in tropical regions, notably Indonesia and Malaysia, and forests are continually being cleared to make room for more of this crop.

Related Story The Killing Forests: How Palm Oil Is Threatening To Make Orangutans Extinct

In 2021, Indonesia exported $27.3bn worth of palm oil globally. The main destinations were China ($4.22bn), India ($3.45bn), Pakistan ($2.84bn), US ($1.38bn), and Bangladesh ($1.36bn).

Indonesia has launched several programmes in the past to improve governance of its massive palm oil plantations, amid criticism by environmentalists of the crop’s impact on deforestation.

Since rain forests are the largest carbon sinks, when destroyed they release massive amounts of carbon dioxide. Deforestation is the second largest manmade source of atmospheric carbon dioxide, after fossil fuel burning.

The Problem With Palm Oil Plantations

Another impact of unsustainable palm oil production is the large-scale devastation of tropical forests. As well as widespread habitat loss for endangered species including orangutans, it produces greater human-wildlife conflict as large animals are squeezed out and move closer to villages and urban areas.

Orangutan mother and baby on the ground
Orangutans face a multitude of serious threats from palm oil plantations

Orangutans are arboreal, meaning they live in the trees, and the destruction of forested areas forces them to ground level, making them more vulnerable to threats such as poaching and human-wildlife conflict. Young orangutans are also at risk of being captured for the illegal pet trade as their mothers are killed during the deforestation process.

Furthermore, as agricultural fires are often used to clear land quickly, orangutans face additional threats from fire and smoke, which can cause respiratory issues and displacement. The decrease in their natural habitat also leads to food shortages, as the forest provides a variety of fruits that make up the majority of their diet.

These factors, combined with the slow reproductive rate of orangutans, make them one of the most endangered species on the planet, with palm oil plantations being a significant driver of their decline.

Sustainable palm oil practices and conservation efforts are crucial to mitigating these impacts and ensuring the survival of orangutans.

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