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Indonesian civil society feels supported by moratorium on new oil palm permits

9 October 2018

No new permits for oil palm plantations may be issued in Indonesia in the coming 3 years, states the moratorium signed by Indonesian President Joko Widodo last month. An important support for the people who are committed to the protection of forests and the rights of local communities, such as our partners in North Kalimantan.

Last month, Indonesian President Joko Widodo has signed a moratorium on new licenses for oil palm plantations. The policy constitutes not just a freeze on new licenses, but an order for the relevant central government ministries and regional governments to conduct a review of oil palm licensing data. This review can have far-reaching consequences, because palm oil permits and their implementation are often non-compliant with the law.

The construction of palm oil plantations has led to large-scale clearance of rainforest and peat forest. This resulted in conflicts over land use and damaged the habitat of the critically endangered orangutan. The exploitation and burning of peatlands is also a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.

“It is quite unique that a country speaks out against oil palm,” says Heleen van den Hombergh, Senior Expert Agrocommodities at IUCN NL. “Indonesia sets an example for other countries: it is an important step that the highest official in the country endorses that it the expansion of palm oil plantations must come to an end.”

First step towards necessary improvements

Our partner organizations WALHI and Sawit Watch have been pleading for this moratorium for years and consider it a first step in the right direction. “The moratorium on permits is a strategic step that must be taken by the government to ensure improvements in the management of oil palm plantations,” says Karlo Lumban Raja, Head of Environmental and Public Awareness at Sawit Watch. Sawit Watch works with the local government in North Kalimantan on improving land use planning and plantation management. "Too often there is illegal deforestation and communities are insufficiently compensated for the loss of their land. It is therefore important that all existing permits are reviewed and that the conflicts with communities over land use are settled."

According to WALHI the moratorium would ideally stay in place for 25 years, allowing the forest more time to recover.

Political statement

"A good step, but now it comes down to legislation and enforcement at local level," Van den Hombergh resumes. “The moratorium is an important political statement. Not only towards the civil society organizations and civil servants that are committed to halting deforestation, but also towards the market: it is time to halt the expansion of oil palm plantations at the expense of nature. This should go hand in hand with improving yields, for example from small farmers, and improving the management of current plantations in line with the RSPO standard.”

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More articles by: Evelien van den Broek