Webinar Series “Managing the Remaining Forests” series#22 Resolving oil palm in forest areas

Webinar Series “Managing the Remaining Forests” series#22 Resolving oil palm in forest areas

Indonesia - 31 August, 2021

Historically, agro-commodity problems such as concerning land tenure issues in forest areas including of oil palm tend to be unresolved and there have been precedent to be neglected, so that people have been marginalized and some have even been criminalized. Several existing regulations do not appear to be effective enough or even provide answer or solution. That is mentioned by the Director of Tropenbos Indonesia in the introduction of the webinar entitled "Resolving oil palm in forest areas" which took place on August 28, 2021 and was attended by around 500 participants from various circles.

Diah Y. Suradiredja, Senior Advisor to SPOS Indonesia, KEHATI Foundation said, "The discussion of oil palm in forest area only gained light after the issuance of the UUCK." Unlike other conflict resolutions, according to her, the oil palm settlement is indeed not easy because there are smallholders that own over 30 years oil palms and this proves a neglect all this time. After UUCK No. 11/2020, fortunately, then there is a basis for settlement which depends on the typology of the case for the settlement pattern of licensed and unlicensed plantation businesses. "Administrative sanctions that apply to unlicensed plantation businesses are sorted out in detail in this UUCK," said Diah. This includes the temporary suspension of business activities or the obligation to pay fines. However, an exception to these sanctions is granted to people who have lived in or around forest areas for at least 5 years and whose land area is not more than 5 ha.

According to Diah, the questions that still need to be addressed in the basic implementation of the UUCK regulation, are how complete the government data on plantations without permits in forest areas, how many are more or less than 5 ha, then how complete data can be developed to identify problems and the solution, and what is no less important is the fixing period and what must be prepared to undergo the fixing period. "If the government decides to keep the area as a forest area, like it or not, there must be stages to return palm oil that is already there back to forest function," she said. Preparation for the implementation of the fixing period includes human resources, financial support, support at the village level to the central level, as well as a system of incentives and disincentives.

According to Hero Marhaento, Lecturer and Head of the Strategy Team for Fixing Period, Faculty of Forestry, Gadjah Mada University, fixing period is one of the instruments that is required and stipulated through Government Regulation (PP) No.23/2021 and PP No.24/2021 which are the derivatives of UUCK, with a 12-year implementation phase that includes the introduction of agroforestry or mixed garden before moving on to the next stage to secondary forest.

"In the 1970s, when oil palm which was originated from Africa introduced in Indonesia as part of poverty alleviation efforts, the government provided a number of incentives to increase the production and to immediately improve the economy," said Hero. Therefore, in the 1980s the government provided a number of facilities such as land release, low interest credit facilities, PIR, and transmigration program for even distribution of labor. Since then, oil palm has become the engine of development, where according to BPS data of 2017, 40% of oil palm plantations in Indonesia are managed by small farmers. Hero also cited PASPI data of 2014 which stated that for every 1% increase in CPO prices, the poverty rate decreased by 0.7%. "In terms of numbers, palm oil is the country's major commodity and contributes greatly to foreign exchange," said Hero.

However, when people plant oil palm on a large scale, environmental problems arise. It has finally become a development paradox that is blamed for various environmental problems such as water scarcity, forest fires that have various impacts including biodiversity loss, conflicts with wildlife, and trans-boundary haze disaster. According to Hero, this message then culminated in geopolitics in the form of threats to ban palm oil and the emergence of campaigns from some environmental activists in Europe against oil palm.

Hero agreed that the issue of oil palm in the forest is a serious problem. “We have to face the already existing oil palm in the forest and the continuation or expansion of oil palm entering the forest area. Of the 16.4 million ha of national oil palm cover, 3.4 million ha are in forest areas. Therefore, according to him, the various accusations against oil palm are not entirely wrong. In Central Kalimantan, for example, the area of ​​illegal oil palm is larger than the area of ​​legal oil palm. This shows that the problem is not all the community’s domain because 78% is the expansion of corporations, while the remaining 22% is the community's domain.

Currently, Hero explained, according to regulations, the approach taken in dealing with adversity is coercive through law enforcement. Then what about smallholders oil palm? Usually they enter the forest or expand their land because they are not well informed on the boundaries of the forest area and they have used the land for a long time. However, Presidential Instruction No. 8/2018 emphasizes that the government focuses on increasing the productivity of smallholder oil palm plantations and mandates clarifying the status of land ownership. Coupled with the existence of the UUCK which provides space for saving community's investment, the opportunity to end the polemic has resulted in the formulation of a fixing period strategy (SJB) as an alternative solution to repair the structure and function of forest ecosystems that have already been damaged, including the consequences of the already existing smallholder oil palm in forest area.

The third speaker of the webinar, the Secretary General of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Bambang Hendroyono, gave presentation related to the policy perspective of the settlement of oil palm plantations in forest areas. He explained various matters related to policies, including what turned out to be the background to the occurrence of oil palm in the forest, problems and typologies, the chronology of efforts to settle oil palm in forest areas, both licensed and unlicensed, which carried out either by companies or by the community, and many more.

One thing he has repeatedly emphasized is that the government has great concern for the community who currently depend on oil palm as their source of livelihood. Through UUCK, for example, it can be seen that the government is very supportive to the community and involves the community in forest area management policies through Social Forestry and TORA (Land of Agrarian Reform Objects). The government, according to him, has also considered the mandate of TAP MPR IX 2001 concerning agrarian reform and natural resource management where Article 3 states that natural resource management is carried out in an optimal, fair, sustainable and environmentally friendly manner, and Article 4 states that the state regulates the management of agrarian resources and natural resources for the prosperity of the people. “The UUCK is also an important part of creating and increasing employment opportunities and ensuring that citizens find jobs. If it’s already like this, should the oil palms that have already been in the forest area to be destroyed or forbiden to operate?” he asked.

The presentations available for download HERE

You can watch the full webinar in the following link: