Almost one-fifth of the land used for Indonesian palm oil plantations is located in the country’s forest conservation areas, despite a law banning such activity, a study by Greenpeace has found.
The report, produced by Greenpeace and TheTreeMap, describes a catastrophic failure of law enforcement that has permitted swathes of land — including UNESCO sites, national parks and areas mapped as habitats for orangutans and Sumatran tigers — to be cultivated as palm oil plantations.
Indonesia is the world’s biggest producer of palm oil, which is used in many everyday products and foods, from shampoo and lipstick to chocolate and frozen pizzas.
However, demand for palm oil is driving the destruction of carbon-rich forests that are home to Aboriginal communities and crucial to biodiversity.
Of the estimated 16.38 million hectares of palm oil plantations across Indonesia, 19 percent are found inside forest conservation areas.
The analysis, produced using maps of industrial palm oil plantation concessions and satellite imagery, found that by the end of 2019, there were 3.12 million hectares of palm oil operations across forest conservation areas.
Half of the operations (1.55 million hectares) were industrial palm oil plantations.
At least 600 plantation companies had operations set up inside forest conservation areas, the study found.
As of the end of 2019, plantings to produce palm oil in Indonesia’s forest conservation areas occupied 183,687 hectares of land previously considered orangutan habitats and 148,839 hectares of Sumatran tiger habitats.
Greenpeace Indonesian Forests Campaign head Kiki Taufik said that instead of punishing companies, the government had offered increasingly lenient amnesties for such operations.
“It’s supposed to be that [companies] are sanctioned, but now they have got the red carpet out to process the illegal [activities],” Taufik said.
It is not clear what proportion of the identified plantations have subsequently been legalized.
Policy is pushing Aboriginal and rural communities toward an apocalyptic future, he said.
“In areas where extensive forest clearance has been condoned, these landscapes are now subject to life-threatening heat waves, frequent flooding and, during the dry season, moist forest cover is now prone to annual fires,” Taufik added.
Few companies have been prosecuted for illegal developments, and those that have been punished are mostly smaller companies, the group said.
The report said that Indonesia’s Omnibus Job Creation Law, which was passed last year, provoking huge protests, would lead to further devastation.
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