April 26, 2018

Company behind palm oil expansion promises ground-check

JAKARTA ( - As earlier reported by (Apr 23), PT BSG - a subsidiary of a major Indonesian-listed palm oil company - is developing new palm oil plantations in sections of targeted peat restoration areas.

The locations of these new palm oil plantations span part of the Sungai Kahayan-Sebangau peat hydrological landscape in Central Kalimantan's Pulang Pisau regency, which was previously mapped using LiDAR technology funded by the Norwegian government.

Alarmingly, the Indonesian Peat Restoration Agency (BRG) has fallen short in one of its primary duties, by failing to detect this new and ongoing conversion of peat restoration areas into palm oil plantations.

It can now be confirmed, based on information obtained by from relevant sources, including local communities as well as employees of PT BSG, that the listed company in question is PT Sawit Sumbermas Sarana Tbk (SSMS).

In response to the recent news report by, SSMS has promised to conduct a ground-based check on the new palm oil expansion being carried out by PT BSG.

This promise was made by Desi Kusumadewi, Head of Sustainability at SSMS, to (Apr 25) during a telephone conversation when she was asked whether her company was aware that its subsidiary has been building new palm oil plantations for around five months in parts of targeted peat restoration areas.

Desi went on to say that this ground-based inspection would use the coordinate points previously reported by “We will update on the findings of our ground-based check,” she assured.

When asked whether PT BSG’s operations have been taking place without the knowledge of its parent company SSMS, Desi’s reply was somewhat vague. “It seems so, because as far as we know PT BSG hasn’t yet performed any operations on the ground. As such, we can’t really say much. We will need to verify this with the concession itself.”

The following photos show how PT BSG has indeed been engaged in intensive operations on the ground, specifically by developing palm oil plantations in targeted peat restoration areas, since December last year.

Peat agency-WWF collaboration questioned

In mid-October last year, the peat agency signed a cooperation agreement with WWF Indonesia as part of a Memorandum of Understanding aimed at strengthening the implementation of peat restoration efforts, including in the Sungai Kahayan-Sebangau peat hydrological landscape.

Given this collaboration and in view of the peat agency’s persistent weakness in detecting new palm oil expansion in parts of its targeted peat restoration areas, including and most notably in the case of SSMS subsidiary PT BSG, it is certainly relevant for to ask the WWF whether it knows about the new palm oil expansion operations being undertaken by PT BSG.

This question is even more pertinent, considering that the SSMS palm oil expansion is taking place in one of the peat hydrological landscapes (Sungai Kahayan-Sebangau) covered in the MoU, and the company’s destructive practices commenced after the signing of the MoU.

Unfortunately, an attempt by to put this question to a top member of WWF Indonesia’s management team was unsuccessful (Apr 25). When calling back, after being asked to do so, there was no answer. Nonetheless, after this news report is posted, will once again try to contact WWF Indonesia about this issue.

The peat agency was formed by President Joko Widodo in early January 2016 with the single goal of accelerating peat restoration in the wake of 2015’s devastating peat fires. Pulang Pisau regency, one of the areas most afflicted by these peat fires, was subsequently designated as one of the country’s priority peat restoration regencies.

However, the fact that parts of 2015’s burned peatlands included in the peat agency’s targeted peat restoration areas have instead been converted into new palm oil plantations, as exemplified by developments in SSMS’s PT BSG concession, calls into question the competence of the peat agency.