Lesson learned report needed from GAR despite constructive response

(foresthints.news) - Palm oil giant Golden Agri-Resources (GAR) has provided a constructive written response (Mar 8) to the first news report (Mar 6) on the findings of Greenomics Indonesia concerning the loss of High Carbon Stock (HCS) forest linked to plasma plantation development at PT PIP, one of GAR’s palm oil concessions.

Anita Neville, GAR's Vice President of Corporate Communications and Sustainability Relations, wrote that “We do agree with Greenomics that lessons need to be learned from the experiences of GAR, and other companies, in terms of how best to achieve a balance between economic growth and environmental protection commitments. GAR is happy to play an active role in that dialogue.”

Vanda Mutia Dewi, Executive Director of Greenomics Indonesia, expressed her appreciation of GAR’s constructive response (Mar 9). However, at the same time, Vanda emphasized the need for a clear schedule as to when a real independent audit on the matter can be performed.

She added that it is crucial for the results of this audit to be made available to public, so that all the lessons learned in the case can be reviewed and absorbed.

The following Google Earth images (2013) depict the major parts of HCS forest that have been lost in the PT PIP plasma concession, as indicated by Greenomics, including those based on a map provided by GAR illustrating the distribution of lost HCS forest in the plasma concession.

This is the second news report with respect to the loss of HCS forest distributed among the PT PIP concession, one of GAR’s plasma concessions in Kapuas Hulu regency, West Kalimantan province.

Past controversy

Asked for his perspective on the GAR case, Dr Marcus Colchester, Senior Policy Advisor at Forest Peoples Programme (FPP), provided a written reminder regarding the expansion of planting in GAR’s 18 palm oil concessions, one of which is PT PIP (Mar 8).

“In 2014, FPP filed a complaint with RSPO as we had found GAR was systematically in violation of RSPO’s Principles & Criteria, notably with respect to recognizing customary rights to land, and was acquiring lands without communities’ free, prior and informed consent (FPIC),” Marcus explained.

“Despite these deficiencies, GAR had filed New Planting Procedure notifications (NPP) with RSPO for 18 concessions which claimed GAR operations were in compliance with RSPO standards,” Marcus added.

Marcus elaborated further: “In response to FPP’s complaint, and admitting there were deficiencies in its land acquisition process, GAR withdrew all 18 NPPs.”

He described how, in 2015, the RSPO Complaints Panel upheld their complaint against GAR and ordered the palm oil company to halt all land clearance and land acquisition until the violations noted by FPP were resolved.

“Among its stipulations, the Complaints Panel required GAR to fulfill its legal and contractual commitments to provide smallholdings to local communities that had surrendered lands,” he wrote.

Later in 2015, Marcus continued, GAR asked the Complaints Panel for permission to clear lands for smallholders so it could remedy this part of its violations.

Marcus ended his correspondence with foresthints.news, pointing out that, “This was agreed to by the Complaints Panel subject to GAR complying with the NPP. Accordingly, in 2016, GAR did file an NPP for the development of a smallholder area linked to PT PIP.”

In the meantime, in her response to foresthints.news, Anita said that the Singapore-based palm oil giant has voluntarily stopped all new development on its estates since November 2014 and has not opened or cleared any land for planting since then.

Discrepancy in figures

At the end of March 2016, GAR claimed that the HCS and HCVF (High Conservation Value Forest) areas under its protection amounted to about 75,000 hectares. However, when elaborating to foresthints.news, a figure of 67,000 hectares was given.

Greenomics took the view that this discrepancy of 8,000 hectares must be clarified to the public, including by detailing just how many hectares of these HCS and HCVF areas are located in GAR’s plasma concessions.

To address concerns about this numerical inconsistency, GAR explained that the figure for the HCS and HCVF areas was adjusted to become slightly lower in 2016.

GAR sought to clear up the confusion further: “This followed FPIC consultations with local communities and on-the-ground verification by our consultants which revealed that community mixed gardens had previously been included as conservation areas.”

The palm oil giant also stressed that major parts of the HCS forest lost in the PT PIP plasma concession were the result of 2015’s forest and land fires, including HCS areas consisting of peatlands. According to GAR, RSPO had already been notified of this situation.