July 16, 2019

Moratorium unlocked to return palm oil concession to national park

JAKARTA ( - The remaining peat forests inhabited by Bornean orangutans in a palm oil concession (PT MTP), covering an area equal to more than twice the size of Brussels, lie adjacent to Sebangau National Park - the Indonesian national park with the largest Bornean orangutan-inhabited peat forest landscape.

According to land cover data published by the Indonesian Environment and Forestry Ministry (2018), an area equivalent to more than seven thousand football pitches in the concession has been classified as secondary swamp forests.

Consistent with the MoEF data, the latest land cover analysis performed by the team also found that around half of the palm oil concession is still blanketed by relatively intact peat forests. 

On the back of this analysis, this news report focuses on these relatively intact peat forests in the PT MTP palm oil concession situated in Central Kalimantan’s Katingan regency.

Ground-based evidence recently gathered by the team provides further proof that a sizeable portion of the concession’s relatively intact peat forests, as seen in the following photos, are still connected to part of Sebangau National Park. 

The relatively intact peat forests in the palm oil concession ideally need to be maintained so that they remain connected to the Sebangau National Park’s peat forest landscape which is home to between 6,000 and 9,000 Bornean orangutans.

Single legal opportunity

The peat forests in the PT MTP palm oil concession previously formed part of Sebangau National Park, which was first designated as a national park in October 2004. Seven years later, in May 2011, minor parts of the park were reclassified as convertible production forests.

This meant that palm oil companies could apply for new permits to legally develop these areas. In line with this, in December 2013, former Indonesian Forestry Minister Zulkifli Hasan granted a new permit to PT MTP for palm oil development.

Despite the granting of this permit, almost all the peat forests in the palm oil concession have yet to be cleared to make way for new palm oil plantations, as is evident in the photos below.

Even though the PT MTP palm oil concession is very small compared to Sebangau National Park, which spans in excess of 540 thousand hectares or over 165 times the size of Brussels, its remaining peat forests constitute a significant landscape.

Given that in September last year, President Joko Widodo signed a moratorium on palm oil expansion involving areas of good forest cover, a legal opportunity is open for returning at least the forested areas of the palm oil concession to Sebangau National Park.

If these peat forests, which previously formed part of Sebangau National Park, could be returned to the park, this would set a great legal precedent.

At the same time, this would exemplify best practice with regard to the President's moratorium which instructed that areas of good forest cover in existing palm oil concessions be returned to parts of state forest areas.