October 8, 2018

Palm oil expansion goes on, review crucial

( - Satellite-based monitoring by the spatial team has confirmed that the deforestation of good forest cover in existing concessions remains underway albeit at a relatively low level in the wake of the imposition of the new palm oil expansion moratorium (Sep 19) by President Joko Widodo.

This ongoing removal of good forest cover for palm oil expansion is exemplified by the case of PT Sawit Mandiri Lestari (SML), a palm oil concession sold by the listed company PT SSMS Tbk in late December 2015. 

A recent Greenpeace report revealed the extent of deforestation in the PT SML concession from March 2015 to February 2018, while reaffirming that the company’s operations remain under the control of the Rasyid family (Citra Borneo Indah/SSMS), a claim later denied by the listed company.

According to the IUCN, the palm oil concession in question - which spans the equivalent of 19,000 football fields in Central Kalimantan’s Lamandau regency - includes the habitat of the critically-endangered Bornean orangutan

The Planet Explorer images below, taken between February and September 2018 and subsequently analyzed by the spatial team, show clear evidence of the continuing removal of significant amounts of good forest cover to make way for new palm oil plantations in the PT SML concession. 

In other words, from February to September this year - in the period after that covered by the Greenpeace report of March 2015 to February 2018 - there was still extensive deforestation taking place in the concession concerned.

Massive levels of forest clearing, such as that which took place in the PT SML concession from February to September 2018, must be avoided while the palm oil expansion moratorium is in place.

Avoiding accelerated deforestation

The evaluation of permits for existing concessions in areas with good forest cover is one of the instruments of the President’s palm oil moratorium. However, the longer it takes for such evaluations to be performed, the quicker the deforestation of good forest cover in existing concessions will be.   

One example of this is a large block of good forest cover in the PT SML concession, the substantial clearing of which began in February this year and extended into early October, as portrayed by the following Planet Explorer and LandViewer images.

The level of clearing of PT SML’s Bornean orangutan-inhabited forest from February to September this year was extremely extensive. By late September into the beginning of October, this deforestation was clearly still happening but its pace had slowed.

Nonetheless, the presence of logging roads to facilitate new forest clearing, as seen in both the Planet Explorer and LandViewer images, indicates that deforestation practices are unlikely to end in the palm oil concession.

Curtailing the rate of deforestation of good forest cover in existing concessions - as epitomized by the clearing underway in the PT SML concession - requires that the evaluation of existing permits, as part of the new palm oil expansion moratorium, be immediately undertaken.