in Indonesia, Norway

Guest Post: Central Kalimantan’s oil palm catastrophe in pictures

In May 2010, Indonesia’s President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, signed a Letter of Intent with Norway for a US$1 billion REDD deal. In December 2010, Yudhoyono announced that Central Kalimantan would be a pilot province under the deal. This means that Central Kalimantan’s remaining forests are protected, right? Wrong.

Part of the problem is the two-year moratorium, another part of the Indonesia-Norway US$1 billion deal. The moratorium applies only to new forest concessions, and not to existing concessions. But as Rainforest Foundation Norway’s Anja Lillegraven points out, existing concessions in Central Kalimantan cover an area of 78% of the province, a staggering 13 million hectares.

Lillegraven was recently part of a Rainforest Foundation Norway team that travelled to Central Kalimantan to take a look at the US$1 billion dollar pilot province’s forests. She wrote the following guest post for REDD-Monitor:

Central Kalimantan’s oil palm catastrophe

By Anja Lillegraven, Program Coordinator Southeast Asia, Rainforest Foundation Norway

In December 2012, a small team from the Rainforest Foundation Norway travelled to Central Kalimantan, Indonesia. Together with our local partner Walhi Central Kalimantan, we wanted to take a look at the current situation in the province that two years back was selected as a pilot under the Letter of Intent between Indonesia and Norway. The situation was daunting. The total area already under various forms of forestry licenses in Central Kalimantan is almost 13 million hectares, making up 78% of the total area of the province! No wonder we could fly for almost three hours and see not much but palm oil and degraded forest.

Most of the plantation area we saw from the plane belonged to Wilmar. The palm oil company was recently ranked as the worst performing company in a “green ranking” of the world’s 500 largest companies by Newsweek. To RFN, this company is of particular interest, since the Norwegian Pension Fund has invested US$64 million in Wilmar. You can read more about this in the report Beauty and the Beast published earlier this year.

After years of harsh criticism from RFN and other environmental and human rights organisations, we saw it as a great victory when Norway’s Pension Fund established tropical forest protection as a priority theme within its social and environmental ownership strategy last month. The Fund now requests companies to reduce their contribution to deforestation in rainforest countries. But the Pension Fund’s management has not yet revealed how it will enter into dialogue with the companies, nor if the results from the dialogue will be made available to the public. RFN demands transparency and insight into how the Fund’s ethical policy is implemented.

RFN is also attempting to reduce the oil palm catastrophe through other means. Last autumn, we launched a campaign with two aims; to reduce Norwegian palm oil consumption and to expose the link between deforestation and the production of this vegetable oil. The campaign was a huge success! In 2011, Norwegian food producers used 15 000 tons of palm oil. Today, consumption is reduced by two thirds! Read more about the campaign here.

We in RFN are doing our best to reduce demand for palm oil. But Indonesia must also do its part. Indonesia’s President Yudhoyono has indeed taken bold steps to reduce deforestation in his country, for example by signing the Letter of Intent on REDD with Norway and when he instructed the moratorium in 2011. But in Central Kalimantan, we are yet to see results of the new policies…

Oil palm seedlings until the horizon. This is the seedling bank of PT Lifere Agro Kapuas.

Seedlings ready to be planted. Behind, you can see the clearcut plantation area.

RFN’s Director Lars Løvold documents the destruction.

Arie (Rio) Rompas, Director of Walhi Central Kalimantan, looks at the sad scenery.

Dag Hareide, who took over as RFN’s Director on 1 January 2013, reviewing the oil palm catastrophe in Central Kalimantan.

Phosphate and other chemicals are polluting the rivers and surroundings of oil palm plantations.

In a matter of days, heavy machines destroy what has taken nature centuries to make.

So sad….

The truck looks tiny in the vast area of oil palm monoculture.

Lots of valuable timber coming from the clear cutting of plantation areas.

Canals must be dug to drain the peat.

The dried out peat burns easily, releasing massive amounts of greenhouse gases.

The white dots in the distance are houses for transmigrants brought in to work on the plantations.

We landed safely, but were all stunned.

Full Disclosure: REDD-Monitor has received funding from Rainforest Foundation Norway. Click here for all of REDD-Monitor’s funding sources.

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  1. This is so tragic. Cannot believe what they’ve done to the rainforests.
    No land should be misused so badly and cause so much destruction and death.
    Fools to do this. Not only are we are losing the lungs of the planet and making more destructive pollution in clearing it, we are killing off thousands of endangered orangutans and other species. Plus we use the medicines which comes from the trees and plants.And all for the love of money from Palm oil. The most hideous bad poisonous muck to hit our planet.

  2. We lost millions hectare forest because of this mono culture and we lost so many species such as plant, insect, monkey, orangutan and we lost also our culture as so many locals pushed to grow the new plant on their field. Most local people change their way of life to get more money and they sale their own land. But it is lovely to hear from some village in Kudangan in the North of lamandau regency that they won’t to grow the palm oil on their area. It is still great forest we have to protect, we will start to promoted this area as Eco culture tourism. They have Longhouse, their culture still exist the way their growing their rice crop on the dry land rice paddy. The river so clean, locals still believe on their animist, Christian, and very little Muslim. This area is close into the border in between Central and West Kalimantan.

  3. tragic, that the forests have been cut down by the expansion of oil palm plantations is widespread and not just in Central Kalimantan but rampant deforestation occurs in almost all provinces in Indonesia, both for the sake of the palm oil industry, mining, paper industry, etc.

  4. Yes, the rate of land use conversion is currently rapid in Indonesia. Deforestation actors are not only multi-national companies but also small scale holders, who take opportunities to control a land of ‘unmanaged and open access logged over forests’. It is an usual thought on oil palm as a main driver of forest loss – this seems to be true. And I think most of us forget to focus on how to restore the remaining logged-over forests, which are greatly unmanaged, abandoned, and open access for any kinds of human disturbances. Campaigning on oil palms seem very popular – it is unfortunate, however, it would not so effective to halt the rate of land use conversion and deforestation. When price of natural commodities (CPO, rubber sheets, and other tropical agriculture commodities) drops, farmers suffer most – and this commonly leads to transfer of farm lands to the haves and companies. Logically, landless will escalate and increase forest disturbance for a living, and others fall into land use conflicts. I think oil palm ban is not best solution for achieving a sustainable development that we dream of.

  5. What will happen next, regarding the bilateral cooperation in REDD issue between those countries?

  6. This is a great article and the following Award-Winning documentary is a perfect complement to this great article:

    GREEN by Patrick Rouxel – YouTube (47:46). Featured on “Witness”- Al Jazeera English.

    REDD seems to be doing more harm than good and playing all sides against the middle too:

    WATCH ANIMATION: A real solution or accelerator for deforestation?

    We should know by now that corrupt governments, such as Indonesia, cannot be trusted. They have these massive natural resources which they are willing to sell to the highest bidder, no matter the cost to our animals (extinction is forever) or indigenous peoples displaced by the raping of their homeland. The commodification of life will be our downfall. The problem is that nature cannot really be bought. It is priceless as we humans and all life depend upon healthy ecosystems.

    Indonesia is notorious for playing both sides: eg The Letter of Intent with Norway for a US$1 billion REDD deal while simultaneously allowing the global corporations to continue their plunder and destruction of rainforests and all life within them —


    REDD needs to be dissolved. And Ecocide needs to become an international holding both corrupt governments and corporations accountable for the losses that are creating havoc and climate change around the world. In the final analysis we cannot eat money, or drink oil (palm).

    Eradicating Ecocide

    We have to stop the slaughter of Nature. We will kill/destroy/pollute/ravage anything that puts a dollar into the pockets of the greedy and corrupt and, before too long, the biodiversity of our ecosystems will be bankrupt setting in motion the demise of the planet….and us.

    Rhinos in Crisis: Poaching and Illegal Trade Reach Highest Levels in 20 Years

    Palm oil

  7. @pdjmoo – Thanks for this and thanks for the links. Just to let you know, a post about the animated film “The Story of REDD: A real solution?” was REDD-Monitor’s most popular post in 2012.

    And REDD-Monitor has been following the US$1 billion Norway-Indonesia REDD deal and other REDD stories in Indonesia.

    I agree with you that there are lots of problems with REDD. However, I think your comment that “REDD needs to be dissolved” needs some more explanation. Dissolving REDD will not make destructive industry go away (whether it’s the palm oil, pulp and paper, logging, mining, or oil industry). And I’m intrigued by your comment that “nature cannot really be bought”. When a palm oil company pays for a concession, isn’t that company buying the right to destroy the forest in that concession and replacing it with a monoculture? Isn’t this “buying nature” or commidification of nature?

  8. I do life in central kalimantan…i see those real things happen here not only thru photos, Indonesian billionaires do those, not ordinary citizen like me or villagers life near those palm oil plantation field. some of us hate it, but some need it as a field for work. i think the world must stop it…coz our government can’t. some of the palm oil company collaborate w/ certain staff on the government to have the permit on clearing the land. basically our government stated not to give the permit on clearing the land for palm oil plantation copany, but when the money speaks…they give the permit only for seeding, day by days…the seeding permit turn to be a plantation permit(as i know). I do responsible for those i wrote above.