It’s the fire season in Indonesia. The haze is not as bad as last year, but once again Riau province in Sumatra was shrouded in smoke. Indonesia’s National Disaster Mitigation Agency has set itself the target of putting out the fires by October.
The government is taking some action to address the fires. It has arrested more than 450 people in connection with the fires this year. And the Ministry of Environment and Forestry has imposed administrative sanctions on 30 companies guilty of burning forests. The Minister, Siti Nurbaya, tweeted, “Companies who are proven guilty will have their permit suspended or permanently revoked.”
Restoring burned peatland
The government has also set up a Peatland Restoration Agency, headed by Nazir Foead. In a recent interview with ForestHints, Nazir explains that “landscape level peat restoration” will be started later this year.
The restoration efforts will focus on land burned last year. The Peatland Agency has a list of landscapes to be prioritised. Nazir told ForestHints that,
“In the event that there are several concessions located in one landscape under the control of a single business group, this will be seen as a measure worthy of attention. Basically, landscape level peat restoration will have to be performed in an effective manner, including by engaging the communities located in the landscape concerned.”
The Peatland Agency has produced indicative maps showing about two million hectares of peat domes, which are particularly deep areas of peat. Although Indonesian law prohibits development on deep peat, about half of the peat domes on the Peatland Agency’s map have been planted by agribusiness firms or farmers.
Restoring peatland involves blocking the canals that companies dug in order to drain the peat. Without the drainage canals, the peat can return to its former marshy condition.
Nazir told ForestHints that companies with plantations on peat domes would have to work with the Peatland Agency to restore the peatlands:
“It is essential that we have the commitment of the owners of pulp & paper and palm oil business groups that they are willing to phase out doing business in peat domes. To this end, we are continuing to communicate with these owners. Clearly they need to accept the directive of the President to phase out any business that involves peat domes.”
That’s the good news. Now the bad news.
Team investigating the fires taken hostage
On 2 September 2016, around 100 men took seven people hostage from the Ministry of Environment and Forestry. They threatened to set fire to them and throw their bodies in the river.
The team were investigating the burning of 2,000 hectares of land in Rokan Hulu, Riau province. The Jakarta Globe reports that preliminary investigations showed that the area was burned by workers from palm oil plantation company Andika Permata Sawit Lestari (APSL), who pretended to be local farmers.
The team was released after 12 hours, but only after they deleted files from their digital cameras. Drone footage of the burned land was not deleted.
The Ministry of Environment and Forestry put out a statement two days later saying that there were “strong indications” that the company was behind the hostage taking. In the statement Minister Nurbaya said,
“Following this incident, the investigations against ASPL will be our priority. We have three important things to address with this company. First, forest area encroachment. Second, forest burning. Third, the hostage situation. The ministry will investigate and take firm action in cooperation with the relevant authorities.”
That, unfortunately, is not the end of the bad news.
Burning forest in Papua for palm oil
A Korean-Indonesian conglomerate, Korindo, has destroyed 50,000 hectares of forest in Papua, to make way for oil palm plantations. Photographs from a report published last week show the shocking scale of Korindo’s destruction:
Korindo has a total of 160,000 hectares of oil palm concessions in eight areas of Papua and North Maluku, and an estimated 900,000 hectares of logging concessions.
The report, titled “Burning Paradise”, was published Dutch consultancy Aidenvironment, a new US-based NGO called Mighty, the Korea Federation for Environmental Movements, and Indonesian NGOs SKP-KAMe Merauke, and Pusaka.
Predictably, Korindo denies breaking any laws. Koh Gyeong Min, Korindo’s head of sustainability told the Guardian that,
“We followed all of the Indonesian regulations and acquired all the proper licences from the government for all areas of operation within our group.”
But Bustar Maitar, Mighty’s Southeast Asia director points out that,
“Korindo is clear-cutting forests and then starting fires to clear the land of remaining biomass. That is forbidden by Indonesia’s regulations but during last year’s forest fires, most of the blazes in the Papua region happened in Korindo’s concessions.”
Wilmar and Musin Mas, Korindo’s biggest customers, have stopped buying oil palm from Korindo. Others, including Burger King have not yet responded.
Muhammad Yunus, law and enforcement director at Indonesia’s Environment and Forestry Ministry, told Reuters that he has sent a team to Papua to “to collect material and information”.