Cargill develops new plantations in peat ecosystem complex

(foresthints.news) - Cargill palm oil company, PT Hindoli, has been proven to have developed new palm oil plantations, in particular before its concession was incorporated into the peat ecosystem map legally established by Indonesian Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya at the end of February this year.

Google Earth images taken on a time-series basis serve as spatially-based evidence demonstrating that the Cargill company was developing new palm oil plantations in the peat ecosystem within its own concession located in South Sumatra's Banyuasin regency.

In addition, the Indonesian Peat Restoration Agency (BRG) also performed LiDAR-based mapping in a peat hydrological unit spanning parts of Musi Banyuasin and Banyuasin regencies (Sungai Cawang - Lalang peat hydrological unit covering an area of 56,000 hectares), which includes the Cargill concession, the results of which show the distribution of swamp/peat forests, including the recently-developed canals, in the Cargill palm oil concession.

The following Google Earth images (July 2015 - April 2016), analyzed by Greenomics Indonesia (Oct 30), portray a change in the land cover of the Cargill palm oil concession, confirming that new canals have been built for palm oil development in the concession which forms part of the peat ecosystem. PT Hindoli obtained a permit for this expansion in early September 2014.

Based on a spatial analysis conducted by Greenomics using ESA Sentinel-2 and USGS Landsat 8 images, it was concluded that this new palm plantation was developed after Minister Siti Nurbaya sent out a circular letter (Nov 5, 2015) to forestry and palm oil companies banning any new peat development.

In fact, the Cargill company, according to Greenomics, continued this palm oil expansion after mid-April 2016, as seen in the following ESA Sentinel-2 images:

Cargill denial 

As part of its verification process, foresthints.news (Nov 1) asked Cargill for a response concerning the building of new plantations by its company, particularly considering that the US-based conglomerate declared a 'no new peat development' policy in September 2014.

The Cargill response came via spokesperson Frederico Graciano (Nov 2) in a telephone call from Singapore. He denied that the company had established new palm oil plantations on peatland, claiming that based on three soil surveys conducted by the company’s third party expert teams, the concession complex does not actually consist of peat.

“We have three technically-based pieces of evidence derived from the soil surveys we've done to back up our position that it's not peat,” he asserted.

He added that his company plans to hold further discussions with the ministry on legal compliance in determining peat water level depth compliance points given that the Cargill concession, he insists, is essentially not composed of peat.

However, as previously reported by foresthints.news (Aug 19), PT Hindoli has already submitted its peat recovery plan to the ministry as part of its legal compliance process in the implementation of the new peat regulations.

Peat agency’s reaction

Peat Restoration Agency Chief Nazir Foead reacted to this statement from Cargill by reaffirming to foresthints.news (Nov 2) that the Indonesian government’s legal map has declared that the Cargill concession does indeed comprise peatland.

He also underlined that the LiDAR mapping performed by the peat agency refers to the ministry’s peat hydrological unit (KHG) and peat ecosystem maps.

As reported by foresthints.news (Sep 20), even though the Cargill palm oil concession is not included in the peat agency’s indicative targeted peat restoration areas, the agency mapped the whole concession using LiDAR technology last year, seeing that it is situated in a peat hydrological unit targeted for LiDAR mapping.

The following Google Earth images (July 2015 - April 2016), provided by Greenomics Indonesia, depict parts of the new canals built by the Cargill company, some of which intersect with the swamp/peat forests scattered in its concession.

Peat violations

The affirmation from the peat agency chief that the Cargill concession, according to the government's legal map, is in fact composed of peatland, means that Cargill has committed peat violations by contravening the circular letter from Minister Siti Nurbaya banning new peat development since early November 2015.

Furthermore, if the Cargill concession does consist of peatland, then the new peat development undertaken by Cargill company also clashes with its no peat development policy declared in mid-September 2014.

Moreover, if the new palm oil plantation development carried out by the Cargill company is deemed to be a peat violation by the ministry, the Cargill company will have to remove all its recently-planted oil palms and close all its recently-developed canals, as well as initiate a peat recovery process.

This is not unprecedented; for example, Singapore-based pulp and paper giant APRIL had to comply with a sanction imposed on it by the ministry due to new peat development (it was caught red-handed violating the minister’s circular letter in Sumatra’s Riau Kampar Peninsula landscape).

The Cargil case will certainly act as a crucial lesson learned with regard to the implementation of its corporate policy to clean up its supply chains from deforestation and peat destruction, in this case that taking place in its own operations.