Ex-IPOP signatory’s commitment being tested in Papua despite reassurances

(foresthints.news) - Last April, President Joko Widodo announced the imposition of a moratorium on palm oil expansion. After the announcement was made, and in line with this initiative, the Environment and Forestry Ministry made a public declaration to the effect that it would not be granting any new permits for palm oil concessions.

Moreover, the ministry also stopped all new licensing processes underway at the time. It went even further, announcing that all new permits issued in the past several years for concessions in which significant areas of good forest cover (productive forests) are found would also be revoked. Instead, these concession areas would be incorporated into the palm oil expansion moratorium map.

As a logical consequence of the review of existing palm oil permits previously issued for concessions in which good forest cover or productive forests are situated, the ministry also decided to prohibit any more land-clearing operations involving good forest cover for the purpose of palm oil expansion.

The position of the Environment and Forestry Ministry with regard to implementing the President’s instruction on the palm oil expansion moratorium was reiterated by Professor San Afri Awang, Director General of Forestry Planology and Environmental Governance at the ministry, at a media briefing (Jul 18).

“We are carrying out the President’s initiative. Forests which still contain good forest cover may not be cleared for palm oil expansion, and those spread among existing concessions are no exception. It applies to them too,” he said.

Meanwhile, as to the self-disbandment of the Indonesia Palm Oil Pledge (IPOP) by the now ex-IPOP signatories, the Director General confirmed that this decision was inextricably driven by two factors.

The first was the difficulty, and ultimate failure, the ex-IPOP signatories had in cleaning up their supply chains from deforestation. The second was the high degree of palm oil expansion included in the ex-IPOP signatories’ business portfolios, especially in the long term.

To ascertain the firmness of the ministry in implementing the President's instruction as well as to verify the validity of the two driving factors mentioned by the DG, foresthints.news recently conducted observations of existing palm oil concessions that still have good forest cover and form part of the supply chain of ex-IPOP signatories, including those owned by the five palm oil business groups.

The first areas covered by foresthints.news were two existing palm oil concessions in Papua - for which forest release permits were issued during 2012-2013 - owned by the Musim Mas Group.

According to the latest ministry landcover data, It can be confirmed that the two concessions belonging to the ex-IPOP signatory still contain high carbon stock (HCS) forests, predominantly comprised of primary dry land forest and primary swamp forest, of more than 40,000 hectares.

In December 2015, Musim Mas declared that it would be carrying out trials using HCS+ and HCS approach methodologies in its concessions in Papua - those run by PT MSM and PT SRR. This statement, which was posted by Musim Mas on its website, formed part of a press release issued by the Sustainable Palm Oil Manifesto (SPOM), to which Musim Mas was a signatory.

Having observed firsthand the range of intact forest in the two Musim Mas concessions, these two concessions unquestionably qualify in full as existing palm oil concessions that should be incorporated into the palm oil expansion moratorium map.

In other words, if the Musim Mas Group were to conduct land clearing in parts of these two concessions, it is fair to assume that the palm oil giant would be explicitly declaring itself to be one of the ex-IPOP signatories which had returned to its ‘business-as-usual’ practices.

In response to a number of questions posed to the Musim Mas Group by foresthints.news with respect to its concessions in Papua, Petra Meekers, the group’s Director of CSR and Sustainable Development, submitted a written statement on Wednesday (Jul 27) stating, “We mentioned in general our commitment to Papua under our High Carbon Stock Assessment (HCSA) last November as well, which was before the moratorium.”

Meanwhile, Carolyn Lim, Musim Mas' Corporate Communications Manager based in Singapore, detailed the group’s position in another written statement to foresthints.news on the same day. “Regarding the Papua concession, it is subject to the high forested landscape study. So there will be no development as such. We will undergo the HCS study for now, and this announcement was made prior to the moratorium.”

She added, “We will support the government moratorium for Papua as well as all industry efforts to protect HCS forests. Any plans for Papua development will follow the above caveats.”

Despite these reassurances made by the Musim Mas Group, it is telling that during the IPOP implementation phase, not a single one of the IPOP signatories was able to clean up their supply chains in their operations, be it from the westernmost point to easternmost point of Indonesia.

In the press release announcing the disbandment of IPOP, the ex-IPOP signatories promised to continue adhering to their sustainability commitments independently, without being under the auspices of IPOP. It goes without saying, nonetheless, that the claims made in this press release need to be proven on the ground.

As such, it should be a priority of all relevant stakeholders to monitor whether the sustainability commitments made by the ex-IPOP signatories are being kept, in particular with regard to zero deforestation practices and cleaning up their supply chains.