Conversion of forests into non-forest areas (deforestation) is a normal phenomenon development that happens in every country all over the world. In the European region, deforestation took place before the 17th century while in the United States it lasted from 1620 until 1950.
No country in the world, including Indonesia, prohibits deforestation and each country sets its own rules and procedures for deforestation. Conversion of forest into non-forest is one of the ways to meet demand for space for development. Demand for space continues to rise in line with the growth of population and expansion of development in all sectors to improve the welfare of the people. Is there any land on Earth that has never been covered by forests?
In Indonesia conversion of forest into non-forest has taken place for a long time in line with the need for space for development. Deforestation in Indonesia cannot be separated from the logging era, which resulted in neglected and degraded land that was later used by the government for the development of transmigration areas or for extending agriculture and plantations. Expansion of oil palm plantations came later by utilizing logged areas, which had been converted by the government into cultivation areas.
Discussing the history of deforestation, Koh and Wilcove (2008) mentioned that 67 percent of oil palm plantations are on areas converted from forest. However, a study by Gunarso et al (2012) made a different conclusion from the accusation made by Koh and Wilcove. They concluded the land for oil palm development in Indonesia was mostly originally farmland and degraded land and some was converted from secondary forest (Casson 2000; McMorrow & Talip 2001; Gunarso et al, 2012). The massive logging era before 1990 left neglected areas and ghost towns. The development of oil palm plantations only started later, especially after 2000.
An analysis of the history of the conversion of forest into non-forest areas shows that the expansion of oil palm plantations is not the main driver (Figure).
In 1950 there was162.3 million ha of forested land in Indonesia. From 1950 to 1985 the conversion of forest into non-forest areas reached 68.1 million ha, while expansion of oil palm plantation in the same period was only about 0.6 million ha, 0.9 percent. Then, total conversion of forest into non-forest areas until 2000 reached 84.4 million hectares, so that the forest areas declined to 103.3 million ha. Meanwhile, oil palm plantation areas expanded to only 4.2 million ha.
In other words, from 1950 to 2014, conversion of forest into non-forest areas in Indonesia accumulatively totaled 99.6 million hectares, compared to 10.8 million ha of oil palm plantation areas developed during the period. This data shows that out of 99.6 million ha of forests converted into non-forest areas, oil palm plantation areas in Indonesia were relatively small, growing by 10.8 percent only. Therefore, oil palm cultivation is not the main driver of deforestation in Indonesia.