Sumatra Island is where the early development of oil palm plantations took place. It is also where major development of Indonesian oil palm plantations has continued to take place. According to 2015 data from the Agriculture Ministry, about 63 percent of the national oil palm plantation areas are on Sumatra. Are oil palm plantations the chief trigger of conversion of forest into non-forest areas on Sumatra Island?
In 1950 there were 37.4 million ha of forest areas on Sumatra. From 1950 to 1985 the conversion of forest into non-forest areas reached 23.8 million ha (Figure). Meanwhile, the expansion of oil palm plantations in the same period took up only 0.5 million ha, 2.3 percent. Total conversion of forests into non-forest areas increased to 31.6 million hectares by the year 2000. However, the oil palm plantation areas increased only to 2.7 million hectares, 8.6 percent.
In other words, from 1950 to 2014 the conversion of forest into non-forest areas on Sumatra Island reached 34.2 million ha, while those earmarked for oil palm plantation development on Sumatra Island in the corresponding period were 6.8 million ha, only 19.9 percent of the total conversion area.
Therefore, oil palm plantations are not the main trigger of the conversion of forest into non-forest areas on Sumatra Island. About 80 percent of forest conversion areas are used for purposes other than oil palm plantations.