Different Terminologies and Methodologies for Forest and Deforestation, Make Palm Oil Accused as Main Driver of Deforestation
Environmental issues have become an issue that is widely used by anti-palm oil parties such as NGOs at the multinational and national levels to inhibit the trade of palm oil and its derivatives on the global market in the last decade. One of the topics of environmental issues in the palm oil black campaign is that oil palm plantations are accused as the main driver of deforestation.
Prof. Dr. Ir. Yanto Santosa, DEA, who is a professor at the Faculty of Forestry IPB, on the INA Palm Oil Talkshow Webinar summarized several allegations related to deforestation in Indonesia which was caused by the development of oil palm plantations from various sources. For example, several accusations came from research such as Koh & Wilcove (2008) who stated that at least 56 percent of Indonesia’s oil palm plantations originated from forests of 1.7 million hectares and research by Abood et al. (2014) revealed that oil palm plantations caused 1 million hectares of deforestation in Kalimantan, Sumatra, Papua, Sulawesi and Maluku in the period of 2000-2010. In addition, NGOs are also active and consistent in producing publications linking deforestation with oil palm plantations. For example, Greenpeace in 2017 stated that the palm oil industry was the main cause of deforestation in Indonesia. The Greenpeace has also been active in voicing the same issue in 2008, 2015, 2017, 2018 and 2019.
On the this Webinar, Prof. Yanto also stated that the deforestation allegations addressed to Indonesian oil palm plantations were ambiguous. For example, in the definition of deforestation and forest which is the guideline for “term”. Lund (2005) in his research entitled “Definitions of Forest, Deforestation, Reforestation and Afforestation”, stated that he found 786 definitions of forest and 199 definitions of trees related to forests. This shows that there are many variations in the definitions of global forest used in various countries in terms of administrative/legal, land use, land cover, forest cover and trees.
For example, the FAO (2010) defines forest as land with an area of more than 0.5 hectares with trees higher than 5 meters and a canopy cover of more than 10 percent, or trees that can achieve these criteria in the field, excluding land that mostly used for agriculture or settlement/urban land use. Meanwhile, based on statutory regulations in Indonesia (UU 41/1999), the definition of a forest is a unitary ecosystem in the form of a stretch of land containing biological natural resources dominated by trees in an inseparable union with one another.
In different countries there are also variations in the definition of forest. A survey conducted by Lund in 1999, found that forest land in Czechoslovakia only had a limit of 0.01 hectare. An area of overgrown with plants measuring 1.3 meters high is also considered as a forest in some countries. Timber plantation or forest plantation in various countries is also categorized as forest, for example bamboo forests in China, date palm forests in the Middle East and rubber and teak forests in Indonesia. Variations in definitions between countries with different meanings between countries, resulting in the extent of forests reported by all countries and summarized in one report containing ambiguity of global forest data.
In addition, the different definitions of forest also cause the definition of deforestation to be relatively varied and different. FAO (2001) stated that the meaning of deforestation is the conversion of forest to another land use change or a long-term reduction in forest cover below the minimum threshold of 10 percent. What is meant by land use change is the conversion of forests to agriculture, livestock, water resorts and residential/urban areas. The FAO (1990) and World Bank (1990) reports stated that deforestation occurs if there is a permanent or temporary loss of forest cover, where the forest cover in the term is vegetation with a certain composition and density so that microclimate functions can be created, water system and the function of animal habitats as one ecosystem unit. Meanwhile, the definition of deforestation according to The Ministry of Forestry Regulation No. 30/2009, where there is a permanent change from forested area to non-forested area due to human activities. The Indonesian Forestry Law also divides the land into forest areas and outside forest areas, where Indonesian forest areas (especially primary forests) cannot be contested for plantations, mining or residential areas.
Director of Inventory and Monitoring of Forest Resources of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry, Belinda Arunwati, on the same webinar also said that there are differences in terms both related to the terms forest and deforestation both at global and national levels. Global scale data cannot be directly used at the national or regional level, because the methodology of monitoring systems at a certain level or scale cannot be equated at different scales. If the global data is used directly without calibrating the data and information to suit the national situation and condition, it will lead to data confusion and encourage misinterpretation of published information.
Belinda Arunwati also gave an example of a misinterpretation of global data, namely data that was recently released by Global Forest Watch (GFW). This data is used to judge Indonesia as one of the top ten countries with the highest rate of deforestation. GFW categorizes primary forest as areas with a minimum tree cover density of 30 percent and uses biophysical methods so that it cannot distinguish between forest types in general. The sensor from the satellite imagery used cannot tell whether the forest being monitored is savanah, dwarf forest or moss, even plantation and natural forests are identified as the same forest.
Differences in terminology related to definitions of forest and deforestation as well as differences in methodology used as guidelines between other parties/countries and the Indonesian government, often lead to misinterpretations that can have losses effects on various sectors of Indonesia. One of them is the palm oil industry, which has always been accused as the main actor causing deforestation in Indonesia. In fact, various studies have explained that oil palm plantations in Indonesia come from agricultural land (agroforestry) and shrubs and grasslands (abandoned land for logging).
Even though the data and facts show that oil palm plantations are not the main cause of deforestation in Indonesia, anti-palm oil NGOs and importing countries especially which are also other vegetable oil producer countries that are competitors for palm oil in the global vegetable oil market are still wearing “horse glasses” and continue to use the issue of deforestation to inhibit palm oil trade in global markets. Like the European Union with the Renewable Energy Directive (RED) II policy which categorizes palm oil as the cause of deforestation, which is considered to be a barrier to palm oil exports to the country.
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