Really Palm Oil Industry Become a Main Actor in Indonesia’s Forest and Land Fires?

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Indonesia’s forest and land fires that occured in 2019 with an area of 1.65 million hectares, again attracted the attention of global community. Although it’snt as large as forest and land fires in 2015 which reached 2.67 milion hectares, the area of forest and land fires in 2019 is relatively increasing after previous three years showed have decreased.

palm oil

Forest and land fires disaster occured in Indonesia and its cause dense haze which endangers public health and inhibit the economic and social activities of the people in the affected area. This was exploited by national and international anti-palm NGOs that supported by framing news from the mass media which canalized the forest and land fires in Indonesia to incriminating the national palm oil industry. One of them is CNN’s article entitle “Borneo is Burning”, which was published in 2019.

With the support of framing news from the mass media that canalization of forest and land fires that occurred in Indonesia to incriminating and accuse the palm oil industry as the main actor, without being based on rational analysis and empirical evidence. Land around of  oil palm plantations concession was burnt or land that has been burned which then used for oil palm plantations, is considered as evidence of the justification of that allegations. It was impressed that the conclusion of the cause of the fired has already been built “on the table”, so that in the field it only collects data and information that justifies a conclusion that have been determined before.

Big concern from global community on the issue also shows this disaster as if specific only occured in Indonesia. However, this is indisputable through data from various sources compiled in the PASPI’s Journal Monitor showed in the 2011-2019, the average area of ​​annual forest and land fires in developed countries such as the United States was 4.13 million hectares, Europe and Russia were 2.6 million hectares, still relatively wider compared to the average area of ​​Indonesian forest and land fires which was equal to 0.61 million hectares.

In 2019, Australia was also hit by forest and land fires that were severe enough throughout the country’s history, this disaster also known as “Black Summer”. Forest and land fires that occurred in Australia began in June 2019 and continue until 2020. The extent Australia’s forest and land fires area was burned reported more than 18 million hectares and killed 34 people and more than 1 million animals.

The data above shows that developed countries that have the best technology and equipment, have a good management, governance and funds and a capable ethic of society are also unable to prevent forest and land fires. Even the forest and land fires that occured are not related to the presence or absence of peatlands, and oil palm plantations. Developed countries like the United States, Australia, Europe and Russia do not have oil palm plantations, but the extent of forest and land fires also occured wider than Indonesia. It means forest and land fires are global phenomena that occur every year in various countries, not ecosystem specific and not industry/commodity specific.

Forest and land fires especially occured in 2019 also occured in all provinces of Indonesia. Although several provincies of palm oil central such as South Sumateran, Central Kalimantan, West Kalimantan and South Kalimantan have land and forest fires that relatively extensive. However, relatively extensive forest and land fires also occured in provinces that do not have oil palm plantations such as NTT, NTB, Lampung, Maluku, North Sulawesi, Gorontalo, North Maluku, East Java, Central Java, and Yogyakarta.

Even North Kalimantan and Bengkulu, which are provinces of oil palm expansion, which have the extent of forest and land fires are relatively small compared to the provinces of NTT and NTB where there is no development of oil palm plantations. This facts showed that the issues developed by anti-palm oil NGOs that mention forest and land fires in Indonesia occured systematically and specifically related to the development of oil palm plantations, are false accusations.

If we analyze more closely, the source of hotspots shows that the allegations of anti-palm oil NGOs which mentioned that palm oil industry as an actor behind Indonesia’s forest and land fire is an allegations are not in accordance with data and empirical facts. Global Forest Watch’s data related to the distribution of hotspots in 2019 based on land use showed that around 68 percent of the hotspots turned out to be outside the concession. Meanwhile, the hotspots in the oil palm concession are relatively small  about 11 percent, or lower than the hotspots in the pulpwood concession (16 percent).


If it is true, the palm oil industry as an main actor behind the forest and land fire in Indonesia, actually the farmers or the corporation of oil palm plantation are also victims who suffer losses. Beside the risk of criminal penalties and large fines, the palm oil industry will also suffer a substantial loss are the productivity decline. The results of the Indonesian Oil Palm Research Institute (IOPRI), revealed that the effects of drought alone can reduce productivity by 28-41 percent and yields by 0.6-2.5 percent. Meanwhile, haze affects the process of formation and growth of oil palm fruits thereby reducing productivity by around 0.2-5.5 percent. This means that the potential loss per hectare due to declining productivity caused by forest and land fires in the surrounding areas could reach 12-15 million per hectare.

Besides the potential decline in palm oil productivity, which will reduce the profit received by the palm oil producer, forest and land fires in Indonesia and its links to the palm oil industry will also inhibiting producer especially corporations to fulfilling sustainability standards (RSPO/ISPO) and damage the image in the eyes of consumers. Whereas both of these criteria (sustainability certification and positive image) will affect the acceptance of palm oil products in consumers, especially in developed countries such as Europe and the United States. This condition will also potentially reduce global demand so that exports decrease and cause profits received by palm oil producers both corporations and farmers are decline.

With such potential losses received by national palm oil industry players caused by forest and land fires & haze, it is difficult to believe that oil palm plantations either individually and collectively cary out burning, which would cause losses to themselves. It is also difficult for common sense to accept that oil palm plantations deliberately left forest and land fires in the surrounding areas and become a victim who suffer a lot of losses. On the contrary, oil palm farmers and corporations carry out mitigation and other preventive measures to prevent the forest and land fires in their areas, which have negative impact on the palm oil industry.

The same thing has been done by GAPKI who issued Guidelines for the Prevention of Forest and Land Fire in Oil Palm Plantations for its members, as an effort to anticipate the forest and land fire which usually always occurs in the dry season. In these guideline, plantation companies that are members of GAPKI are asked to identify and map fire-prone areas in their plantation areas so that they can become the focus of monitoring and maintenance, without leaving monitoring in other areas. In addition, member companies are also asked to form and activate the task foece which includes oil palm plantation companies and communities, where the the task force must also coordinate with the Fire Service, TNI-POLRI, BNPB BPBD, Fire Care Village and the task force other companies.

Kebakaran hutan dan lahan (karhutla) Indonesia yang terjadi tahun 2019 dengan luas sebesar 1.65 juta hektar, kembali menarik perhatian masyarakat dunia. Meskipun tidak seluas karhutla tahun 2015 yang mencapai 2.67 juta hektar, luas karhutla Indonesia tahun 2019 relatif mengalami peningkatan setelah pada tiga tahun sebelumnya menunjukkan penurunan.


Bencana kahutla yang terjadi di Indonesia, menimbulkan kabut asap pekat yang membahayakan kesehatan masyarakat serta menghambat aktivitas ekonomi dan sosial masyarakat di daerah yang terdampak. Hal tersebut dimanfaatkan oleh LSM anti sawit baik nasional maupun internasional yang didukung dengan framing berita dari media massa yang mengkanalisasi bencana karhutla yang terjadi di Indonesia untuk memojokkan industri sawit nasional. Salah satunya artikel CNN yang berjudul “Borneo is Burning” yang dipublikasikan tahun 2019.

Dengan didukung framing berita dari media massa yang mengkanalisasi bencana karhutla Indonesia untuk memojokkan dan menuduh industri sawit nasional sebagai aktor utama, tanpa didasari analisis rasional dan bukti empiris. Lahan disekitar konsesi perkebunan sawit yang terbakar atau lahan yang sudah terbakar yang kemudian dijadikan sebagai perkebunan sawit, dianggap sebagai bukti atas pembenaran tuduhan tesebut. Hal tersebut terkesan bahwa kesimpulan penyebab kebakaran sudah terlebih dahulu dibangun “di atas meja”, sehingga di lapangan hanya menghimpun data dan informasi yang membenarkan kesimpulan yang telah ditentukan sebelumnya.

Concern masyarakat dunia yang besar pada karhutla di Indonesia juga menunjukkan seolah-olah karhutla spesifik hanya terjadi di Indonesia. Namun, hal tersebut terbantahkan melalui data dari berbagai sumber yang dihimpun dalam Jurnal Monitor PASPI menunjukkan bahwa dalam periode 2011-2019, rata-rata luas karhutla pertahun di negara maju seperti Amerika Serikat sebesar 4.13 juta hektar, Eropa dan Rusia sebesar 2.6 juta hektar, atau masih relatif lebih luas dibandingkan dengan rataan luas karhutla Indonesia yakni sebesar 0.61 juta hektar.

Pada tahun 2019, Australia juga dilanda kebakaran hutan dan lahan yang cukup parah di sepanjang sejarah negara, atau yang dikenal dengan “Black Summer”. Kebakaran hutan dan lahan yang terjadi di Australia dimulai sejak Juni 2019 dan terus berlanjut hingga tahun 2020. Luas karhutla Australia yang dilaporkan hingga Februari 2020 mencapai lebih dari 18 juta hektar serta menewaskan 34 orang dan lebih dari 1 juta hewan.

Data-data diatas tersebut menunjukkan bahwa bahwa negara maju yang memiliki teknologi dan peralatan terbaik, memiliki manajemen, pemerintahan dan dana yang kuat serta etos masyarakat yang mumpuni ternyata juga tidak mampu mencegah terjadinya karhutla. Bahkan karhutla yang terjadi juga tidak terkait dengan ada tidaknya lahan gambut, dan ada tidaknya perkebunan kelapa sawit. Negara maju seperti Amerika Serikat, Australia, Eropa dan Rusia tidak memiliki perkebunan sawit, namun luas kebakaran hutan dan lahan juga terjadi bahkan lebih luas dibandingkan Indonesia. Artinya karhutla adalah fenomena global yang terjadi setiap tahun di berbagai negara, bukan spesifik ekosistem dan bukan pula spesifik industri/komoditas.

Karhutla khususnya di tahun 2019 juga terjadi di seluruh provinsi Indonesia. Meskipun karhutla yang cukup besar terjadi di beberapa provinsi sentra sawit seperti Sumateran Selatan, Kalimantan Tengah, Kalimantan Barat dan Kalimantan Selatan. Namun, karhutla yang relatif luas juga terjadi pada provinsi yang tidak memiliki perkebunan sawit seperti NTT, NTB, Lampung, Maluku, Sulawesi Utara, Gorontalo, Maluku Utara, Jawa Timur, Jawa Tengah, dan Yogyakarta. Bahkan Kalimantan Utara dan Bengkulu yang merupakan daerah provinsi ekspansi sawit yang mengalami karhutla, namun luas karhutla di wilayah tersebut relatif kecil dibandingkan dengan provinsi NTT dan NTB yang tidak ada pengembangan kebun sawit. Hal ini menunjukkan bahwa isu yang dibangun oleh LSM anti sawit yang menyebutkan karhutla di Indonesia terjadi secara sistematis dan spesifik terkait dengan pengembangan kebun sawit, adalah tuduhan yang keliru.

Jika menganalisis lebih dalam lagi terkait sumber titik api menunjukkan bahwa tuduhan LSM anti sawit yang menyebutkan industri sawit sebagai aktor dibalik karhutla Indonesia adalah tuduhan tersebut tidak sesuai dengan data dan fakta empiris. Data Global Forest Watch terkait sebaran titik api tahun 2019 berdasarkan land use menunjukkan bahwa sekitar 68 persen titik api ternyata berada di luar konsesi. Sementara itu, titik api di konsesi industri sawit relatif sedikit hanya sebesar 11 persen, atau lebih sedikit dibandingkan dengan titik api di konsesi industri pulpwood (16 persen).

Jika benar, industri sawit sebagai aktor utama dibalik bencana karhutla di Indonesia, maka sesungguhnya petani atau koorporasi perkebunan sawit tersebut juga menjadi korban yang menderita kerugian. Selain resiko hukuman pidana dan denda yang besar, produsen minyak sawit juga akan menderita kerugian yang cukup besar yakni penurunan produktivitas. Hasil penelitian Pusat Penelitian Kelapa Sawit, mengungkapkan bahwa dampak kekeringan saja dapat menurunkan 28-41 persen produktivitas dan 0.6-2.5 persen rendemen. Sementara akibat kabut asap membuat proses pembentukan dan pertumbuhan buah kelapa sawit terganggu sehingga menurunkan produktivitas sekitar 0.2-5.5 persen. Hal ini berarti potensi kerugian per hektar akibat penurunan produktivitas yang disebabkan karhutla disekitarnya dapat mencapai 12-15 juta per hektar.

Selain potensi penurunan produktivitas minyak sawit yang berimplikasi pada profit yang diterima oleh produsen minyak sawit menurun, bencana karhuta yang terjadi di Indonesia dan pengkaitanya dengan industri sawit juga akan menghambat produsen khususnya korporasi untuk memenuhi standar sustainability (RSPO/ISPO) dan merusak citra di mata konsumen. Padahal kedua kriteria tersebut (sertifikasi sustainability dan citra yang positif) akan mempengaruhi keberterimaan produk sawit di konsumen khususnya di negara maju seperti Eropa dan Amerika Serikat. Kondisi ini juga akan berpotensi mengurangi demand global sehingga ekspor berkurang dan semakin merugikan produsen minyak sawit baik korporasi maupun petani.

Dengan potensi kerugian yang diterima oleh pelaku industri sawit nasional akibat karhutla dan kabut asap tersebut, sulit diterima akal sehat bahwa perkebunan kelapa sawit baik secara individu maupun secara kolektif melakukan pembakaran yang justru akan merugikan dirinya sendiri. Bahkan juga sulit diterima akal sehat jika perkebunan kelapa sawit secara sengaja membiarkan kebakaran lahan di sekitarnya dengan turut menjadi korban yang menderita banyak kerugian. Justru sebaliknya, pelaku industri sawit (petani dan perusahaan perkebunan besar) melakukan mitigasi dan upaya preventif lainnya untuk mencegah timbulnya titik api pada lahannya atau lahan sekitarnya sehingga bencana karhutla tidak terjadi dan membawa kerugian bagi industri sawit.

Hal serupa telah dilakukan oleh GAPKI yang mengeluarkan Pedoman Pencegahan Karhutla di Perkebunan Sawit bagi anggotanya, sebagai upaya antisipasi kathula yang biasanya selalu terjadi di musim kemarau. Dalam pedoman tersebut, perusahaan perkebunan anggota GAPKI diminta untuk melakukan identifikasi dan pemetaan area rawan kebakaran di wilayah perkebunannya sehingga dapat menjadi fokus pemantauan dan penjagaan, tanpa meninggalkan pemantauan di area lain. Selain itu, perusahaan anggota juga diminta untuk membentuk dan mengaktifkan SATGAS yang mencakup perusahaan perkebunan sawit dan masyarakat, dimana SATGAS tersebut juga harus berkoordinasi dengan Dinas Kebakaran, TNI-POLRI, BNPB/BPBD, Desa Peduli Api dan SATGAS perusahaan lain.

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