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