The Origin of Oil Palm Plantations is Indonesia
Deforestation is a normal phenomenon in every development process that has been carried out by all countries in the world. The conversion of forest land into non-forest land occurs to fulfill the needs of land for both in the economic activity and residential sectors at the beginning of the development process.
Based on 2012 FAO data, temperate forest deforestation in Europe occurred since the beginning of human civilization and is expected until the 17th century. While, intensive temperate forest deforestation in the United States occurred from the 16th century until 19th century. It’s means the industrial revolution that occurred in western countries also had implications for the largest of global deforestation in hundreds of years ago. Meanwhile, tropical countries have only just begun to develop an economy that has caused intensive tropical deforestation to occur in the 1900s.
Like other countries, deforestation also occurred in Indonesia, which had begun since the colonial period and was increasingly massive during the Orde Baru. Although deforestation is normal process in the economic-social development, but this issue is used to discredit Indonesia’s oil palm plantations which are considered as the main drivers of deforestation in Indonesia. This false accusation needs to be corrected so as not to further damage the image of the Indonesian palm oil industry. Therefore, it is necessary to reveal the history of deforestation in Indonesia and the origin of Indonesia’s oil palm plantations based on data and facts.
The Ministry of Environment and Forestry data shows that Indonesia’s forests has decreased areas from 162.3 million hectares in 1950 to 85.8 million hectares in 2017. Conversely, deforestation in Indonesia has increased from 68.1 million hectares in the period of 1950-1985 to 101.9 million hectares in the period of 2000-2017. On the other hand, the increase in the area of Indonesian oil palm plantations also increased from 105 thousand hectares to 9.89 million hectares in the same period. An interesting fact shows that comparing the area of deforestation and oil palm plantations, shows that the increase in oil palm area is only 0.4-9.7 percent of the area of deforestation in Indonesia. This means that deforestation in Indonesia that has occurred long before the development of oil palm plantations and oil palm plantations is not the main cause of deforestation in Indonesia.
This was also confirmed by a study by Fahmudin and Gunarso (2019) which showed that the origins of oil palm plantations in Indonesia during period 1990-2018, mostly derived from agricultural land (agroforestry) with a proportion of 23 percent. Oil palm plantations also origins from shrubs and grasslands both in the highlands (18 percent) and around swamps (13 percent) and secondary or distrubed upland forest (11 percent). The issue that corners the origin of all Indonesian oil palm plantations from primary/protected forests is a false issues, based on the study showing that the use of primary forest (undistrubed upland forest) for oil palm plantations is very small at only 0.4 percent.
If we look at the history of deforestation, especially what happened during the Orde Baru era is caused by massive logging activities. Massive and intensive logging activities, especially on the islands of Sumatra, Kalimantan and Sulawesi, occurred during the New Order, resulting in a lot of forest land that was degraded and turned into abandoned shrubs. Study of Gunarso et al., (2013) also mentions that the cause of forest loss in Indonesia is due to intensive logging and the impact of forest fires, a combination of these factors leads to the progressive degradation of forest landscapes into agroforestry or shrub land.
Massive and intensive logging activities, especially on the islands of Sumatra, Kalimantan and Sulawesi during the New Order era, resulted in degraded forest land and turned into abandoned shrubs and shanty former logging worker barracks. The sale of logs is also not re-invested in the logging areas, so that the economy of the logging area does not develop even turned into a ghost town.
Therefore, the ex-logging area was made a land reserve for development (land of bank) by the Orde Baru government and was reused which was mostly converted for the purpose of developing other sectors or cultivation areas. The transmigration programme which was one of the important programs during the Orde Baru, this programme also used the ex-logging land that was used both for new residentials and for agricultural land including the development of oil palm plantations. Another study re-confirmed that fact by Eric Meijjard also found a similar fact that the loss of tropical rainforest was not a result of the development of oil palm plantations. The oil palm plantations on the island of Kalimantan come from open land due to wood extraction and forest fires.
Based on this history, it can be interpreted that the development of Indonesian oil palm plantations is not the main driver of deforestation, but rather an effort to reforestation. Oil palm plantations have even re-greened the ecological, economic and social aspects of communities damaged by logging in the past. In ecology side, oil palm plantations absorb carbon dioxide, produce oxygen, increase biomass and carbon stocks, conserve soil and water or increase water holding capacity and produce biofuel replacing fossil energy that is reduce carbon dioxide emissions. From an economic aspect, oil palm plantations increase farmers’ incomes, increase regional economic development, increase government revenue, and generate foreign exchange. Whereas socially, oil palm plantations increase employment opportunities, reduce poverty, increase rural development and improve income inequality.
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