Facts to Debunk The Statement Of Palm Oil Damaging the Environment
Some time ago, a statement appeared in the speech of Mrs. Soekarnoputri regarding oil palm plantations that destroy forests and the environment. The 5th President of the Republic of Indonesia also mentioned that deforestation and forest fires in Indonesian occurred as a result of oil palm plantations. Depleted forests and forest and land fires also have an impact on the loss of Indonesian biodiversity (flora and fauna) and do not exist in other countries, such as the Slow Loris and Tarsius on Borneo. The loss of forests will also cause the water springs to dry up so that many people complain about water shortages. In addition, the existence of oil palm plantations has resulted in soil that was once fertile due to forests becoming poor in nutrients.
The environmental issues associated with oil palm plantations in the speech are actually issues that have been used by anti-palm oil NGOs at the national and global levels in the last decade to hamper and tackle the national palm oil industry. The Indonesian government, diplomats, researchers and oil palm industry players have struggled through diplomacy, advocacy and scientific publications in order to counter the negative issue of palm oil. The persistence of the most recent Indonesian palm oil stakeholder struggle against palm oil discrimination and defending the interests of the national palm oil industry can be seen from Indonesian government’s lawsuit against the WTO regarding the EU’s RED II/ILUC policy.
The statement in Mrs. Soekarnoputri’s speech that oil palm plantations damage the environment is considered to be a “time bomb” that can undermine the struggles of national oil palm stakeholders who have carried out campaigns and public education about the positive values of palm oil as well as counter campaigns on negative issues. Therefore through this articles, PASPI will convey facts based on data and results of studies/research that can debunk the statements in the speech.
First, Oil Palm Plantation Causes Deforestation. Fahmudin and Gunarso’s study (2019) which examined the origins of Indonesian oil palm plantations during the 1990-2018 period shows that as much as 23 percent of oil palm plantations in Indonesia originate from agroforestry. In addition, a lot of oil palm plantation land comes from shrubs and grasslands. Ex-logging areas, which were found on Sumatra, Kalimantan and Sulawesi, turned into unproductive scrublands and were later used by the New Order government through transmigration programs to become oil palm plantations. Another study conducted by Eric Meijjard also confirmed a similar fact, the loss of tropical rainforests was not the result of oil palm plantation development.
If oil palm plantations always to be associated a the main cause of deforestation, what about settlement, cities, industries, markets, mall, agriculture and livestock sectors which are also the result of deforestation. Why oil palm plantations always in the spotlight as only cause deforestation? On the other hand, these facts above have shown that the development of Indonesian oil palm plantations is not the main driver of deforestation, but them actually greening the ecology, economy and social communities in damaged areas by logging in the past. Even with high levels of productivity, oil palm plantations can save more land use when compared to other vegetable oil-producing crops such as soybeans and rapeseed, thus preventing global deforestation.
Second, Oil Palm Plantation Causes Forest Fires. Forest and land fires were quite large and occurred again in almost all region of Indonesia in 2019, after was decline in the previous three years. The palm oil industry is also again accused of being the main actor in the forest and land fire disaster, even though based on Global Forest Watch data (2019) it shows that around 68 percent of the hotspots are outside concessions. Meanwhile, hotspots in the palm oil concession were relatively small at only 11 percent, or less than those in pulpwood industrial concessions (16 percent). Palm oil industry players, especially large plantation companies, are actually trying to mitigate and prevent other efforts by forming SATGAS to coordinate with the Fire Service, TNI-POLRI, BNPB/BPBD, Desa Peduli Api and SATGAS of other companies to prevent hotspots from occurring on their plantation lands or surrounding land.
Third, Oil Palm Plantations Cause the Loss of Biodiversity. Since the beginning of development, based on Law 41/1999 on Forestry, Indonesia has classified forest which can be converted (deforestable) and which forest that must be maintained (non-deforestable) which is called conservation forest and protection forest. Based on Forestry Statistics (2018), it shows that conservation forest area reaches 17.35 million hectares and protected forest area reaches 23.91 million hectares, or the proportion of them reaches 44 percent of Indonesia’s total forest. It means that Indonesia already has forests/lands with quite a large amount of High Carbon Stock (HCS) and High Conservation Value (HCV) as the “home” of endemic animals and flora. Based on the results of research, many also show that the number of types of biodiversity in oil palm plantations is not always lower than the biodiversity in the Ecosystem Benchmark (land cover similar to the land cover before being converted into oil palm plantations) or HCV (forest). Even the development of oil palm plantations in several research locations has actually increased the number of biodiversity types such as herpetofauna and butterflies.
Fourth, Oil Palm Plantations Cause Barren Land. Oil palm is also a plant created by God, which has a role for soil conservation, not the other way around making the land dry and becoming desert. Empirical facts show that oil palm plantations on Pulau Raja (Asahan, North Sumatra) which have been cultivated for more than one century ago are still in the form of gardens and have not turned into deserts. Many studies have also proven that biomass in oil palm plantations increases with the age of the oil palms and has an important role in increasing soil fertility. The biomass from FFB that has been harvested and processed into palm oil such as empty bunches, shells and sludge can also be returned to the land so that the land remains fertile. Besides biomass, to maintain land fertility is also added through fertilization according to age to increasing productivity.
Fifth, Oil Palm Plantation Causes Drought. Apart from accusations of causing the loss of nutrients, oil palm plantations are often seen as a water-wasteful crop that can cause drought. The accusation is not in accordance with the facts conveyed from the results of research by experts. For example, Coster’s research (1938) stated that the evapotranspiration rate indicated that water demand in oil palm plantations was lower than that of bamboo, lamtoro, acacia, sengon, pine and rubber. Research by Pasaribu et al. (2012) also shows that the percentage of rainfall used by oil palm is also lower than that of mahogany and pine. Associated with its role as a renewable energy source (bioenergy), oil palm is also one of the most water efficient plants. Research by Makonnen & Hoekstra (2010) states that the need for water in oil palm to produce 1 liter of biodiesel is lower than that for coconut, rapeseed and soybean water.
The facts that have been presented above are expected to be able to debunk the statement stating that oil palm plantations are the main driver of deforestation, forest and land fires and the loss of endemic biodiversity in Indonesia as well as causing plantation land to become desert because it removes nutrients from the soil and water-wasteful. The facts that come from the research of these experts are also expected to be the basis for the point of view of all Indonesian comuunity in seeing the palm oil industry, considering the large contribution of palm oil industry in improving welfare and economic development both in regional and national. Especially in the current conditions, the fact is that the palm oil industry is able to become the largest source of foreign exchange in Indonesia’s trade balance in Semester 1/2020 and remains an economic powerhouse during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Hasan Kleib, Ambassador/Permanent Representative of the Republic of Indonesia in the United Nations, World Trade Organization and other international organizations in Geneva, in the #PalmINATalk Webinar said that all Malaysians are united in defending their palm oil industry because all information and news about palm oil spreading in their country is always positive and there is no campaign or negative statements about Malaysian palm oil industry. That is what the Indonesian community need, including the government, business actors, NGOs, press, students, researchers, educators and the general public, to fight together and unite in “one language” in the positive campaign for oil palm and defend the interests of oil palm.
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