Palm oil and the forest in Indonesia. (Photo by Nanang Sujana/CIFOR)
Indonesian government officials recently ruled that 200,000 hectares of oil palm plantations are planned to be returned to the state and converted back into forests, and that figure may increase.
Indonesia is the world’s largest palm oil producer and exporter, and the industry changed Southeast Asia when it boomed. The palm oil industry has also been accused of corruption, with several big players accused or found guilty of accepting bribes, including the former head of a land agency.
However, its significant role in the country isn’t stopping the government from trying to restore some of the damage caused by the industry.
A task force has been formed by internal security and environmental ministries to look at all the oil palm plantations and to find those that are on protected land, and force them to leave.
Nearly half of the Indonesia’s palm plantations have been found in forests. However, a 2020 law stated that plantations inside forest areas can be legally recognized if they meet specific requirements and pay fines.
The deadline for this passed in the end of 2023, and Indonesia’s chief security minister, Mahfud MD, now says he will take legal action against those who continue to use land illegally.
According to forestry ministry secretary general Bambang Hendroyono ,“The ones in protected forests and conservation forests, the government wants to restore after they pay the fine.”
Similar illegal agriculture activity is widespread in the Amazon forests as well, and this move by the Indonesian government is one in a growing movement to reclaim forests from industry to help mitigate the effects of earth’s rising temperatures.
Forests play a crucial role in absorbing carbon dioxide, mitigating air pollution, and cooling the earth. Therefore, protecting them is vital in the effort to slow the rise in global temperatures. Government action, such as those taken by Indonesia, represent significant steps in the right direction.