Oil palm industry is expanding very quickly for Indonesia

Oil palm industry is expanding very quickly for Indonesia. Both state and private corporations, as well as local farmers, invest in oil palm plantations. The process of making palm oil has negative effects on the environment, biodiversity, and the indigenous people. The demand of palm oil continue to rise and it comes to the question of whether this production is really worth the cost.
Indonesia and Malaysia account for 80% of global oil palm production. As demand for palm oil peaks, the amount of healthy forest communities are decreasing. Deforestation is a major concern not only to the natives of the country; but the entire world stays alarmed due to increasing concerns of climate change issues and decline in biodiversity. In order to make available space for the plots of land dedicated to oil palm, many forests are being permanently damaged. Since 1961, it has been steadily increasing from 3.6 million hectares to 8.1 million hectares (Rist et al., 2010). About 80% of Southeast Asian forest are found in Indonesia and Malaysia (Fitzherbert et al., 2008); between 1990 and 2005, there was destruction of about 28 million hectares of forest area just in Indonesia (Koh & Wilcove, 2008).
1. Deforestation and greenhouse gas
Due to cutting down the rain forests, there is a tremendous loss of carbon sink. Carbon sink is any natural environment that has the ability to absorb carbon dioxide and supply oxygen into the atmosphere. This ability to soak up carbon wastes is slowly falling in forests due to human activities. According to a paper written by Reijnders and Huijbregts (2008), tropical rainforests are able to stock up to 235 tons of carbon per hectare; due to increasing numbers of oil palm plantations, about 187 tons of carbon that leak into the atmosphere and accelerate the greenhouse effect. Clearing not only affects carbon dioxide concentrations in this way- the technique that is used to clear these forests (called slash and burn) also lead to greenhouse gas emission. When trees are burnt down in the area, high volume of carbon dioxide and methane are released into the air.
Indonesia is also one of the most vulnerable countries to global climate change. Case et al. (2010) predicts that Indonesia would experience an immeasurable rise in the sea level, delayed monsoons causing drought in country, and also boiling temperature increasing cases of indirect transmission diseases- all by 2100.
2. Deforestation and decline in biodiversity
The alarming rate of deforestation is also a concern for animal rights activists because Indonesia is a home to many endemic species such as Sumatran Tiger, Orangutan, Sunda (or Javan) Rhinoceros. Many of these species were declared extinct in 2011 (Watts, 2012). Also many cavity nesting species like rats, owls, and pythons were displaced as well. The composition and distribution of wildlife species in Indonesia are completely altered; biodiversity steadily decline throughout the country. Farmers do encourage some of the species into their plantation but most wildlife species are endangered as their habitat disappears.
One of the critically endangered wildlife species mostly studied today is Sumatran elephant. Watt (2008) states in his study that more than half of its population was wiped out solely due to deforestation. Sumatra is home to Indonesia’s largest national parks; yet, many areas in these parks (about 85% of its natural primary forests) are illegally removed as number of plantations leap each year. Most of the elephants wander in unprotected forests- exposed to logging, poaching, and other human activities, which puts them in a higher risk for extinction.
3.Indigenous peoples and palm oil
Deforestation by palm oil industry not only hurt the environment and animals, but also the indigenous people. People suffer from the cost of deforestation and have been poorly treated due to push for economic gain. More and more of Indonesian tribes are displaced from their homes. However, they show constant efforts to defend their environment and way of living.
3.1Summary of oil palm community conflicts
Conflicts between the mega-corps and indigenous peoples is widespread in palm oil producing countries. In next 10 years, it is likely that conflicts between the two groups will increase in Indonesia (Abram et al., 2017). According to the reports of 187 villages, forest dependent villages are more likely to protest against the palm oil industry due to their negative perceptions set by earlier cases. There were conflicts regarding land boundaries, companies’ illegal operation and lack of compensation.
According to Abram et al. (2017), 75% incidences of land use conflicts were between oil palm companies and the indigenous communities and 11% of them were also correlated to logging businesses. Most of the conflicts were occuring in the Kalimantan area (mainly the western region- 34%) . Occurrence of the conflict between oil palm companies and the local groups was strongly correlated with deforestation; it also varied according to where the community is located. The communities closer to bodies of water had less complaints compared to those who live closer to the roads of transportation. Those living closer to the roads probably complained more because they were directly exposed to air pollution from burning forests and illegal operations. However, most palm oil plantations are now being placed near mangrove forests near the coastal area as well.
Indonesia is now characterized with transformation of rain forests to other land uses such as oil palm plantation with political aids. Understanding the characteristics of location where conflicts had occurred is very important because it will help us to understand why a specific type of conflict has occurred as well. Still many operations are done illegally in Indonesia and government seems to side with the large corporations. Future researches on this topic will help reform land use policy and create sustainable development of the Global South.
3.2Specific case: PTPN XIII conflict in West Kalimantan
PTPN XIII was a major state owned palm oil company that started plantations in West Kalimantan (Gerber, 2014). With the support of World Bank, oil plantations in Parindu started with transmigration program; 10 to 20% of the land being used were part of the local communities. In 1974, they hired police and military forces to coerce the Pompang tribe to give up their lands. PTPN proposed 3:2 formula: for each five hectares of local land, one is allotted to the local farmer, two is allotted for native owned oil palm plantation and the rest will be transferred over to the company. This meant loss of revenue for the natives, also they were to pay for what once used to be free. Also in 1976, each members of the Pompang community were told to mark the lands they wanted to be excluded from the oil palm plantations (Sirait, 2009). They were able to protect the village settlements and their small farming plots but their ancestral land and other remote sectors from the settlement were cleared off for palm oil plantation.
If the tribe rejected the proposal, they would have been arrested for disrupting government’s development program. With persistent protests of the Pompang people, government finally changed its policy so that oil palm plantations project is carried out with only local community farmers. But indigenous people are still suffering; according to White; White (2011), many of the families who surrendered their land 20 years ago still haven’t received their promised plots of land.
One successful case of local resistance against mega-corporation, addressed by White &White (2011), would be the trial of three oil palm kernel thieves that took place on May 2010. Three natives were arrested, tried and convicted for stealing about 60 kilograms of kernels. Even though they were willing to return the package, PTPN insisted that the case is taken to the court. The accused were given legal assistance from a local non-government organization and were soon released.
4.Possible solutions to the palm oil problem
An ideal solution to this problem would be to close down the palm oil plantation business. Most companies still have their way around the land use policies and continue their illegal operations in Indonesia.
According to Kodas (2014), there are some alternatives to palm oil production that does not require slash and burn deforestation technique. A company named Solazyme uses microscopic algae from freshwater to produce biodiesel which can minimize the environmental costs. This already has been found effective in powering jets and U.S. navy ships. Its uses have been expanded to the production of soaps, cosmetics and even foods. The process of making foods is sought to be similar to how yeast is used in beer brewing industries. Solazyme works to create sustainable alternative to palm oil and also healthy consumable fats by using different strains of these microorganisms. They also seem to be a good competitor as a source of oil because algae can be grown anywhere the company places its plants and shorten the supply chains.