South Korea’s shameful Indonesian palm oil antics

It’s scandalous enough that a South Korean-owned company has been caught cutting down primary rainforest for timber. Worse still, the corporate vandals are also busy setting illegal fires to clear land to plant more oil palms, and they’re doing it despite being forbidden by Indonesian law.

Environmental groups are taking a very dim view of South Korea’s disgraceful behaviour, as are we, and we’re determined to help spread the word.

The Korindo Group flouts Indonesian law

Apparently the Jakarta based Korindo Group PT have been harnessing the “systematic and widespread use of fire”, sending up vast palls of polluting smoke generated from clearing forest without permission. So far the rogue company has managed to clear over 193 square miles of tropical lowland forest for palm oil plantations, mainly in remote Papua and Maluku, and at least another 75,000 hectares are at immediate risk. Korindo are blaming local people for the fires, denying any involvement. But Indonesia’s environment ministry has just sent a team to Papua to collect evidence in the shape of materials and information.

How do Korindo’s customers feel about the revelation?

Wilmar International Ltd is one of the offending company’s main clients, and they’ve told Reuters they’ve stopped buying palm from Korindo as a result of the violation. Let’s hope more follow suit before their greedy, short-sighted suppliers trash any more precious rainforest.

Will Indonesia’s palm oil moratorium fail?

Indonesia is home to the planet’s third-biggest area of tropical forest. At the same time it’s the world’s fifth-biggest greenhouse gas emitters, mainly thanks to rampant deforestation. Korindo controls 619 square miles of oil palm concessions across Papua and Maluku, plus around 900,000 hectares yet to be transformed into plantations.

At the same time, around 90% of the world’s palm oil crop is grown in Malaysia and Indonesia. Indonesia’s President has already put a moratorium on expanding palm oil plantations in place, and the product is under huge demand. Consumer giants like Unilever and Kellog are finally getting their acts together, starting to demand ‘sustainability certification’ on the palm oil products they buy.

In 2015 chronic forest fires in Indonesia burned an area the size of Britain and lost the country a whopping $16 billion, according to the World Bank. But the burning goes on, despite guilty companies being fined as much as $735,000 and offending managers being sent to prison for as long as a decade.

Korindo’s compensation schemes are horribly disingenuous

The long term damage is serious. Yes, plantation companies like Korindo compensate Papuan communities for clearing their forests. But short term compensation is no good to local tribes people: once the money runs out, there’s no forest left for them to hunt in.

The Korindo case poses a big challenge to President Widodo. If he weakens and lets Korindo carry on regardless, his moratorium will prove utterly meaningless. If that happens, we’re looking at the single biggest deforestation project in Indonesia.

Yes, it really is a Sulawesi Streaked Flycatcher!

Fifteen years ago a sharp-eyed nature lover spotted a brand new species of bird in Indonesia. It stood out, having a beautiful mottled throat, unique song, hooked beak, short tail and particularly short wings. Now, at long last, the sighting has been confirmed and it looks like we do indeed have a new bird species to marvel over: the Sulawesi Streaked Flycatcher.

The world’s rainforests still have secrets to reveal

The finding illustrates how the planet’s rainforests remain an incredibly rich source of diverse creatures, many of whom remain undiscovered. And it highlights how very precious and unique these wonderful environments are.

Remote Sulawesi conceals a natural wonder

A team led by researchers from Princeton University, Michigan State University and the Indonesian Institute of Sciences confirmed the bird’s existence in the lowland forests of Sulawesi. Bearing in mind that an estimated 98% of the world’s birds have already been seen, classified and described, it’s a thrilling piece of news.

The report’s co-author J. Berton C. Harris, a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton’s Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy, spotted the bird back in 1997 in a patchy remnant of ancient forest. But there was some doubt – was it actually a grey streaked flycatcher or a new species altogether? Harris and his team visited remote Central Sulawesi in 2011 and again in 2012, finally tracking down several of the unique birds living in the forest near the small town of Baku Bakulu.

Biodiversity rules

Princeton Professor David Wilcove, Harris’ adviser, commented that the research revealed how important the study of biodiversity is. In his words, “The discovery of this previously unknown bird demonstrates once again how much we have yet to learn about the biodiversity of this planet and, especially, the biodiversity of the tropics,”

Post by the Rainforest Foundation. Image by Nigel Voaden via Flickr

Indonesia cracks down on deforestation at last

Indonesia is the planet’s third biggest emitter of greenhouse gases, with only China and the USA emitting more. And the country has a particularly shameful record as regards its rainforests. It lost more than 6 million hectares of beautiful primary forest between the millennium and 2012 alone, a deforestation rate that was even more dramatic than Brazil’s, and the world’s most acute.

Fresh legal framework set to boost rainforest conservation

Sadly, Indonesia’s attempts at saving their forests so far have been at best patchy, at worst lamentable. On the bright side, it appears things are about to change for the better as the country reveals its latest plans for slowing its deforestation rates, currently the fastest in the world. At long last they’re about to start cracking down on concessions licensing for agricultural companies operating on peat land and in rainforests.

Indonesia’s Agency for Reducing Emissions From Deforestation and Forest Degradation is already looking closely at 18 companies to check they have the right licenses. But the call for change goes much deeper. According to Heru Prasetyo, the head of the REDD+ office in Jakarta, the nation’s legal system and famously weak enforcement culture must also change.

The Indonesian environment ministry is currently investigating 29 cases against 26 companies accused of using fire to clear land, a huge hike compared to 2013, when just 7 criminal cases involving forest fires were filed.

Stronger political willingness to change

The new president of Indonesia, Joko Widodo, took over in October 2013 and he’s already making environmental waves. He says the lack of a single national forestry map means companies enjoy overlapping permits, and there might be as many as 1000 medium sized palm oil companies sitting happily below the radar. As he admits, his country’s law enforcement track record has been very poor and as a result the state of Indonesia’s rainforests is “not pretty”.

The new law has teeth

Now, local companies can be tried by law unless they carry out mandatory environmental assessments, and can be prosecuted for using bribery to win licenses. And the new legal framework has teeth: PT Kalista Alam was fined 31 million UD dollars earlier this year and one of its officials jailed for three years for starting forest fires.

Posted on behalf of the Rainforest Foundation. Image by  Hadi Zaher.