On 09 March, European politicians backed (56 to 1) a non-binding report on sustainable palm oil. The environment committee votes on the report on 9 March. The report calls on the European Commission to strengthen environmental measures to prevent palm oil-related deforestation and phase out the use of palm oil as a component of biodiesel by 2020. Products should also be certified for the socially responsible origin of their palm oil using a single certification scheme. It will then be up to all Members of European Parliaments (MEPs) to vote on it during an upcoming plenary session next month.
Based on a written statement made by Darmono Taniwiryono, Chairman of Indonesian Oil Palm Society (MAKSI), report used in the vote seemed to be inappropriate. It had not been verified by credible expert who knows exactly the history of deforestation in Indonesia. Massive deforestation had occurred during the booming of timber and plywood industries between 1967 and early 1980’s, immediately after forest concessions (HPH) had been legally granted based on the Forestry Law 1967.
Forest concessions (HPH) is defined as the right to exploit the forest in a certain production forest area which includes the planting, maintenance, protection, harvesting, processing and marketing of forest products, in accordance with the existing regulations and based on a sustainable practices. HPH concession is granted for the duration of 20 years, and an additional 2nd phase 20 years for reforestation.
Between 1969 and 1974, one province alone, East Kalimantan has 11 million ha HPH concession. During that period, timber production had jumped from only 4 million m3 in 1967, to 28 million m3 in 1977, from which 75% were exported. In 1979, Indonesia gained 41% share of the world wood market worth 2.1 billion dollars. In 1995, there were about 585 concessions which cover 63 million ha throughout Indonesia.
European Commission study in 2013 showed that deforestation linked to beef and other ruminant products is 10.5 times greater than that of due to oil palm cultivation. In many countries, biodiesel is mostly produced from soybean and corn, but deforestation linked to soybean and corn are 2.3 and 1.3 times greater, respectively, than that of due to oil palm cultivation. Furthermore, scientific studies reported by Peter Gunarso conducted in 1990, 2000, 2005, and 2010 showed a total conversion of primary forests into oil palm plantations throughout Indonesia is only around 0,71% or 18 235 hectares. According to Darmono, the activities could continue but in a very limited manner due to a strict government supervision, so the percentage of current primary forest conversion into palm oil is only about 0.16% of the total 11.7 million hectares plantation.
MAKSI asks the cancellation of the MEP vote and opens new independent research collaboration between European and Indonesian research scientists. Current move to phase out the use of palm oil biodiesel linked to deforestation is academically unjustified. Indonesia has the right to utilize the WTO forum to obtain non-discriminatory treatment when palm oil biodiesel must be certified. All products related to deforestation including dairy products, soybean oil, corn oil, and rapeseed oil and their downstream products should also be certified.