Indonesia, the world’s leading producer and exporter of palm oil, can further expand palm oil production while avoiding forest loss and social conflicts, but will need to review its legal land classifications, the World Resources Institute said on Tuesday.
In an executive summary of its latest issue brief, "How to Change Legal Land Use Classifications to Support More Sustainable Palm Oil in Indonesia," the Washington-based WRI said that many forest estate lands that are settled or degraded, and that could be used for palm-oil plantation, are legally unavailable.
The WRI said that its study found 5.3 million hectares of suitable land were classified as forest estates — legally unavailable for agricultural development — but that the official rating of the land may not reflect its actual status.
It said that as of 2011, approximately 70 percent of Indonesia’s total land area was classified as kawasan hutan by the Ministry of Forestry, but this may no longer conform to the physical reality of the land cover.
"Many forest estate lands are settled or degraded, and many nonforest estate lands host rich primary forests and extensive peatlands," the report said. "And, unfortunately, much of the already-degraded, low-carbon land that would be suitable for sustainable palm oil is legally off-limits to development."
WRI said that based on a desktop legal review, it found multiple methods for changing legal land classifications in Indonesian law, so that companies could expand certified sustainable palm-oil production in areas that were previously legally unavailable.
"Our key recommendation is that the Ministry of Forestry and the Ministry of Public Works should clarify and simplify land swap policies," it said.
The two ministries should collaborate on producing authoritative and consistent maps, documenting and reducing the steps needed to approve spatial plans, as well as cooperating with other ministries and local agencies to make data on land cover and use widely available.
The Ministry of Forestry should issue a clear regulation for conducting land swaps, it said.
Land swaps are already conducted informally as part of Indonesia’s country-wide spatial planning process every five years. But there is no clear legal guidance for these swaps, and efforts to conduct a land swap for environmental or social goals are often held back.
The Ministry of Forestry, in cooperation with the Ministry of Public Works and local governments, should issue a specific regulation to legally enable these land swaps, including a precise definition for the term “land swap”, lay out clear guidance for parties attempting a swap, and reduce unnecessary steps to add and subtract areas under Ministry of Forestry-controlled Forest Estate.
"The Ministry of Forestry and Ministry of Public works should ensure that the legal classification of land fits reality on the ground," WRI also recommended.
It said that the ministries should work with Indonesian district heads and governors to match spatial plans to actual conditions.
Also important according to the institute, is that decision-making should be based on a single, authoritative and consistent set of maps.
Local and national ministries should support initiatives such as the Indonesian President’s OneMap to ensure that both national and local level plans are incorporated into a single, publicly-accessible map and database, the institute said.
At present, it said that each ministry produced its own maps, but they have not been harmonized with each other or with maps at various jurisdictional levels.
"Addressing these challenges will help Indonesian companies, governments,and communities use land more efficiently, preserve valuable forests, and expand business prospects," WRI said.
Indonesia has rapidly expanded its palm oil production over the past several decades to become the top producer of palm oil worldwide, with crude palm oil exports valued at US$ 21.6 billion in 2012.
However, the growth of the palm oil industry has not been without consequences. Conversion of forests to oil palm plantations is a major driver of forest loss, affecting biodiversity, greenhouse gas emissions, and local livelihoods.