Indonesia finds one-fifth of oil palm plantations are illegal

A photo taken on Sept 29 shows burnt land next to an oil palm plantation in Indonesia's South Kalimantan province. A government investigation found that 3.1 million hectares of the country's total oil palm plantations are operating without permits. PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA (BLOOMBERG) - Indonesia is trying to clamp down on illegal oil palm plantations by first identifying the perpetrators.

A government investigation found that 3.1 million hectares, or about 19 per cent of the country's total oil palm plantations, are operating without permits in forest areas.

The authorities are in the process of identifying the owners of the unlicensed plantations and are seeking legal advice on how to deal with them, according to an official at Indonesia's ministry of economic affairs.

The country is also formulating regulations that will allow the government to rescind permits for unplanted concessions.

Land with good tree coverage will be turned into forest areas to help with climate change, said Mr Prabianto Mukti Wibowo, an official at the Coordinating Ministry of Economic Affairs.

The latest finding comes after the state auditor, known as BPK, reported that about 81 per cent of the country's oil palm plantations broke various state regulations, including operating in conservation and peatland areas as well as non-compliance with Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil standards.

Indonesia has halted applications for 1.6 million hectares of new palm plantations since the government issued a moratorium on expanding the area last year, Mr Prabianto said.

President Joko Widodo issued a decree in September 2018 suspending permits for new oil palm plantations for three years.

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