Greenpeace reveals Indonesia's forests at risk as multiple companies claim rights to same land​

Karl Mathiesen The Guardian 2 Apr 16;

Indonesia’s palm oil, mining and logging industries are enmeshed in a cat’s cradle of overlapping land claims and corruption that are hampering attempts to stop deforestation and fires, newly released maps reveal.

Compiled over almost a decade by Greenpeace using data from provincial governments, resource companies and others, the interactive maps highlight the vast scale of the concession overlap. Across more than 7m hectares – an area equivalent to the Republic of Ireland – licences for the same concessions have been allocated to as many as four palm, pulpwood, logging or coal mining companies at a time.

With no central land registry in Indonesia, campaigners say the result is a mess of competing claims. Companies may end up thinking they have the right to clear land that another company or government body has pledged to protect from deforestation.

The federal ministry of environment and forestry grants the rights to develop land for pulpwood and selective logging, whereas coal mining and palm oil concessions are granted by local and provincial officials.

“You can’t control forest industries if you don’t know who controls the land,” says Richard George, Greenpeace UK forests campaigner. “Almost anyone can pop up with a bit of paper that they’ve been given by somebody and say ‘Well, actually, it’s mine’.” Indonesia’s ministry of environment and forestry did not respond to the Guardian’s requests for interview.

The overlap is exacerbated by corruption within different layers of government. According to Laode Syarif, deputy chief of the Indonesian government’s Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), many officials exchange land rights to raise money for election campaigns or to curry influence with powerful business owners, and bribes for concessions are commonplace.

Syarif blames the corruption on “collusion between private sectors and government officials at local, provincial and even national level”. The fires that follow the clearing of land typically get worse around the time of an election, he says, when whole tranches of new land are opened up in corrupt deals.

The KPK has been asked by the Indonesian government to step in, says Syarif. Once it identifies concessions which have been handed out irregularly it demands officials revoke these licences. The commission has also prosecuted corrupt officials as high as the rank of provincial governor.

Since coming to power in 2014, president Joko Widodo has committed to reduce the deforestation and drainage of peat bogs. In order to combat corruption and illegal activity, his government has promised a national registry of land ownership, known as One Map.

But the initiative, which was supposed to be finalised last year, has been delayed until 2019. According to Syarif, recalcitrant ministries and local governments have been loath to hand over their records in case they expose criminal or negligent practices.

Aida Greenbury, managing director of sustainability at Asia Pulp & Paper (APP), one of the world’s biggest pulpwood suppliers, says overlapping licenses “have been creating big challenges for a deforestation-free supply chain”.

She refers to an ongoing land dispute in West Kalimantan on the island of Borneo. In 2013, an APP supplier, Daya Tani Kalbar, was one of two companies accused of destroying forest and peatland in its concession area – known to be orangutan habitat.

An investigation by APP and its partner The Forest Trust found the forest was being cleared and planted by Gerbang Benua Raya (GBR), a palm oil company unconnected to APP which also claimed to be licensed to operate in the area. It is not clear how or from whom GBR attained their license. The RSPO does not list them as a member.

Greenpeace’s mapping tool (see below) suggests native forest continues to be denuded three years after the issue was raised with APP.

According to Tom Johnson, head of research at environmental investigations unit Earthsight, a “far bigger problem” than the encroachment of concessions with one another is the overlap of company concessions with lands claimed by local communities. On 16 March, Indonesia’s Human Rights Commission published a 1,000 page compendium of recent land conflicts.

Johnson says many of these conflicts are triggered by various tiers of government laying claim to forests where indigenous people live, and handing them out to the private sector. In the Melawi district of West Kalimantan more than 95% of land is controlled by private companies.

Greenpeace hopes that, in lieu of a large scale release of up-to-date concession data from the government and the completion of the One Map, companies will now come forward to update its unprecedented – although not comprehensive – set of maps.

“Until we’ve sorted out land tenure in a way that allows for everyone – government, civil society, companies and the Indonesian people – to know who’s actually responsible for controlling land,” says George, “you are always going to have this buck passing.”

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