Indonesia: Leuser Still Exploited by Palm Oil Companies Despite Moratorium - NGO

Ratri M. Siniwi Jakarta Globe 9 Nov 16;

Jakarta. The Rainforest Action Network, a California-based environmental group, has released a report showing that palm oil companies operating in the Leuser Ecosystem in Aceh are still clearing forests despite a national moratorium.

The report titled "Protecting the Leuser Ecosystem," which was released on Sunday (06/11), states that Landsat satellite imagery showed palm oil concessionaires clearing 294 hectares of forest between July and September.

"While in July 2016, 38 hectares of forest were lost in Leuser concessions, this increased to 58 hectares in August 2016. September 2016 satellite analysis showed more than a threefold increase over the previous month, with a loss of 199 hectares of forest," the report says.

According to the report, 7,187 hectares of forest and peatland were destroyed in Aceh province between January and September.

After the moratorium was announced in April, a circular letter was distributed by the Aceh governor in June, proving that palm oil companies are still disregarding the order to halt forest clearance.

RAN identified the six biggest culprits as Tegas Nusantara, Surya Panen Subur II, Agra Bumi Niaga, Tualang Raya, Aloer Timur, Dua Perkasa Lestari and Putra Kumia.

Forest degradation has been evident in several regions that are essential not only for Sumatra's endemic wildlife, but also the livelihoods of people in the area.

"It's hard to adequately express the importance of the Leuser Ecosystem, both to the millions of Acehnese people who depend on it for their livelihoods and clean water, but also for the entire world, as it regulates our climate and provides a home to the last wild populations of Sumatran elephants, orangutans, tigers and rhinos still coexisting in the wild," RAN forest campaigner Chelsea Matthews said in a statement on Monday.

Regions include the south, which was dubbed as the Sumatran orangutan capital of the world by expert Ian Singleton, and the northeast, which is a key migratory corridor for Sumatran elephants for water supply and food.

"The lowland rainforests of northeast Leuser are also of considerable value to the communities living in the surrounding areas. These forests provide and regulate the flow of clean water, supplying homes, agriculture and fisheries along the coastline of northern Aceh – fish being the top source of protein for local people," RAN said.

Despite this, RAN believes the moratorium has had a positive effect on the region, but that urgent and stern action is needed to avoid repeating the 2015 haze crisis and to conserve the critically threatened Leuser Ecosystem.

"Halting the destruction of forests and peatlands – and stopping the forest fires, often intentionally set to aid the expansion of industrial palm oil development – will reduce Indonesia's carbon footprint, the severity of the annual haze crisis and secure the lives and livelihoods of countless communities," Matthews said.

As palm oil is in high demand in the food industry, RAN warned major global players such as PepsiCo, Kraft Heinz, Nissin Foods, Toyo Suisan and Tyson Foods and Snack Food 20 that they are at a high risk of sourcing palm oil that was grown at the expense of the Leuser Ecosystem.

RAN also noted that three palm oil giants, Wilmar, Musim Mas and Golden Agri Resources, play a vital role in combating this issue as their suppliers are in the region, especially by pushing for sustainable palm oil practices, including traceability.

"These companies control over 50 percent of the global market and have the ability to make huge impacts in their supply chains," the report said.

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