Company outed for fires in Indonesian palm lease still clearing forests in timber concession, NGO finds

  • Agribusiness conglomerate Korindo has since 2017 implemented a moratorium on forest clearing in its oil palm concessions, after it was found to be burning forests in Indonesia’s Papua province.
  • A new report indicates that since then, the company may have degraded more than 30 square kilometers of pristine forest to build logging roads in one of its timber concessions — an area excluded from the self-imposed moratorium.
  • The NGO Mighty Earth has called on the company to extend both the forest clearing moratorium and a high carbon stock approach, which it employs on its oil palm concessions, to its timber operations.

JAKARTA — An environmental watchdog has accused a palm oil company in Indonesia of failing to extend a sustainable forestry pledge to a timber concession that it also operates.

In a recent report, the NGO Mighty Earth alleged that Korindo, a South Korean-Indonesian joint venture, had degraded an area of more than 30 square kilometers (12 square miles) of rainforest in the easternmost province of Papua. The area is part of a logging concession spanning 1,000 square kilometers (386 square miles) operated by a subsidiary of Korindo, PT Inocin Abadi.

“Korindo is continuing to destroy pristine rainforest in Papua on its logging concession, PT Inocin Abadi, with clear expansion into intact forest landscape underway, even as it is proclaiming it is committed to forest conservation and sustainability,” Mighty Earth campaign director Deborah Lapidus told Mongabay.

The NGO says Korindo degraded the area to make way for logging roads, based on satellite imagery from November 2017 to January 2018, and that it continues to extend the road network into new areas of rainforest. In total, Korindo has built logging roads through more than 150 square kilometers (58 square miles) of rainforest since it started developing the concession in 2014, Mighty Earth says.

“This makes it clear that Korindo is continuing to open up new logging areas on its 100,000 hectare concession,” Lapidus said.

Maps show the logging concession in question sits adjacent to an oil palm concession also operated by a Korindo subsidiary, PT Papua Agro Lestari, where it stopped clearing forest in 2017. It announced a moratorium on forest clearing in all its oil palm concessions in the wake of a 2016 Mighty Earth investigation, titled “Burning Paradise,” that alleged Korindo had caused 300 square kilometers (116 square miles) of deforestation and an estimated 894 fire hotspots since 2013.

Location and concession boundary of PT Inocin Abadi, as well as other Korindo Group logging concessions (in red) and oil palm concessions (in orange). Image courtesy of Mighty Earth.

Logging roads

Korindo refuted the latest allegations in a response on its website, saying the location shown in Mighty Earth’s report was an area that had been logged by the previous owner of the concession, from whom Korindo acquired the lease in 2011. Korindo did not disclose the identity of the earlier concession holder.

It also denied having built a major network of logging roads, saying again that most of the forest roads shown in the report were built by the previous concession holder. The company said it had maintained these roads and expanded only when necessary.

“Even for this purpose, the company has always reported and obtained permission from the government in advance, before any forest road development,” Korindo said.

Lapidus challenged that statement, saying the satellite imagery obtained by Mighty Earth clearly showed that new roads were being built in 2017, well into Korindo’s tenure as the concession holder.

She said that Korindo had punched a large logging road straight through an area of intact forest landscape inside the concession, which now connects that concession with the adjacent oil palm concession.

An animated map of PT Inocin Abadi’s logging concession in Papua, Indonesia, from February 2017 to January 2018. Image courtesy of Mighty Earth.

“You can see the appearance of new roads throughout the year,” Lapidus said, referring to the above animated image.

Korindo also said it had complied with all regulations for logging concession by carrying out “selective cutting,” felling only trees with a diameter of 40 centimeters (16 inches) or more and of certain species in limited areas.

“Moreover, the company has always carried out reforestation programs after the selective cutting process is finished,” Korindo said. It said this had allowed it to maintain most of the forests in its logging concession “as dense forest.”

Mighty Earth disputed this, however, saying in its report that Korindo “has refused to restore forests and ecosystems it has destroyed or resolve its grievances with local communities.”

A map from Global Land Analysis and Discovery (GLAD) alerts also indicated tree cover loss inside Korindo’s logging concession from November through December last year. GLAD is a satellite-based alert system that can detect fine-scale deforestation in near-real time.

“The attached chart of GLAD alerts from November and December 2017 also reflect a burst of logging activity,” Lapidus said.

Signpost for PT Inocin Abadi. Photo courtesy of Mighty Earth.

‘Missing the forest for the trees’

Mighty Earth’s 2016 report on fires in Korindo’s oil palm concessions prompted investigations by the Indonesian government and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), one of the world’s most influential sustainable forestry certification bodies. It also pushed Samsung, which had initially explored partnerships with Korindo, to cut business ties with the company.

And while it led to Korindo announcing a moratorium on forest clearing, Lapidus said the problem was that this policy applied only to its oil palm concessions, and not its logging areas.

“So they are clearly missing the forest for the trees (mind the pun) when it comes to the ultimate intent being to stop destroying pristine rainforest, whether for palm oil or for logging,” Lapidus said.

She said Korindo had also excluded its logging concessions from a similar pledge to implement the high carbon stock approach (HSCA) methodology for its oil palm operations.

HCSA is regarded as the industry standard for distinguishing forest areas from degraded land. To be in compliance, participating companies must use credible assessors, make their assessments available to the public, and seek independent verification of compliance.

“Korindo’s HCSA commitment only applies to palm oil, whereas we are asking that Korindo adopt a group-level commitment that covers both its palm oil and wood products operations,” Lapidus said. “In addition, Korindo should seek Forest Stewardship Council certification for PT Inocin Abadi and the rest of its non-certified logging concessions.”

In its response, Korindo sidestepped that issue, confirming only that its HCSA pledge applied to its oil palm concessions. “[W]e would like to underline that we have conducted HCSA studies for all of our palm oil plantations, and at the moment we have entered into the Peer Review process,” Korindo said.

As for certification, it said it had been verified for the European Union’s Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) scheme and the corresponding Indonesian standard, the Sustainable Production Forest Management (PHPL) scheme.

For Mighty Earth, those arguments fall short.

“No matter how much green it puts on its website,” the NGO said in its report, “Korindo remains a high-risk supplier of both palm oil and wood products.”


Banner image: Heavy machinery and logs block access to Korindo’s PT Inocin Abadi logging concession in Papua, Indonesia. Photo courtesy of Mighty Earth.

This story first appeared on Mongabay

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