As the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic worsens across Indonesia, deforestation continues to climb in the lowland rainforests of the Leuser Ecosystem. Throughout May, deforestation was greatest within palm oil concessions in Aceh Timur operated by PT. Nia Yulided, PT. Putra Kurnia, PT. Tualang Raya and the Indonesian Government’s own palm oil plantation company PT. Perkebunan Nusantara (PTPN) I Blang Tualang. Over 50 hectares were cleared in the month of May alone. These cases follow the uptick of deforestation and illegal burning of forests by PT Indo Alam and PT Indo Sawit Perkasa since the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdowns. Both PT. Indo Alam and PT. Indo Sawit continued to clear rainforests in May.
Drone footage showing threatened rainforests in the Indonesian Government’s plantation company PT. Perkebunan Nusantara (PTPN) I palm oil concession in Aceh Timur. Credit: Paul Hilton/RAN.
Major brands including Unilever, Mondelēz, PepsiCo, Nestlé, Mars and Nissin Foods have been exposed for years for sourcing from producers clearing forests in the Leuser Ecosystem. To date they have all failed to engage these plantation companies and secure commitments from each of them to halt deforestation within the areas earmarked for conversion to palm oil plantations. A number of brands have publicly responded to ongoing cases of deforestation in their supply chains surrounding the Leuser Ecosystem stating that they have placed producers on No-Buy lists and are relying on their suppliers like Musim Mas, Golden Agri Resources and Permata Hijau, to enforce these positions throughout the supply chain. Others like Mondelēz and Nissin Foods have failed to respond publicly to any grievances raised.
The failure of brands to engage in dialogue with these rogue producers has delayed the transformation of the palm oil sector in Aceh towards truly No Deforestation practices and is placing vast areas of lowland rainforests at risk. Thousands of hectares of forests are facing imminent deforestation, such as the lowland rainforests that cover the lands controlled by the Indonesian Government’s plantation company PT. Perkebunan Nusantara (PTPN) I Blang Tualang. PTPN is one of the largest palm oil companies in Indonesia that have failed to adopt a “No Deforestation, No Peatland and No Exploitation” policy to align with the expectations of global consumers, and the published policies of major brands and palm oil traders, or halt expansion of new roads and clearance of High Conservation Value areas and High Carbon Stock forests in the Leuser Ecosystem.
Urgent intervention is desperately needed to ensure these palm oil companies halt forest clearance and engage in efforts to protect the last lowland rainforests of the Leuser Ecosystem, before it is too late.
Lowland rainforests threatened with deforestation inside the Leuser Ecosystem, Aceh Timur
Satellite imagery of forest clearance by PT. Putra Kurnia in May 2020
Satellite imagery of forest clearance by PT. Nia Yulided in May 2020