Exposed: Elephant Habitat in Leuser Ecosystem Under Fresh Attack

PT Indo Alam Slashing and Burning Lowland Rainforests

N 4°32’42.8″ E 97°39’25.7 and N 4°32’49.0″ E 97°39’15.3

As the world reels from the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic, the global chaos is providing cover for another crisis unfolding now in the lowland rainforests located in Aceh Timur, in the north-east Leuser Ecosystem. Rainforest Action Network’s field investigators have uncovered active, illegal burning of forests inside critically important habitat for one of the last herds of Sumatran elephants in existence. The use of fire to clear forests is against Indonesian law, and is a blatant violation of the No Deforestation policies of major snack food companies, including Unilever, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Mondelēz, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Mars and Hershey’s.

Video footage of smoldering forests that have been burnt
to make way for palm oil plantations

The clearance and burning of this critical wildlife habitat by palm oil company PT. Indo Alam is happening in a region known to provide palm oil to major brands on the global market. PT. Indo Alam has been repeatedly exposed for deforestation, with the last exposés published in July 2019 and May 2019, when RAN called on the major brands named above to place PT. Indo Alam on a No Buy list on the basis of its violation of their No Deforestation policies and to establish a proactive, transparent forests monitoring system for the Leuser Ecosystem. Over 530 hectares of lowland rainforests remain threatened within its concession area. PT. Indo Alam has cleared over 130 hectares of forests since the Indonesian government enacted a moratorium on forest clearing for palm oil, and the Minister for Environment and Forestry and the former Governor of Aceh agreed to enforce the moratorium in the Leuser Ecosystem.

PT. Indo Alam is controlled by Mr. Lukman CM, an Acehnese Businessman who appears to be scaling up efforts to clear globally important forests inside his concessions, instead of complying with the moratoria set by the Indonesian government and major brands that are positioned to be the likely buyers of the palm oil it produces when the oil palm trees it has planted are matured.

Excavators line up ready to destroy more lowland rainforests.

As shown in the video and images above, PT. Indo Alam is still in the early stages of developing this new oil palm plantation. It is clearing and burning rainforests in the hope that in a few years time it will be able to sell the oil palm fruit it has produced to the market, including global buyers Unilever, Nestlé, PepsiCo, Mondelēz, General Mills, Kellogg’s, Mars and Hershey’s. These brands have all publicly committed to stop all sourcing connected to the destruction of the ecologically priceless forests in the Leuser Ecosystem, and have in most cases committed to eliminate deforestation from their palm oil supply chains by 2020. This latest case shows that once again, these brands are still not taking the actions necessary to prevent deforestation in the Leuser Ecosystem.

Satellite imagery of forest clearing for palm oil by PT. Indo Alam. February 2020.

As a matter of urgency, these brands need to establish a proactive forest monitoring system that detects and responds to deforestation inside the Leuser Ecosystem. They then need to communicate their No Buy position to PT. Indo Alam, so the company’s officials understand the choice it has to make. The brands must inform PT. Indo Alam of their commitments and its options: The company can continue to burn and clear rainforests and be permanently excluded from the global market, or maintain the option of being a supplier to their company by switching off the excavators destroying rainforests. PT. Indo Alam must conduct the assessments needed to identify forest areas to set aside for protection within its concession, and it must work towards full compliance with No Deforestation, No Peatland and No Exploitation practices.

Smoldering forests that have been burnt to make way for palm oil plantations. March 2020.
Smoldering forests that have been burnt to make way for palm oil plantations. March 2020.
Forest clearing and fires inside PT. Indo Alam’s palm oil concessions. March 2020.