Precedent-Setting Agreement Conserves Rainforest in Palm Oil Concession for Orangutan and Elephant Conservation

Driven by desire to be accepted back into the global marketplace, Indonesian oil palm plantation company commits to manage part of its leased lands for conservation

In a rare good news story related to the deforestation crisis in Indonesia, a palm oil company in the world-renowned Leuser Ecosystem has made positive commitments to set aside intact forests within the land bank allocated to them for conversion to palm oil plantations for conservation instead. The forest habitat is critical for Sumatran orangutan and a migration route for a herd of 220 Sumatran elephants, both critically endangered species. The company had previously been removed from global supply chains following controversy related to its role in deforestation of valuable wildlife habitat.

PT Mopoli Raya, has been a focus for years of campaign pressure by Rainforest Action Network and other conservation NGOs working to break the link between palm oil production and deforestation in the Indonesian provinces of Aceh and North Sumatra. This decision to protect the forests within their land bank comes after public outcry led the company to be put on ‘No Buy’ lists by a number of global snack food brands, as well as palm oil trading giants Musim Mas and Wilmar, following the exposure of ongoing deforestation on and in the global press.

Mopoli Raya committed to protect nearly 1400 hectares of forests, roughly five square miles, and published a suite of stringent palm oil policies shortly after, to showcase to its previous clients Musim Mas, Wilmar and major brands like Unilever and Nestlé its commitment to responsible palm oil production across its six plantations and the supply shed of its two mills. Under Indonesian law, palm oil companies are responsible for the management of land banks granted to them, so as a result of the commitments made by the company areas slated for forest conversion will now be managed for a different purpose––the conservation of forests and all the services they provide to communities.

Gemma Tillack, Forest Policy Director for Rainforest Action Network issued the following statement.

“This commitment by Mopoli Raya provides a much needed ray of hope amidst Indonesia’s ongoing deforestation crisis and demonstrates the central role that global brands have to play to drive change at the forest floor in Indonesia’s forestry sector,”

“We hope other companies––PT Nia Yulided, PT Indo Alam and PT Tualang Raya–– switch off the bulldozers driving orangutans and elephants towards extinction and global brands provide investments needed to secure and scale up improvements in practices of palm oil companies and smallholder farmers alike in Aceh and North Sumatra.”

“Over the past decade, international campaigns have shifted from boycotts to demanding more from brands to support improvements in the ways their suppliers conduct business. This commitment made by Mopoli Raya shows that when brands and agribusiness giants take action, not only to identify and respond to policy breaches, but to invest in the solutions needed to avoid a repeat of the crisis, real change can be achieved where it matters on forest frontlines.”

The lush, 2.6 million hectare Leuser Ecosystem is internationally recognized as one of the most important intact forest regions left in SE Asia and it is the only place on earth where critically endangered rhinos, elephants, tigers and orangutans still live in the same forest. The global importance of the Leuser Ecosystem has turned the area into a sort of litmus test for the implementation of No-Deforestation commitments made by hundreds of major global brands and traders over the past few years. Forest advocates hope that the Leuser’s growing public profile and the increased monitoring and scrutiny made possible by satellite and drone technology may allow the Leuser to also be a proving ground for innovative win-win solutions, such as this one, that can demonstrate that economic growth and forest and wildlife conservation are compatible, even complimentary, priorities.