The Indonesian government expects about 200,000 hectares of oil palm plantations currently located in areas that should be protected forests and conservation areas to be returned to forest.
As one of the world's largest producers and exporters of palm oil, Indonesia issued regulations in 2020 to control the legality of plantations operating in areas that should be forested, with the aim of improving governance in the sector.
Government officials said the move was made because some companies had been using the land for years. Environmental groups have long criticized the government for allowing illegal deforestation in the past to expand oil palm plantations.
Under current regulations, oil palm plantation companies have until November 2, 2023, to submit paperwork and pay fines in order to obtain cultivation rights on their plantation land.
Although some 3.3 million hectares of Indonesia's nearly 17 million hectares of oil palm plantations have been found to be in forest areas, only a handful of plantation owners have so far been identified, covering a total of 1.67 million hectares. This was revealed by the Secretary General of the Ministry of Forestry, Bambang Hendroyono.
He also said that the government still had to separate which plantation land was within designated production forests, for which the owners would be fined but still allowed to grow oil palm, and which was in protected or conservation areas and had to be returned to the state.
Conservation forests are forest areas that have special characteristics and whose primary role is to maintain the biodiversity of plants and animals and their associated ecosystems. Protected forests, on the other hand, are areas whose primary function is to protect life-sustaining systems.
According to the estimates presented, about 200,000 hectares of land will be restored to its original state, and it is likely that this number will continue to grow.
He also added that the government plans to restore lands located in protected forest and conservation forest areas after the owners pay the applicable fines. This measure is also part of the government's efforts to combat climate change.
Mahfud MD, Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs, issued a stern warning to palm oil companies using land illegally, saying legal action would be taken after Thursday's (2/11) deadline.
Indonesia has embarked on a series of programs aimed at improving the governance of its massive palm oil industry while facing intense scrutiny from environmentalists over the deforestation caused by these plantations.
In 2022, the government launched an industry-wide audit, followed by a working group aimed at ensuring companies pay the appropriate taxes this year.