An Indonesian has won the world’s most prestigious award for environmental activism for his efforts to fight illegal logging, forest encroachment for palm oil production, and a policy that would open up vast swathes of an endangered ecosystem for mining and industrial plantations.
Rudi Putra, a biologist who works in Sumatra’s Aceh Province, was on Monday honored with the $175,000 Goldman Environmental Prize. Putra was selected as the “Islands and Island Nations” winner.
Putra was recognized for his campaign to dismantle illegal oil palm plantations within Sumatra’s Leuser Ecosystem, a habitat for critically endangered orangutans, tigers, rhinos, and elephants, as well as his activism around a plan to remove protected status for vast areas of forest across Aceh. That activism culminated in 2013 with a petition asking the Indonesian government to enforce conservation laws and reject Aceh’s proposal. The petition was signed more than 1.4 million times, catalyzing broader awareness of the issue and sparking intense international outcry.
The Goldman Environmental Foundation highlighted Putra’s effort to restore wildlife corridors in areas that were once illegal oil palm plantations.
- With support from local communities, Putra approached local police directly to enforce land protection laws and shut down illegal palm oil plantations. He spoke of the hundreds of thousands of families who lost their homes and loved ones during the 2006 Aceh floods and their struggles to access clean drinking water.
- He also approached palm oil plantation owners and reminded them that their actions were against the law. After Putra showed them the boundaries marking conservation areas, some owners voluntarily shut down the plantations and gave the land back to the government so that Putra and his colleagues could conduct restoration work.
- Putra’s sustained outreach and strategic negotiations, deploying carrots and sticks when necessary, resulted in the dismantling of more than 1,200 acres of illegal plantations in the Leuser Ecosystem. The rehabilitation of these forests after the clearance of the oil palm has recreated a critical wildlife corridor now used by elephants, tigers and orangutans for the first time in 12 years. The Sumatran rhino population in the Leuser Ecosystem has also inched up in the past decade.
Ian Singleton, an orangutan conservationist who has worked with Putra for years, agreed that the activist has had an outsized impact.
“He has always struck me as one of the most focused and dedicated Indonesian conservationists I have ever met,” Singleton told Mongabay.com. “He is certainly not one to make a song and dance of things, and instead keeps a low profile, plugging away at an issue until eventually his hard work pays off.”
“Rudi is a leading member of a large team of various players working hard to halt a devastating new spatial plan in the province of Aceh, Sumatra, which would destroy huge tracts of the Leuser Ecosystem and spell the death knell for its remaining elephants and rhinos, and possibly orangutans and tigers as well. This battle is far from won, but without people like Rudi taking part it would be a far harder battle to win.”
Due to criticism, Aceh’s spatial plan revision as originally proposed is now in limbo. The central government in Jakarta and the Aceh government have yet to come to an agreement that would allow the plan to proceed, buying environmentalists more time to make a case for protecting the province’s endangered forests. Putra is hopeful the Goldman Prize will now boost help that effort.
“The government has failed to do enough to stop forest conversion for oil palm — large areas of forest are not covered by the moratorium,” he told Mongabay.com. “It has also failed to stop encroachment, illegal logging, and mining inside conservation areas.”
“This fight is far from over but the Goldman Prize will help.”
By Elissa Sursara
Max laid hidden beneath the charred remains of a palm oil tree. He was frightened, injured, and falling in and out of consciousness.
I clicked my tongue and inched closer, hoping to soothe him. He eyed me curiously, hugging tightly to the branches. All around, the Tanjung Puting National Park burned, accidentally set alight by plantation workers who had cleared the surrounding land to harvest the palm oil plant. Separated from his family, Max had fallen casualty to the plantation fire, sustaining burns to his face and body.
In a swift move, I threw Max onto my back and raced toward the rescue team a few hundred meters away. As the smoke filled my lungs and hit my face, I felt Max’ grip become loose and his body become limp. Eventually his breathing stopped, and he died.
Like thousands of orangutans before him, Max was the victim of a different kind of oil spill: the trade in palm oil.
Palm oil monoculture is palming off orangutans in record numbers. Today, less than 70,000 orangutans exist in small wild pockets in the rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra. Populations are patchy and both species of orangutan are considered endangered, with conversion of land for palm oil plantation believed to be the species’ biggest threat.
Today, the controversial palm oil process is again at the forefront of environmental news, with Greenpeace staging international protests against a multinational consumer goods company for allegedly using palm oil tied to a supplier with links to tropical forest destruction.
Found in some 75 percent of everyday products, palm oil (sometimes known as vegetable oil) is the edible oil derived from the fleshy middle layer of the fruit of the oil palm. It acts as a cooking agent and is a popular household ingredient. As of 2010, it was the most widely used edible oil in the world, holding approximately 32 percent of the world’s oil market. Palm oil is found in McDonalds, Cadbury chocolates, Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, KFC and KFC packaging, Dove and Avon personal care products, Herbal Essence shampoo, Clinique cosmetics, Tim Tams, Kit-Kats and Malteasers, Ritz crackers, Colgate and Palmolive toothpaste, Mars Incorporated chocolates and in Mary Kay, Covergirl, Lancome, Sephora, and Urban Decay cosmetics.
Scientists predict the average consumer uses at least one palm oil product per day.
Approximately 66 percent of Indonesia’s palm oil plantations and 87 percent of Malaysia’s plantations involve some form of documented forest conversion, displacing orangutans and disorienting their ability to find food and seek shelter. Since plantations are often close to villages, lost orangutans sometimes encroach on human settlement. The results are often deadly.
In 2010, animal rights group International Animal Rescue recorded “unspeakable cruelty” toward orangutans in Peniraman, remote Borneo, after a female orangutan and her baby wandered nearby a plantation in search of food. Angry workers allegedly hurled stones and waved sticks at the mother before binding the pair with rope and forcing their heads under the water. The mother later died.
To resolve the palm oil problem, environmental organizations have proposed sustainable palm oil process like a “no deforestation” policy suggested by Greenpeace. The initiatives seek to effectively reduce the pressure on endangered orangutans and their habitats, inherently safeguarding their populations.
WWF has pointed out: “other big palm oil consumers such as Unilever, Ferrero, L’Oreal, Delhaize, Kellog and the world’s biggest palm oil trader, Wilmar International, have all committed to no deforestation.”
Consumer support is also important in the protection of orangutans from harmful palm oil operations, WWF said, which can be facilitated by “palming off” unsustainable palm oil product.
Deputy Chairman of the Aceh Parliament, Muhammad Tanwir Mahdi, explained that the rejection was not related to the content of the law, but because delay of the evaluation by the Ministry.
He stated that the law has been submitted to the Interior Minister on December 30, 2013. But the evaluation result was only received on February 20, 2014, although it was scheduled for January 15, 2014.
“It was over the evaluation period and now is in the clarification period,” said Tanwir to Serambi on Sunday (8/3).
Since the result arrived late, the team member consisting of Aceh Lawmakers and Government considered the Central Government for indiscipline. “The Central Government must be on time and discipline. If the evaluation period is 15 days, then once the law is received, they need to evaluate immediately”, he added.
Within the evaluation letter of the Law on Spatial Plan of Aceh, 8 general points in general and 27 detail points of evaluation was included. “We have received all those evaluation result from the Interior Minister, we will not change the content of the law and we just returned it back to the Minister for clarification,” said Tanwir.
If the reply on clarification elapses the 15 days period, the Aceh Provincial Law on Spatial Plan 2014-2034 passed at the end of 2013 will be included in the Provincial Gazette. “Once it is in the Provincial Gazettem the law is valid to be applied,” concluded Tanwir.
Rhett A. Butler, mongabay.com
January 09, 2014
In a precedent-setting case, an Indonesian court has found a palm oil company guilty of violating environmental laws and ordered it to pay $30 million in fines and reparations for clearing an area of protected peat forest that is a stronghold for endangered orangutans in Indonesia’s Aceh Province.
In a ruling handed down Wednesday, the Meulaboh district court concluded that PT Kallista Alam illegally cleared and burned forest within the the protected Tripa peat swamp in northwestern Sumatra. Senior Judge Rahmawati SH ordered the company to pay 114.3 billion rupiah ($9.4 million) in compensation and 251.7 billion rupiah ($20.6 million) to restore damaged areas.
The case was seen as a test of Indonesia’s appetite for enforcing a nationwide moratorium on new plantation and logging concessions across millions of hectares of rainforests and peatlands. Kallista Alam’s activities were particularly brazen, appearing to violate the moratorium, an earlier presidential decree on conversion of deep peat areas, and the sanctity of a high conservation value area known for its orangutan population. Kallista Alam also moved forward with forest clearing without securing proper permits or sign-off from some nearby communities.
Given the circumstances, the clearing sparked international outrage with more than 1.5 million people signing various online petitions calling for greater protection of Aceh’s forests, including opposing a proposal to remove large blocks of tiger and orangutan habitat from protection. Eventually, campaigns by environmental groups pushed the senior officials in the central government and the Ministry of the Environment to call for investigations, bolstering the legal proceedings.
With the ruling, environmental campaigners now hope that the Indonesian government will step up efforts to protect forests, especially in the Leuser Ecosystem, of which Tripa is a part.
“This is a clear message to companies working in Aceh who think they can destroy protected forests and get away with it,” said Muhammad Nur, Chairman of WALHI Aceh (Friends of the Earth Indonesia), which helped lead the campaign against Kallista Alam.
“The Judge’s decision in this case clearly illustrates a move towards improved law enforcement against environmental offenders in the region,” added Kamaruddin, a lawyer for communities in the Tripa area.
Although Kallista Alam is expected the appeal the decision, the company still faces additional civil and criminal cases. According to the Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme, four other palm oil companies operating in Tripa run the risk of prosecution.
“Each faces the possibility of serious financial consequences as a result of their illegal clearance, burning and drainage of Tripa’s unique peat swamp ecosystem,” said the group in a statement. “Some of the company Directors and senior management also face the prospect of prison terms in cases against them for their actions on the ground.”
While the developments in Aceh are headline-grabbing, there are still questions whether the judgements will be ultimately enforced. Courts have levied tens of billions of dollars in fines against logging, pulp and paper, mining, and palm oil companies in Sumatra in recent years, but only a tiny fraction of the penalties have ever been paid. Cases may be held up for years by appeals or quietly dropped. Prosecutors are shuffled between agencies, companies change names and laws shift.
Accordingly, Graham Usher of the PanEco Foundation says it is still too early to determine whether the Tripa case is a one-off or the emergence of a broader trend of better environmental law enforcement.
“The court’s decision is indeed a huge victory, and represents one significant step in the right direction,” Usher said in a statement. But I think many more such steps are needed before we will really see a change in the behavior of companies and officials.”
Indonesia has among the highest deforestation rates in the world, with the country losing almost half of its forest cover since 1950. Over the past twenty years, deforestation has been increasingly driven by industrial activities, including conversion for oil palm and timber plantations, intensive logging, and mining.
Deforestation has left several of Indonesia’s best-known animal species at risk of extinction, including tigers, rhinos, elephants, and orangutans, all of which live in Aceh. Forest loss has also increased social conflict in some areas, especially places with forest-dependent populations.
An Indonesian court has ordered a palm oil company to pay almost US$30 million to the state for illegally clearing peatland in a “historic” ruling, government lawyers said yesterday.
The Meulaboh district court on Sumatra island ruled on Wednesday that Indonesian company Kallista Alam had illegally burned vegetation on 1,000 hectares of peatland in Aceh province to clear it for a palm oil plantation.
In the civil case brought by the Ministry of Environment, the court ordered the company to pay 114.3 billion rupiah (HK$73 million) in losses to the state and 252 billion rupiah to rehabilitate the land it destroyed.
The forest was protected under several laws, including a presidential decree suspending new permits to log peatland and some other types of forests across the country.
Using fire to clear land is also illegal. The practice has sent choking haze across parts of Southeast Asia in recent years.
“This is a historic moment for law enforcement on environmental issues in Indonesia. We hope it will deter plantation companies from damaging the environment,” the environment ministry’s lawyer, Syafruddin, said.
The case was seen as a test of the moratorium on logging permits and of reform in the country’s corrupt and mismanaged forestry sector, which has allowed destruction of habitats to plant palm oil and timber.
Environmental groups welcomed the decision, saying it was a sign of improved law enforcement and would set a precedent.
“This is a clear message to companies working in Aceh who think they can destroy protected forests and get away with it,” Friends of the Earth Indonesia chairman Muhammad Nur said.
Indonesia, home to one of the world’s largest expanses of tropical rainforest, is also the world’s biggest palm oil producer.
The company’s lawyer, Alfian Sarumaha, said Kallista Alam would likely appeal the ruling.
Banda Aceh. A female Sumatran elephant, estimated to be seven years old, died last week in the district of Aceh Jaya, the sixth elephant death this year in Aceh.
The carcass was found on a river bank in Masen village in the subdistrict of Sampoiniet, Aceh Jaya, on Monday. The animal was estimated to have died a week ago and investigators could not confirm the cause of death on Dec. 3.
“Local residents said the elephant died because it was caught in a trap — there’s a rope on its leg,” Amon Zamora, the head of Aceh’s Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA), told the Jakarta Globe on Tuesday. “The BKSDA team sent to the location is still conducting an investigation.”
Amon said the team was performing an autopsy to investigate the cause of the death, including whether or not the animal had been poisoned — am increasingly common cause of elephant deaths in Aceh.
The recent finding brings the number of elephants found dead in Aceh in 2013 to six.
In May, a 10-year-old male elephant died due to electrocution in Bangkeh village in the Pidie district.
In June, a two-year-old elephant calf died in Blang Plante village in North Aceh, two months after villagers took the animal in after it was left behind by its herd in a nearby plantation.
On July 13, a 30-year-old male elephant was found dead in Ranto Sabon village in Aceh Jaya after being caught in a metal trap.
On July 27, two elephant carcasses were found decaying in an oil palm plantation run by state-owned plantation firm PTPN I in Blang Tualang village in East Aceh district.
Amon said elephant-human conflicts had become widespread across 19 out of 23 districts and municipalities in Aceh, with Aceh Jaya, East Aceh, Pidie, South Aceh, Singkil and North Aceh reporting the most problems.
“The conflicts keep happening because the routes used by elephants have been converted into plantations,” he said. “We’ve called on people several times against disturbing the elephants’ pathway, but it keeps happening.”
Amon said only around 200 Sumatrans elephants remained in the wild in Aceh forests.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified Sumatran elephants as critically endangered. The population in the wild — spread over Sumatra and Borneo — is estimated at between 2,400 and 2,800 individuals.
The Worldwide Fund for Nature says around 70 percent of the Sumatran elephant’s habitat has been destroyed by deforestation in the last 25 years.
The two-day event (20 to 21 Nov) was attended by representatives of Mukim Association, NGOs, UKP4, donor institutions and academicians. The workshop event was intended to criticize and to advocate the Draft Provincial Law (Qanun) on Aceh’s Spatial Plan, which will be approved by the Parliament of Aceh by the end of this year. The workshop has resulted following recommendations:
1. That spatial plan of Aceh does not yet balance the ecological, economical and social interests, therefore the needs for inclusion of articles in the draft law in terms of adjusting economic activities within ecological areas for not to disturb the areas protection functions; to evaluate companies abandoning their existing concessions; to add point e at the end of Paragraph 2 of the Article 47 with “Leuser Ecosystem as National Strategic Area” (in conjunction
with other Articles related to Leuser Ecosystem); to include Ulu Masen into Aceh Provincial Strategic Area (preparation for carbon stock); to include spatial plan of the area of mukim; to include wildlife corridor; to establish a special team to evaluate the development of economic zones that consider the environmental aspects;
2. Considering Water Catchment Areas, some steps are to be taken: to give directions in the management of water catchment areas based on the principles of local knowledge; reforestation;
3. Recommendations in the aspects of natural disaster, consisting of: data crosscheck with institutions holding disaster data such as soil sensitivity maps, wild life conflict and wildlife corridors; comprehensive review of the aspects of natural disaster of Aceh’s spatial plan;
4. Concerning disharmony at national, provincial and district levels, following ssteps are recommended: academic studies on the harmonisation of the existing regulations at both central and provincial levels focusing in those related to Aceh’s spatial plan, including considerate studies and profound studies.
Recommendations resulted from this workshop will be submitted to the provincial government and the Parliament of Aceh that are now “cooking” the spatial plan.
Meanwhile, Frans Siahaan from Asia Foundation addressed in his closing speech that until now this institution has no special program for Aceh. “We have yet no program for Aceh. But all that achieved together today can hopefully accepted as our starting commitment”.
As for the speaker of KPHA, Efendi Isma, hoped that the recommendations resulted by the workshop participants can be useful for Aceh. “I will keep everyone updated. Thank you for the participation in these two days, hopefully this can become useful for Aceh,” concluded Efendi Isma. (Arunda) RTRWA