Misperception about Forest Cultivation between Palm Oil and Forest Plantations

foto by Rafi Brata Alfanu/Sawitfest 2021 - oil palm plantation ilustration
Misperception about Forest Cultivation between Palm Oil and Forest Plantations

InfoSAWIT, JAKARTA – Every student studying in forestry department does understand that forestry cultivation is silviculture. It is the study about forestry cultivation starting from seeding, planting, nursery up to the harvest/cut off. The basic principle in silviculture for many years until today has no change, which is, the time between planting and harvesting there are nursery (digging or ‘pendangiran’, embroidery, and fertilization), thinning, and pruning.

The main goal of forest plantation cultivation is to get highly qualified log, such as, straight, long big, good physical stems and have high economical value as it is planted (to carpenter, pulp, and others). If in forest cultivation, there are non–forest products, such as, sap, fruit, rattan, honey, and others. These are not the main goals but only taken as additional products.

That is why, to get qualified wood products from forest cultivation, it is a must to get thinning and pruning. In field practices, when starting to plant, the planting should be as dense as it could or normally 3 x 2 meters to get some time for others (plant saplings) to grow. As time goes by, plant saplings grow to be big and it needs thinning by cutting off less good or unhealthy plants. To get better logs, it needs to widen/give spaces for the better plants’ chance to grow well.

To get straight woods and grow up to the sky, it needs to prune branches that may disturb/slow down stalk up to the sky. The thinning and pruning are adjustable frequency or can be done in 2 – 3 times during plantation cycle. The question remains, what about palm oil that some, including academy wanted to get palm oil as forest plantation?


Unsubstantial Recommendation

An article published on InfoSAWIT official page (04/12/2021) revealed that knowing our forests nowadays, palm oil trees are worth it to get recommendation as plantations for forestation in open areas where there is no conservation value, in bushes, in abandoned forests, such as rubber plantation/rubber industrial plantation forests.

The reason is the first, agricultural areas in Indonesia just lay about 30 % (53,6 million hectares) of the land. In fact, the population in our country reached almost 270 million men. It means, agricultural areas, including palm oil plantations are relatively smaller than total available areas. Australia has 53% of agricultural areas of total land within 22 million men, while Brazil has about 31% of agricultural areas of total land within about 193 million men.

The second, according to Ministry of Environment and Forestry Indonesian Republic, of total forests in Indonesia that lay about 130,68 million hectares, primary forest canopy lays about 41,3 million hectares and secondary forest canopy lays about 45,5 million hectares. Meanwhile plantation forests lay about 2,8 million hectares and non – forest canopy lays about 41 million hectares. It means, if there are agricultural and plantation new plantings, there are non-forest areas available and they are vast. In addition, rubber, palm oil, coconut still have potential to be maximized, such as, to fulfill wood needs nationally.

Palm oil is one hard wood plantation that has wood. If there is special application, it could be advantaged as wood materials. By conducting replanting program well, wood potential from palm oil trees could fulfill wood needs nationally.

The third, data base about forest region coverage, Malaysia takes hard plantations as forest regions. This is the same with forest definition and some international non-government organizations, such as, Deforestation Watch, saying that “Thus it could be termed that planting oil palm is establishing a planted forest in a different form”.

The question remains, is it that simple to categorize palm oil as forest plantation, only from the three reason which actually will raise debate but not realize other basic problems, such as, forest cultivation (silviculture), regulation, data and environment perspectives (ecology/hydrology, carbon emission)? Let us discuss one by one from the other sides.

First thing first, from data perspective; it is better that every data should be complete and use the latest one in order not to be bias. According to the latest data published by Ministry of Environment and Forestry Indonesian Republic in its document: ‘The State of Indonesia’s Forest 2020’ published in 2020, Indonesia’s forests laid about 120,3 million hectares. They consisted of primary forests covering 43,3 million hectares; secondary forests covering 37,3 million hectares; plantation forests covering 4,3 million hectares and forests in non-forest canopy covering 33,4 million hectares.The problem or debate is forests in non – forest canopy about 33,4 million hectares (not 41 million hectares). According to the article, they are open, bushes, abandoned, and unused areas that could be taken for any advantages because every inch in forest areas has its own function.

Though forests about 33,4 million hectares are not having forest coverage, but they are categorized as conservation forests about 4,5 million hectares, protected forests about 5,6 million hectares, limited production forests about 5,4 million, regular production forests about 11,4 million hectares and production forests that could be conversed about 6,5 million hectares.

According to regulation about forestry, forestry cultivation gets permission in production forest areas only (limited production forest and regular production forests) about 16,8 million hectares. But most of the areas are cultivated or back up for other uses, such as, social forestry about 12,7 million hectares, lend – use agreement of forest to non – forestry activity (mining, infrastructure, and others), illegal planting by palm oil plantations, which according to data, hardly about two million hectares (in limited production forests about 454.849 hectares and in regular production forests about 1.484.075 hectares). 

Production forests that could be conversed about 6,5 million hectares are prepared or back up to non – forestry development interest through mechanisms, such as, forest release for plantation, transmigration, redistribution areas through tanah objek reforma agrarian (TORA), new paddy fields, and others.

It means, forest areas which have no coverage and have no plot to other use could lay about less than two million hectares. While illegal palm oil plantations lay about 3,1 – 3,4 million hectares, though the solution mechanism has been regulated in Government’s Regulation No. 24 / 2021. But in fact, it is complex and not easy to get

If stakeholders or corporates want to expand their areas or palm oil plantations, why don’t they advantage other use areas which have no vast forest coverages about 60,3 million hectares? (Writer: Pramono Dwi Susetyo / Worked at Ministry of Environment and Forestry; The Author of “Seputar Hutan dan Kehutanan: Masalah dan Solusi”)

(to be continued)