The Indonesian government announced it will convert 200,000 hectares (494,210 acres) of oil palm plantations into forests. The government said the conversion will happen on lands that are designated as forest.
Indonesia is the top producer and exporter of palm oil globally with roughly 17 million hectares in oil palm plantations and 3.3 million hectares of them grown on forest lands. According to Bambang Hendroyono, forestry ministry secretary general, that number only includes landowners with a total of 1.67 million hectares.
The government said the move is in conjunction with rules issued in 2020 to “sort out the legality of plantations operating in areas that are supposed to be forests, aimed at fixing governance in the sector,” Reuters reported. Conservation groups have pressured the Indonesian government to act on the forest encroachment it accuses oil palm companies of doing.
While the government is still figuring out which plantations are in designated production forests and which are in designated forest areas, companies will be required to “submit paperwork and pay fines to obtain cultivating rights on their plantation” by today and the others are expected to return the land back to the state.
“The ones in protected forests and conservation forests, the government wants to restore after they pay the fine,” Hendroyono said.
In an effort to combat the crop’s impact on deforestation, Mahfud MD, Indonesia’s chief security minister, said he would pursue legal action against palm oil companies that use land illegally after today’s deadline.