JAKARTA, SAWIT INDONESIA – Palm oil is the world’s most versatile and efficient vegetable oil, but also the most disputable commodity due to unproven accusations on sustainability issues. Widely used for cosmetics, food, and even bioenergy, the palm oil is mostly produced in Indonesia as the world’s biggest producer, which is followed by Malaysia as the second largest producer. Both Indonesia and Malaysia account for 85% of total palm oil supply in the global market.

Palm oil has been accused as the major cause of deforestation. But based on a number of reliable national and international data such accusation is actually very weak. Data from International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) shows palm oil development is responsible only for 0,2% of global deforestation. Geographically speaking, Indonesia had only represented 16 percent of the total forest loss in Southeast Asian region during the period of 1972 to 2015.

Actually, deforestation in Indonesia had occurred long before palm oil development. Historically, it was mostly caused by a combination of unsustainable practices of both legal and illegal loggings and the forest fires, which had turned many parts of forested areas into scrublands and degraded lands in Indonesia.

Such is the case in Borneo island as one of the world’s major palm oil producing regions. Indonesian Borneo had suffered a large scale forest loss and degradation due to timber extraction and burning. By capitalizing on the already degraded lands, some other industrial plantations, including the oil palm plantations, can grow their commodities without causing new deforestation. The plantations have even uplifted the environmental, economic, and social functions of the degraded lands.

A study from Gunarso on “Palm Oil and Land Use Change in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea” validated the condition. Of the total oil palm acreages in Indonesian Borneo, approximately 48% were originated from the conversion of the scrublands and degraded lands.

According to Jean-Marc Roda from CIRAD Agricultural Research for Development who addressed the annual Indonesian Palm Oil Conference last October, the peak of deforestation in Indonesia was in 1997 during El Nino phenomena, while the highest oil palm development activities happened between year 2000 to 2008 when the large-scale deforestation already occurred.

Source: Marc, Roda (2019)

Since 2011, the Indonesian government has been implementing a forest moratorium policy which bans all new licenses for the expansion of oil palm plantation. It is then extended and tightly enforced by the government under President Joko Widodo (Jokowi). The government regulation has obliged companies to comply with the principles of sustainability, which include zero-deforestation commitment, to ensure the sustainability of their business development. (This opinion article is written by:Ra-Tri)


  1. Meijaard, Erik & Garcia-Ulloa, John & Sheil, Douglas & Wich, Serge & Carlson, Kimberly & Juffe-Bignoli, Diego & Brooks, Tom. (2018). Oil palm and biodiversity: a situation analysis by the IUCN Oil Palm Task Force. https://portals.iucn.org/library/node/47753
  2. Gunarso, P. & Hartoyo, M.E. & Agus, Fahmuddin & Killeen, T.J.. (2013). Oil palm and land use change in Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/288658092_Oil_palm_and_land_use_change_in_Indonesia_Malaysia_and_Papua_New_Guinea
  3. Roda, Marc. (2019). Presentation: A global game of economic competitiveness and industrial strategy.

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