Illegal palm oil encroaches on Aceh’s largest peatswamp


Excavator found clearing peatswamps in Singkil, by Junaidi Hanafiah and courtesy of Mongabay

The province of Aceh, Indonesia, lost more than 4,000 hectares of forest in the first half of 2016, largely due to “legally questionable, if not downright illegal” palm oil expansion, according to a report on Mongabay.

Aceh has some of the most important forests left in Indonesia, and certainly on the island of Sumatra, that are begin steadily eroded through conversion and a war of attrition on the legal protection afforded to them.

This week Mongabay reported on a case in which villagers found excavators “tearing a gash through the Singkil Swamp Wildlife Reserve”, on October 29. The reserve is a vital habitat for the critically endangered Sumatran orangutan, among many other endemic species.

Three workers were taken in for questioning by police, but as of last week no suspects have been named in the case, with activists and government officials arguing that the backers of the illegal deforestation are escaping justice.

“What’s clear is that they weren’t opening the land to meet their daily needs,” Genman Hasibuan, the head of the local branch of the Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA), told Mongabay. “The presence of heavy machinery shows that the perpetrator wanted to enrich himself.”

Singkil is Aceh’s largest and deepest peatland. Around 4,300 hectares of its 81,338 hectare expanse have been damaged in pursuit of palm oil development, according to the NGO Leuser Conservation Foundation. Farwiza Farhan, of the NGO HAkA, says 1,000 hectares of palm oil have already been illegally established.

Rusli Anwar, a resident of Trumon subdistrict in South Aceh, told Mongabay that the encroachment in Singkil was the work of not only local people looking to make ends meet but cashed-up entrepreneurs too. “The biggest encroachment is done by local businessmen,” he said. “Using heavy equipment, they have opened dozens of hectares of land to establish oil palm plantations.”

Sabri, deputy chief of the South Aceh Police, assured community members during a meeting last week that he would see the latest case through to completion. Ipda Adrianus, head of the unit in charge of the case, told Mongabay-Indonesia that some witnesses had been called but the police were still investigating.

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