Palm oil production is important to the economy of Indonesia as the country is the world's biggest producer and consumer of the commodity, providing about half of the world's supply. In 2016, Indonesia produced over 34.5 million tons of palm oil, and exported nearly 73% of it. Oil palm plantations stretch across 12 million hectares, and is projected to reach 13 million by 2020. There are several different types of plantations, including small, privately owned plantations, and larger, state- owned plantations. There are a variety of health, environmental, and societal impacts that result from the production of palm oil in Indonesia.
In addition to servicing traditional markets, Indonesia is looking to put more effort into producing biodiesel. China and India are the major importers of palm oil, accounting for more than a third of global palm oil imports.
Production of palm oil in Indonesia has, since 1964, recorded a phenomenal increase from 157,000 tonnes to 41.5 million tonnes in 2018  and a total of 51 million tons will be needed in 2025 to sustain international and domestic demands. Palm oil accounts for 11% of Indonesia's export earnings of $5.7bn. Maintaining its status as the world's largest producer of palm oil, Indonesia has projected a figure of 40 million tonnes by 2020. In this context, the global production figure given by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) was 50 million tonnes for 2012, equivalent to double of the 2002 production. This increase is also reflected in increases of Indonesia's production of palm oil for the same period, from 10.300 million tonnes in 2002 and 28.50 million tonnes in 2012.
|Palm Oil Area (million of hectares)||Palm Oil Production (million of tons)|
|Year||Small-Holders||State Owned||Private Estates||Total||Small-Holders||State Owned||Private estates||Total|
The entire oil production is derived from Indonesia's rainforest which ranks third in the world, the other two being in the Amazon and Congo basins. The three main business models for palm oil production in Indonesia are private large scale plantations, nucleus estate smallholders, and independent smallholders. The breakdown of palm oil area and production by type of palm oil plantation is shown in Table 1. Palm trees that were planted about 25 years ago have an annual average production rate of 4 tonnes of oil per hectare.
Indonesia is considering plans to increase production this by introducing newer varieties which could double production rate per hectare.
Borneo and Sumatra are the two islands that account for 96% of Indonesia's palm oil production. As of 2011, there were 7.8 million hectares of palm oil plantations, with 6.1 million hectares of these being productive plantations under harvest, thus making Indonesia the global leader in crude palm oil (CPO) production. According to World Bank reports, nearly 50% of CPO produced in the country is exported in an unprocessed form, while the remaining is processed into cooking oil, about half of which is exported, while the rest is consumed locally.
The crude palm oil production system is vital to the economy of Indonesia and has many domestic and foreign uses. It provides a major export source through food and for industrial use. It is also used for domestic food, biodiesel, and biofuel. It is estimated that the population of Indonesia will grow to 285 million people in 2025 which will lead to an increased domestic demand for vegetable oil. In addition, other domestic industrial uses of palm oil are to support the pharmaceutical, cosmetic, and chemical industries.
Palm oil is an essential ingredient for the food industry, used as a cooking oil or in the production of processed foods (such as many types of chocolates, biscuits, chewing gum...) and for the manufacture of cosmetic and hygiene products (soaps, lipstick, washing powder...). It is also valuable as a lubricant in industrial production or for the energy sector for the production of biodiesel.
Over the past few years an interest in biofuel has increased as a potential clean energy source, it has become a primary use for domestic crude palm oil. As seen in table 3, domestic use of biodiesel is expected to see the most growth of 7.3% by 2025. The Indonesia government has been interested in growing biofuel plantations in order to decrease the countries reliance on fossil fuels. It is predicted that in 2025, biofuel will account for 25% of Indonesians national energy mix.
Biodiesel is created using a transesterification process that converts the triglycerides in the crude palm oil into esters to be used in biofuel production. This process has been shown to have a biodiesel yield of 93.6%.
Further information: Deforestation in Indonesia
Since agricultural land is limited, in order to plant monocultures of oil palms, land used for other cultivations or the tropical forest need to be cleared. Of the total logging in Indonesia, up to 80% is reported to be performed illegally. A major environmental threat is then the destruction of rainforests in Indonesia, which was estimated at 0.84 Mha of primary forest per year from 2000 to 2012. From 1990 to 2005, 108,110 square miles of Indonesian forest were taken down from logging, 77% of this forest had never even been touched.
Deforestation also makes Indonesia one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases. Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is released in the atmosphere massively with the cutting of tropical peatlands, which are carbon sinks, according to Greenpeace. Deforestation is also caused by illegal forest fires to clear land for palm oil plantations. According to WWF for example, in 1997 around 0.81 to 2.57 gigatons of carbon were released by the fires which represented "13-40% of the mean annual global carbon emissions from fossil fuels that year". As of 2013, Indonesia ranked number eight among countries worldwide for overall greenhouse gas emissions. According to the World Resources Institute, 65.5% of these greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to land use change and forestry; the palm oil industry in Indonesia is a major contributing factor towards this trend.
The drainage, burning, and plantation building on former peat lands releases large quantities of carbon dioxide, so negating their value as so-called 'carbon sinks' (stores of carbon). The carbon sinks “store more carbon per unit area than any other ecosystem in the world”. One study found that destroying the carbon sink peat bogs in Southeast Asia could release as much carbon as nine years of fossil fuel that is used globally.
Smoke and carbon dioxide are released into the atmosphere when forests are burned to create palm oil plantations. The fires are not easy to put out in remote areas and it affects both animal life and human populations.
2.5 metric tons of effluent or liquid waste is made for every metric ton of palm oil that is produced. This effluent affects freshwater furthermore affecting downstream wildlife and humans. Pesticides and fertilizers can further cause issues for downstream water pollution.
A majority of Indonesia's palm oil plantations are on steep slopes, causing “increased flooding and silt deposits in rivers and ports”. Repair of infrastructures such as roads and housing are effects of land erosion to local communities.
Many animals native to Southeast Asia and Indonesia are impacted by the effects of the palm oil industry and deforestation often facing threats of extinction. Deforestation entails a reduction in biodiversity and an alteration of ecosystems which causes the destruction of the habitats of endangered species such as Borneo pygmy elephants, Sumatran elephants, Sumatran tigers, Sumatran rhinoceroses, Malayan sun bear and the various species of orangutan that can be found only on the forests of Borneo and Sumatra. Some of these animals such as the orangutan are arboreal and try to stay in the trees, often being burned alive during slash and burn of forests. Other animals like the orangutans are introduced to new threats as palm oil fields increase in size.
A government moratorium on the clearing of new forest was effective from 2011 to 2015.
The Indonesian Palm Oil Board has planned to adopt new planting materials on the older plantations which could double yields compared to the present annual rate of 4 tonnes of oil per hectare. In addition, the government will encourage development of degraded lands found suitable to grow palm trees. This area is reported to be 14 million hectares in the four provinces of Kalimantan, on the Indonesian part of the Borneo island.
The expansion of the palm oil industry is driven by its profitability, and it has the potential to develop new jobs and improve the standards of living of people and small-holders when conducted sustainably. According to the UNDP, there are about 16 million jobs that depend on the palm oil sector.
On the other side, deforestation for oil palm plantation development also endangers indigenous tribes and local communities as it entails the destruction of living spaces or land appropriation. For example, in regions like Kalimantan, the local livelihoods of Dayak communities and their traditions of shifting cultivation, are undermined by the development of palm oil production and monocultures. This often results in human rights violations and confrontation between large-scale producers and local communities whose land is appropriated. Colchester, for example, found that in 2010, there had been more than 630 land disputes linked to oil palm production in Indonesia.
The industry of palm oil also causes pollution of air and water which increase health risks to the populations of Indonesia.The use of slash-and-burn techniques to clear land for oil palm cultivation has led to widespread regional haze episodes impacting countries throughout Southeast Asia. These haze episodes have been linked to excess premature deaths, respiratory illness and cardiac disease. Infants and children are particularly vulnerable to negative health impacts from these exposures. The 2015 Southeast Asian Haze episode is estimated to have caused approximately 103,300 excess deaths in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore according to mortality models.
The palm oil industry in Indonesia has been shown to have contribute to state revenue, provide employment for people in rural areas, and increase farmers income. However, these benefits only seem to be seen with more experienced plantations and farmers, so the industry tends to favor migrant smallholders rather than the indigenous people. The indigenous people tend to see more negative social impacts such as food insecurity, human rights abuse, land disputes, and disregard for the local environment.
The palm oil industry is growing in industry need and output, and palm oil and palm-based ingredients are found in more than 50 percent of common consumer products, from shampoo and lipstick to packaged bread and ice cream. Indonesia is the largest producer of palm oil across the world and is rapidly expanding its plantations and workforce to face a growing global demand. In attempting to meet this demand, systemic human rights violations are consistently traced to Indonesian palm oil producers, including forced labor and child labor, gender discrimination, and worker exploitation.
While Indonesian law prohibits child labor in work that is “harmful to the health, safety, or morals of children”, children between the ages of 13 and 15 are permitted to do what is called “light work”, or work that does not pose a risk to a child's mental, physical, or social development. While children are rarely employed by palm oil plantations, they are often working there, helping their fathers and mothers meet their targets in order to receive full wages. Children often work in the fields and face risk of injury from chemical exposure, carrying heavy loads, and dangerous farming practices.
While Indonesia has legal requirements regarding hours worked per week and overtime, minimum wages are set by province, and in North Sumatra and Central Kalimantan, the provinces were plantations are located, these minimum wages are insufficient to meet a family's needs. Plantation workers are paid using a two-pronged system based on time worked and worker output. Workers are given “output targets” and if these targets are met, workers receive their full pay If they are not met, the worker may lose a portion of his salary or annual bonus, regardless of the amount of time worked. These targets are set by individual company and are not regulated. It has also been found that harvesters regularly work longer than the legal limit, often working 10-12 hours a day. The legal limit in Indonesia is 40 hours per week.
Pesticide and herbicide use is a common practice among palm oil plantations, including paraquat, an herbicide banned throughout Europe.Personal protective equipment is not always provided to workers. Some companies in Indonesia do not provide any equipment, while others do not replace the equipment after excessive use. Workers are found to have no knowledge or information regarding the health risks posed by the chemicals they use.
Some companies in Indonesia have been found to test employees’ blood for chemical exposure. Workers will be told if they have “abnormal” blood; however, they do not receive a copy of the results or any further explanation. Workers with such abnormalities are often moved to different tasks without an explanation. This has been found to cause heightened anxiety among plantation workers about their health.
Women are particularly vulnerable to abuses. In Indonesia, women are often hired under casual arrangements, exempting them from permanent employment, health insurance, pensions, and other social security benefits. One of women's main roles on plantations is herbicide, pesticide, and fertilizer application, placing these women at a higher risk for chemical toxicity and other harms. Women are often unpaid for some of their work, including collecting fruit from the ground during harvests, for they are often also helping their husbands meet their targets to ensure the family receives the husband's full salary.
In response to critiques on the industry by environmental and human rights group, efforts are made towards more sustainability of the industry. According to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), that applies to palm oils which are produced to increase the food supply while keeping in mind the goals to "safeguard social interests, communities and workers" or to "protect the environment and wildlife" for example.
In 2011, Indonesia's Sustainable Palm Oil System (ISPO) was introduced. It is a mandatory certification scheme to ensure the quality and the respect of norms regarding the environment, workers and respect of local populations that should apply to all producers.
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is also active in the region in providing certifications of sustainability for the produces who match the standards.
Media related to Oil palm plantations in Indonesia at Wikimedia Commons