Palm oil giant Wilmar unfazed as watchdogs cry foul over Papua deforestation
An area of natural forest the size of 1,500 football fields has been cleared since January in an oil palm concession in Indonesia’s easternmost region of Papua by a company that ultimately supplies major traders and global brands.
The deforestation was first detected in March 2020 by U.S.-based campaign organization Mighty Earth, which found 221 hectares (546 acres) of forest cleared in the concession of PT Medcopapua Hijau Selaras (MPHS), a subsidiary of the Jakarta-based Capitol Group. It dated the clearing to between Jan. 11 and Feb. 24 this year.
Mighty Earth flagged the deforestation in its “Rapid Response” reports, but more clearing occurred in the following months.
Using satellite data from Planet Labs and other sources, alongside concession maps, Mighty Earth found further deforestation of 286 hectares (706 acres) from Feb. 24 to June 18. Monitoring by other NGOs and platforms also picked up on the deforestation.
The Earthqualizer Foundation, an environmental consultancy, reported detecting 732 hectares (1,808 acres) of forest clearance inside the MPHS concessions from January to August.
Papua Atlas, a real-time interactive map showing the spread of plantations and roads in the Papua region, identified 680 hectares (1,680 acres) of forest cleared in that same period, with 675 hectares (1,667 acres) constituting primary forest.
Although there’s some variance between the reported figures, they still point to MPHS being responsible for the largest area of forest cleared in Papua this year — the same conclusion reached by Pusaka, an Indonesian nonprofit that advocates for Indigenous peoples’ rights, which carried out its own monitoring in the region.
According to Pusaka, Papua lost 1,488 hectares (3,676 acres) of forests from January to May this year, with the biggest single instance of deforestation — 372 hectares (919 acres) — occurring inside the MPHS concession.
- Forest-monitoring groups have independently flagged the recent cutting down of natural forests inside an oil palm concession in Indonesia’s easternmost region of Papua.
- The concession is managed by PT Medcopapua Hijau Selaras (MPHS), a supplier to Wilmar, the world’s largest palm oil trader, whose customers include Unilever, Kellogg’s and Nestlé.
- Wilmar’s investigation into the reports concluded that the actual deforestation is much smaller than alleged and was done by smallholder farmers and not MPHS.
- The watchdogs dispute this, however, saying the clearing occurred in areas that should have been off-limits under Wilmar’s own stated commitments to sourcing only sustainable palm oil.