Many have criticized Indonesia‘s largely unsustainable palm oil industry for several reasons, including deforestation. Thousands of hectares of trees have been hacked away to make room for palm oil production, destroying habitats of endangered species like orangutans. After mounting international pressure from both environmentalists and foreign officials, Indonesian president Joko Widodo has taken a step towards conserving the country’s rainforests.
Widodo’s measure would halt the expansion of the mining and palm oil industries, allowing no new permits, and could begin this year. He suggested current palm oil companies should utilize their lands better to increase their yield rather than chopping down more trees.
Deforestation is a major issue, but so is dry season burning. When growers clear the forest via fire, toxic smoke increases pollution levels not only in Indonesia, but in neighboring Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, and the Philippines.
Palm oil production and mining are large components of Indonesia’s struggling economy; palm oil sales have generated $20 billion, according to the Wall Street Journal. Last year growers produced 32.5 million metric tons of the oil, and they want to ramp that up by 2020 to 40 million metric tons. To do that, they say they need millions more hectares.
However, the second largest palm oil company in the world, Golden Agri-Resources, said they stand behind Widodo’s measure. Spokesperson Anita Neville said, “Any government initiative that is focused on intensification over land expansion is to be applauded.”
Still, environmentalists are worried about how effective the ban will be in practice. Greenpeace said presidential decrees aren’t as respected as laws, noting that one current palm oil ban isn’t strongly enforced. It’s difficult to know how the ban will impact Indonesia’s environment and economy until it is actually implemented.