Is Oil Palm Plantation Occupying only 7% of Indonesian Lands?

There are news and opinion circulating among people and NGOs especially, saying that most of Indonesian land has become oil palm plantations. According to them, Kalimantan and Sumatra Island are already filled with oil palm plantations for as far as the eye could see. Thus the accusation that oil palm plantation is the main cause of forest loss in Indonesia begins. How much of it is true?

Let us look at the use of land in Indonesia according to an official data from Indonesian government. According to the data of Forestry Statistic, Indonesia’s land area is approximately 189 million hectares. 47 percent of the land that is about 88 million hectares is state forests namely Protection Forests, Conservation Forests, Limited Production Forests, Production Forests, Convertible Forests and Industrial Plantation Forests. Therefore, it is safe to say that the largest portion of the land in Indonesia is used for various types of forests that are controlled by the government; in this case it is managed by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry.

That proportion of Indonesia’s forests is still considerably larger (FAO) than the average proportion of the world’s forests which is only 31 percent of the total land. It is also greater than forest in the European Union that is 45 percent and the United States that is only 40 percent. So in total, forests area in Indonesia is still better compared to most of other countries in the world.

Indonesian mainland portion for all sectors (excluding forest) is the remaining 53 percent of the land area which is referred to as the cultivation area. The cultivation area covers all sectors (excluding forestry), namely for agriculture / plantations, cities, village/settlements, offices, roads, industrial estates, and so on.

Then how large is the portion of the land for oil palm plantations? Oil palm plantations are located in the cultivation areas (not in forest areas). According to Palm Oil Statistics from Ministry of Agriculture, the area of ​​oil palm plantations ( which belong to smallholder, private or public company) in Indonesia in 2017 is around 13 million hectares. If we compare this to the total land area, the area of ​​oil palm plantations turns out to be roughly 7 percent of it. If compared to the area of ​​cultivation, oil palm plantations are only around 13 percent.

With all these data that show the relatively small portion of land use for oil palm plantations, it is an exaggeration to say that all land in Indonesia has become oil palm plantations.

It is also groundless to say that deforestation (conversion of forest to non-forest) in Indonesia is mainly for the expansion of oil palm plantations. If it is assumed that all land originated from conversion of forest to non-forest, then oil palm plantations are only 13 percent of it. Around 87 percent of forest conversion to non-forest is for the needs of other sectors.

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