Indonesian Palm Oil Association (Gapki) chairman Joko Supriyono speaks during a seminar in Bandung, West Java, on Aug. 6. (Photo courtesy of Gapki)

Indonesia's Palm Oil Industry Faces Productivity Challenges

AUGUST 28, 2019

Jakarta. The head of Indonesia's palm oil lobby group said profit, people and planet define sustainability in the industry and that the European Union should consider these aspects as a whole.

"We cannot meet the demand for sustainability for the people and the planet without first addressing sustainability from a business perspective," Joko Supriyono, chairman of the Indonesian Palm Oil Association (Gapki), said during a seminar titled "Sustainable Management of Palm Oil Plantations" in Bandung, West Java, on Aug. 6.

He added that the European Union's policies are discriminatory.

"The indirect land use change criteria is not fair in calculating carbon emissions for the palm oil plantations," he said. 

In the context of indirect land use change, Joko criticized the European Union for including land cover and cutoff dates in its deforestation calculations. He added that the calculations only consider the difference between primary forest carbon stock and carbon stock of land after being turned into palm oil plantations, without considering the land's history.

"When in fact, more than 70 percent of land cleared for palm oil is degraded land that was previously used for farming," he said. 

Joko said EU policies are part of a negative campaign against palm oil, but that this is not the only hurdle the industry faces. Many companies and stakeholders still struggle with low productivity in their plantations, and he expressed hope that further research would help the industry to overcome this problem eventually. 

Joko said land cleared for palm oil production increased on average by about 6 percent annually between 2008 and 2017. This was not followed by an increase in productivity, which on a yearly average, had only increased by about 3 percent. Most plants yield about 11 metric tons of palm fruit per year. 

"This is a number that barely reaches the production potential of oil palms, which can yield 25 tons per hectare per year," Joko said. 

Indonesia is one of the world's largest palm oil producers and has become a prime target for environmentalists and developed countries, stalling local stakeholders' expansion efforts.

Joko emphasized that the three basic aspects for sustainability – profit, people and planet – must be addressed because they are so closely connected.