The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) has criticized an argument in support of sustainable palm oil by the Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI), saying it was misleading. (Reuters Photo/Samsul Said)

Walhi Rips PSI's Argument for Palm Oil, Says Party 'Does Not Understand' the Issue


SEPTEMBER 20, 2018

Jakarta. Indonesia's oldest environmental advocacy group has criticized an argument in support of sustainable palm oil by one of the country's newest political parties, saying it was misleading.

The Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI) uploaded a 49-second video to Facebook on how palm oil can help strengthen the rupiah. The video states that a weaker rupiah makes modern gadgets more expensive, and presents palm oil as a viable solution to strengthening the currency.

"In our view, the PSI fails to understand the fundamental problem of palm oil in Indonesia and in the global context, and they are even more disconnected with their argument that palm oil can help stabilize the currency," the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) said in a statement on Monday (17/09).

The video, which had attracted more than 107,000 views by Wednesday, has sparked heated debate on various social media platforms.

In response, the PSI issued a clarifying statement saying that the focus of the video was on efforts to stabilize the rupiah, such as boosting exports.

"But what developed later was an accusation that the PSI supports a palm oil industry that is damaging the environment. Once again, the real focus of our argument is actually not on palm oil. That is why we call this policy only a temporary solution," the political party said.

The party also highlighted its support for sustainable palm oil and emphasized that it opposes unsustainable practices in the industry.

"The fact is, our economy is still dependent on palm oil. In 2017, this industry contributed $23 million in foreign exchange… In the post-oil and gas era, palm oil is the leading industry after tourism," the PSI said.

However, Walhi said both the video and the clarifying statement show a lack of understanding.

"We want to emphasize that palm oil as the main supporting commodity of our economy is a myth, and there is no such thing as sustainable palm oil," Walhi said, adding that the PSI's argument was both weak and incomplete.

The forum listed several points, including how losses and environmental costs from extractive industries such as palm oil result in state losses, as stated by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK).

"State losses from forest and land fires, which amounted to Rp 200 trillion [$13.4 billion] in 2015, show that land-based investment, such as palm oil, is detrimental to the country," Walhi said.

The forum added that palm oil plantations in the country have negatively impacted the rights and lives of Indonesians and marginalized communities, as well as the environment.

"As a new political party, the PSI should be able to come up with new, hopeful ideas for the future survival of the planet and humanity, for generations to come. Instead, it proposed outdated and weak economic models like palm oil," Walhi said.

Walhi, established in 1980, is the largest environmental advocacy group in Indonesia. It is also part of the Friends of the Earth International network.