Palm oil conglomerate Korind accused of clearing rainforest in West Papua with fire

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A new investigation by Greenpeace International and Forensic Architecture has concluded that the Indonesian-South-Korean palm oil conglomerate Korindo has been using slash and burn practices to clear rainforests in West Papua. The organisations used cutting-edge data analysis to prove the direct correlation between the appearance of fires and the expansion of Korindo’s palm oil plantation in one of the company’s concession areas in West Papua. According to the NGOs, the fires occurred in patterns of consistent, deliberate use. Indonesian law prohibits the use of fire for the clearing of forest areas.

Forensic Architecture, a London-based research group, examined NASA satellite imagery from October 2011 to January 2016 to determine the origin and nature of the fires in a concession owned by Korindo subsidiary PT Dongin Prabhawa in the Papuan regency of Merauke. It also analysed videos of aerial photographs taken by Greenpeace International in 2013 to determine what is known as the normalized fire ratio, identifying burned areas and estimating the severity of the fires.

Forensic Architecture found that the pattern of the fires - their direction and the speed at which they were moving – as well as the pattern of expansion of the plantation area in the periods February to May 2012, July to December 2012, February 2013, April to December 2013, January 2014, April to December 2014 and May to December 2015 corresponded.

This, according to Samaneh Moafy, Senior Researcher in Forensic Architecture, is an indication of an intentional burn. "If the fires in Korindo's concession area were natural, the outbreaks would be erratic," she said. "However, if you follow the movements of the deforestation and the fires over time, it is clear that they happen in a sequence, with the fires following the clearance in a west-east direction and mostly occurring within the Korindo concession border.”

This is not the first time that Korindo was accused of using slash and burn practices in their concession areas. In 2016, a coalition of NGOs, including the Mighty Earth campaign group, published a report on Korindo that identified at least 30,000 hectares of deforestation and more than 900 fires on Korindo's oil palm plantations in the provinces Papua and North Maluku since 2013. Since 2001, Korindo has reportedly cleared a total of 57,000 hectares of rainforest in the province of Papua alone.

A two-year-investigation by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the world's leading body for certification of sustainable forestry, concluded that they found "evidence without reasonable doubt" that natural forests have been cut down on a large scale in Korindo's concessions. However, the FSC said it had not found sufficient evidence of deliberate burning. Hence Korindo continues to sell its palm oil with the FSC sustainability certificate.   

Korindo declared on its website that it has never used and will never use fire to clear land in any of its operations. Moreover, Korindo told the BBC that the fires in its concessions were either natural fires caused by extreme drought or by villagers hunting giant wild rats hiding under piles of wood.

Kiki Taufik, leader of Greenpeace Southeast Asia's forest campaign, called Korindo's explanation of the fires an excuse and urged the Indonesian Government to take legal measures against the company whose clearing practices violate national law and had a far-reaching negative impact on the environment as well as indigenous communities living around Korindo’s concession area.

Villagers living near PT Dongin Prabhawa's plantation say they saw Korindo employees starting fires on the company's land over a period of several years. Sefnat Mahuze, a local farmer, said he saw Korindo workers gathering scraps of wood, piling it into large piles and subsequently setting the wood on fire using kerosene.

Watch full documentary here.

Read Mongabay article here