Oil palm and fires in Riau (Sumatra), Indonesia

Serious consequences of the oil palm industry in Riau province, Sumatra. There is overlapping between the hotspot of fires, oil palm concessions and peatlands.


The oil palm expansion in Indonesia was at the beginning at the expense of forest concessions or/and or expelling local population with customary land ownership. The implications and the mechanism of the oil palm expansion in Riau province is complex and diverse. This case focuses on the conflict related to the link between oil palm industry concessions and fires.

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Basic Data
NameOil palm and fires in Riau (Sumatra), Indonesia
ProvinceRiau province
SiteDumai, Pekambaru, Pelalawan
Accuracy of LocationMEDIUM regional level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Land acquisition conflicts
Plantation conflicts (incl. Pulp
Specific CommoditiesLand
Palm oil
Project Details and Actors
Project Details Riau contributes up to 24% of total palm oil national production in Indonesia. There is a significant overlap between the location of fires, oil palm concessions and peatlands. Oil palm plantations grab about 1.9 million ha of land (around 21% of the total area of Riau province) . There are 144 palm oil mills in the province. More than 50% of production comes from private states [9]. There are 380,000 smallholder plantations producing around 5.9 million tons of fresh bunch fruit annually on around 1 million ha.

The World Bank reported that there are three common uses for fire in Indonesia, most of them related to oil palm industry: (i) land clearing and preparation; (ii) land acquisition; and (iii) as a mechanism to force inhabitants off the land.

The analysis from the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) concluded that "using fire for land acquisition and clearing generates a cashflow of at least USD 3,077 per hectare of oil palm in just three years. If every hectare burned in 2015 were converted to oil palm, the value would be about USD 8 billion"[8]. The land clearing (production phase) is an illegal process, however the resulting palm oil is processed as legally-produced palm fruit.

Riau has also seen conflicts on tree plantations, other than oil palm [12].
Project Area (in hectares)139,000 (until 2015)
Type of PopulationSemi-urban
Potential Affected Population2,040,000
Company Names or State EnterprisesPT Jatim Jaya Perkasa
Wilmar International from Singapore
PT Bumi Daya Laksana from Indonesia
PT Siak Raya Timber from Indonesia
PT Perawang Sukses Perkasa Industri
PT Hutani Sola Lestari from Indonesia
PT Bukit Raya Pelalawan from Indonesia
KUD Bina Jaya Langgam from Indonesia
PT Pan United from Indonesia
PT Riau Jaya Utama from Indonesia
PT Alam Lestari from Indonesia
PT Parawira from Indonesia
PT Hibrindo Inti Langgam from Indonesia
Relevant government actorsMinistry of Forest, Indonesia

provincial planning agencies (BAPEDA)

Indonesian government
International and Financial InstitutionsRabobank from Netherlands
International Finance Corporation (IFC)
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersWWF Indonesia




Friends of the Earth “Walhi” Riau Office

Rainforest Action Network








Friends of the Earth


Teachers' Forum Against Haze

Pekanbaru Education Agency

Cooperative Bungo Tanjung

Perkumpulan Elang (local NGO)

Riau Forest Rescue Network (Jikalahari) (Environmental group)
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)MEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingFarmers
International ejos
Local scientists/professionals
University teachers and students
Forms of MobilizationCreation of alternative reports/knowledge
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Fires, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Other Environmental impacts
Potential: Food insecurity (crop damage), Global warming, Soil contamination
OtherDrying of land by drainage to plant oil palm, consequently increase the peatland burns.
Health ImpactsVisible: Other environmental related diseases, Deaths, Other Health impacts
Potential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
OtherAir pollution, respiratory illnesses

Premature deaths [13]
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Violations of human rights
Potential: Specific impacts on women, Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCorruption
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Development of AlternativesDosan (a small village) smallholders have made a common agreement to stop the practice of slash-and-burn. They also propose wetting the peatland to avoid fires.
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.One of the companies responsible for the fires has been sentenced by the court. But 26 other companies are operating in the hotspot area.

Alternative measures and practices have emerged to prevent fires. However, the structural cause (concessions to oil palm companies) is not being addressed.
Sources and Materials

Regulation on Peat Protection and Peat Management
[click to view]


[1] The Guardian: Indonesia's forest fires: everything you need to know (Oil palm debates)
[click to view]

[2] World Bank report about fires in Sumatra
[click to view]

Primary forest cover loss in Indonesia over 2000–2012
[click to view]

[4] Six Provinces Declare State of Emergency as Haze Worsens
[click to view]

[3] Thousands flee Pekanbaru as haze hits record high
[click to view]

[5] Jakarta declares emergency in Riau over haze
[click to view]

[6] After the peat fires, Riau shows down-to-earth approach to ending haze
[click to view]

[7] World Bank report: The costo of fire 2016
[click to view]

[8] The Guardian: Indonesia forest fires: has this Sumatran village got the solution?
[click to view]

European Report: Oil palm expansion in Riau Province, Indonesia: serving people, planet, profit?
[click to view]

[10] Riau Police drops probe into 11 firms linked to forest fires
[click to view]

[12] Indonesia's fires labelled a 'crime against humanity' as 500,000 suffer
[click to view]

[13] Smoke from 2015 Indonesian fires may have caused 100,000 premature deaths
[click to view]


Carro de combate (research on oil palm implications)
[click to view]

[12] WALHI releases Investigative Report on APRIL forest clearing.

WALHI RIAU Press Release. 22 December 2009. WALHI (Friends of Earth Indonesia) Riau releases Investigative Report on natural forest clearing by PT Sumatera Riang Lestari, an associated company to APRIL in Pulau Rangsang, Kepulauan Meranti district of Riau province, Sumatra
[click to view]

Media Links

[11] Interactive map in real time on fires, plantation concessions and ownerships.
[click to view]

Other Documents

Source: jakartaglobe by Herman Genie & Tunggadewa Mattangkilang Fires Spread, From Riau to Kalimantan
[click to view]

Source: Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images Slash and burn forest clearance for plantation development (including palm oil plantations), and highly flammable peat soils
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorSM (ICTA-UAB) and Carros de Combate
Last update18/01/2017