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Oil palm expansion in the protected area Tesso Nilo, Indonesia

Illegal oil palm plantations and palm oil mills are expanding over the protected area: Tesso Nilo, Indonesia. International NGOs trying to protect the forest, elephants and tigers.


Tesso Nilo is one of the last places of Sumatran where tigers and elephants live. In this protected park there are about 4,000 plant species recorded so far. It has one of the highest levels of lowland forest plant biodiversity known to science and is also one of the largest remaining forests on the island of Sumatra. It is also an important water reserve for more than 40,000 people living in the 22 surrounding villages. The national park was established in 2004 over almost 40.000 hectares. The boundaries were expanded to 100.000 hectares in 2009 by decision of the Indonesian minister of forestry and the governor of Riau and the collaboration of WWF “to ensure adequate habitat for elephants in central Sumatra”. This conservation project was expanded to relocate dozens of elephants from Minas in Siak district to Tesso Nilo. The relocation was justified by the loss of habitat in Minas due to oil palm plantations [6]. The Belgian government provided 200,000 euros for the construction of a Sumatran elephant conservation center in the National Park. Although the timber extraction and clearing of forest for agriculture are not allowed in the national park, the forest has been lost in recent years showing a lack of law enforcement. Much of forests have been cleared to develop palm oil plantations and meet worldwide demand for pulp and paper. WWF reported in 2010 that two of the world’s largest palm oil companies—Asian Agri and Wilmar—purchased palm oil fruit that was illegally grown within the boundaries of the Tesso Nilo Forest [1,3,4]. Indonesia’s Forestry Minister admitted in 2014 that 50%, or two million hectares, of all oil palm plantation in Riau is “illegal or has no permit”.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Oil palm expansion in the protected area Tesso Nilo, Indonesia
State or province:Sumatra
Location of conflict:Riau
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
Agro-fuels and biomass energy plants
Specific commodities:Palm oil
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Oil palm plantations inside the Tesso Nilo forest complex are controlled and managed by individual owners or groups. The identification showed that 524 individuals dominate 72% (26,298 ha) of the total plantation areas (36,353 ha). Average plantation size per individual was 50 hectares, far above the typical size for a smallholder, suggesting availability of significant capital [3].

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Project area:52,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:9,000
Start of the conflict:01/08/2004
Company names or state enterprises:Wilmar International from Singapore
Asian Agri from Indonesia
PT Hutani Sola Lestari from Indonesia
PT Swakarsa Sawit Raya from Indonesia
Anugrah from Indonesia
AAA Oil and Fats Pte. Ltd. (AAAOF) from Indonesia
Pacific Inter-Link from Malaysia
PT Sumber Kencana Group (SK) from Indonesia
Golden Agri Resources (GAR) from Singapore
Royal Golden Eagle (RGE) from Singapore
PT. Citra Riau Sarana from Indonesia
PT Inti Indosawit Subur from Indonesia
PT Rigunas Agri Utama from Indonesia
PT Gemilang Sawit Lestari from Indonesia
PT Makmur Andalan Sawit from Indonesia
PT Peputra Supra Jaya from Indonesia
Relevant government actors:Minister of Forestry
Regent of Pelalawan, Sumatra,
Forestry Deparment
Director of Forest Securing
The administrative of Pelalawan and Indragiri Hulu District
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:WWF
Eyes on the Forest (“EoF”)
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityLOW (some local organising)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of alternative proposals
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Monitoring the env. impacts; Contacting the companies involved in the conflict and asking them for review a report related to their operations;
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil erosion, Fires
Potential: Desertification/Drought, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Other Environmental impactsElephants and tigers Loss
Health ImpactsPotential: Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Occupational disease and accidents
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures
Potential: Increase in violence and crime, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment
Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Strengthening of participation
Expansion of national park boundaries. Establish a Joint Management Board which will ensure collaborative management of the new park. The Board will involve all stakeholders, including the government’s Regional Conservation Office, District and Provincial government officials, the private sector, representatives of the local communities adjacent to the park and WWF.
Development of alternatives:EoF recommends:
- All groups address their legacy and contribute to the restoration of the precious conservation forests they helped destroy.
- Groups stop divesting of “toxic assets”, and invest in cleaning up such facilities so they no longer facilitate illegal deforestation and contaminate global supply streams.
- Authorities convene stakeholders of Tesso Nilo National Park to address its palm oil
driven encroachment and restore the functionality of the park.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Forest cover had declined to only 18% by end 2015 [7].
According to Eyes of the Forest (EoF), in 2014 and 2015 “eleven chains of custody of illegally grown oil palm from seven different encroacher groups operating inside Tesso Nilo National Park to six different palm oil mills” and “illegally oil palm fresh fruit bunches (FFB) was bought by companies”
Sources & Materials
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

“The Prevention and Eradication of Forest Destruction (Law No. 18/2013)
[click to view]

Undang-Undang Republik Indonesia Nomor 18 Tahun 2013 tentang Pencegahan Dan Pemberantasan

Perusakan Hutan.
[click to view]

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] Palming off a National Park
[click to view]

[7] No one is Safe by Eyes on the Forest (EoF”) dated 6 April 2016.
[click to view]

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

CIFOR and wwf
[click to view]

[click to view]

[click to view]

Poison feared as seven Sumatran elephants found dead
[click to view]

[2] Forest Fires Blaze in Indonesia’s Tesso Nilo National Park
[click to view]

[3] Illegal Palm Oil Plantations Threaten Protected Forests. WWF
[click to view]

[5] WWF welcomes Indonesian government's declaration of Tesso Nilo National Park. 2004.
[click to view]

Golden Agri-Resources Initiates Industry Engagement for Forest Conservation.
[click to view]

[4] Illegal oil palm plantation in Tesso Nilo NP destroyed. WWF. 2010.
[click to view]

Antara News (6 August 2014) Riau’s two million hectares of oil palm plantation illegal
[click to view]

[6] Government Announces Expansion of Tesso Nilo National Park to Ensure Room for Sumatran Elephants
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

'The Sumatran rainforest will mostly disappear within 20 years. The Guardian
[click to view]

Other documents

Source: Hotli Simanjuntak/EPA A dead Sumatran elephant discovered in 2012: poison was also suspected in this case
[click to view]

Source: Greenpeace Greenpeace stages protest in rainforest destroyed for palm oil
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:SM (ICTA-UAB) and Carros de Combate
Last update01/06/2017
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