Korindo accused of illegally burning Papuan rainforest

Since 2011, fires have been used to clear vast areas of forests in remote areas of the Indonesian province of West Papua, including concessions sites operated by the Indonesian-South Korean palm oil conglomerate Korindo. Forensic Architecture and Greenpeace International have examined this allegation independently and investigated whether the cause of the fires could be identified in Korindo's palm oil concessions in Papua. The investigation concluded that Korindo has been using slash and burn practices to clear rainforests in West Papua and is therefore in breach of the Indonesian law. 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.

The investigation found that the pattern of fires, their direction, and the speed with which they moved matches the pattern of land clearing from the months of February and May 2012, July to December 2012, February 2013, April to December 2013, January 2014, April to December 2014, and May to December 2015. This suggests that the fires were set intentionally. If the fires in Korindo's concession were natural, the outbreaks would be irregular. However, tracking the movements of deforestation and fires over time shows that they clearly happen in sequence with fires following the clearance, in a west-to-east direction and overwhelmingly happening inside Korindo's concession boundary.

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.

In summary, the spread and speed of the burning matched the pattern of land clearing, and didn't appear as random as fires on neighbouring concessions. The company accuses nearby villagers of setting the fires, but the villagers' accounts of Korindo employees starting the fires matches with the burn periods determined by the analysis.

Watch video and read more about the investigation and results published on 12 Nov. 2020 here

Read article published by Mongabay on 12 Nov. 2020 here