Plantation: We are not behind fires

Plantation: We are not behind fires 

20 August 2005


PEKAN BARU: A big Malaysian-owned oil palm plantation in Riau, Sumatra implicated by Indonesia for open burning has come out to strongly deny the allegations. 

Giving The Star access to three of its estates spanning over 13,000ha, the company’s general manager, who declined to be named, said the plantation administrators had adhered to the company’s strict environmental policy of zero burning. 

“Our trees are fully planted. There is no land clearing – not in the past, not now and not in the future. 

“The fires found on the estate boundaries were started by villagers or smallholders,” he said in an interview at the oil palm plantation in the Rokan Hilir area more than 200km from here. 

When the plantation’s fire patrol team tried to put out the fires burning on neighbouring lands, they found their help unwelcome. 

“The villagers set fire to clear the land. So when we try to put it out, they come after us with parangs,” said one of the estate managers. 

This is a grave problem for the Malaysian plantations here because peat fires spread easily. If there is a strong wind, sparks can be blown over and ignite the prized oil palms. 

The plantation experienced two such fire encroachments recently – the first on Aug 13 and the second on Tuesday. 

“The fire was discovered immediately and put out by our fire patrol team,” said the general manager. 

Despite quick action, the company “lost” several mature palms that were still within their economic lifespan. 

On Wednesday during our visit to the plantation, the fires in the neighbouring lands were still smouldering and no one was dousing them. 

It is estimated that more than 97,000ha of peat land have been burning in Rokan Hilir, Rokan Hulu and other parts of Riau, Sumatra. 

Indonesia claimed that Malaysian oil palm plantations were responsible, even though only 16% of the hotspots were in oil palm estates – most of which Indonesian owned. 

Malaysian plantations also face another dilemma – squatters. 

One big Malaysian oil palm plantation with 25,000ha of land in Sumatra has squatters occupying 20% of its land. 

A spokesman for the company said: “We cannot chase them out. They claim the land is theirs. Everyone there is burning land to clear it; and the authorities are not stopping them.” 


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