Haze fires: Influential group demands maps from Malaysian plantations

By Trinna Leong

Palm oil companies received a directive yesterday to submit digital maps of their plantations in Sumatra within 48 hours. The order from Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) came about after reports that its member companies owned plantations that are involved with the forest fires.

RSPO, a not-for-profit association for stakeholders in the palm oil industry, has identified three Malaysian firms that are a part of its organisation: Sime Darby, Tabung Haji Plantations and Kuala Lumpur Kepong.

RSPO intends to analyse the locations of the plantations against the published map of forest fires by National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The association is looking to investigate the source and cause of the fires, followed by possible action against firms if negligence were found.

It has acknowledged World Research Institute's report that indicated several sources to the fires – 47% of the fires are from out of the forest or oil palm plantations, 27% in timber plantations, 20% in oil palm plantations, 4% in protected areas and 1% in logging areas.

"Sime Darby Berhad fully supports the initiative by RSPO. I would like to reiterate Sime Darby's commitment and full compliance of the zero burning policy," said Sime Darby’s chief executive officer, Tan Sri Dato’ Mohd Bakke Salleh.

Meanwhile, Kuala Lumpur Kepong has agreed in a statement to submit digital maps of its plantations to RSPO.

In its statement, RSPO highlighted the forest fires as prevalent within peatlands, lands with partially decayed vegetation. It suggested that authorities should make sure landscape protocols are in place before allowing any development. But RSPO didn’t indicate which authorities should enforce this.

Over the past week, corporations have denied their involvement in the fires, pushing the blame to individual farmers for clearing the land by setting off forest fires.

"Plantation owners have to set aside 20 per cent of land to nurture smallholders in oil palm planting,” said Nor Hazlan Abdul Mutalib, executive secretary at the Association of Plantation Investors of Malaysia in Indonesia (APIMI) to newswire service, Bernama.

“It is a common practice for the smallholders to clear the land by fire," he added.

Under the a scheme known as the Plasma Programme by the Indonesian government, local and foreign firms are required to offer one-fifth of their land to local farmers as part of economic and social assistance. – June 25, 2013.