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.

See more
Basic Data
Name of conflict:Oil palm and fires in Riau (Sumatra), Indonesia
State or province:Riau province
(municipality or city/town)Dumai, 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 commodities:Land
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.

See more
Project area:139,000 (until 2015)
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:2,040,000
Company names or state enterprises:PT 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 actors:Ministry of Forest, Indonesia

provincial planning agencies (BAPEDA)

Indonesian government
International and Finance InstitutionsRabobank from Netherlands
International Finance Corporation (IFC)
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:WWF 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)
Conflict and Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
International ejos
Local scientists/professionals
University teachers and students
Forms of mobilization:Creation 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
Impacts of the project
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
Other Environmental impactsDrying 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…)
Other Health impactsAir pollution, respiratory illnesses

Premature deaths [13]
Socio-economical 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
Conflict outcome / response:Corruption
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Development of alternatives:Dosan (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 an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain: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
Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

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

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

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

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

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

[5] Jakarta declares emergency in Riau over haze
[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]

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

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

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

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

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

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

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]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[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
Contributor:SM (ICTA-UAB) and Carros de Combate
Last update18/01/2017