Indonesian company defies order, still clearing peatlands in orangutan habitat

  • Indonesian Pulpwood producer PT Mayawana Persada is continuing to clear peatlands on critical Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) habitat, despite a government order to stop clearing.
  • An NGO coalition analysis found that 30,296 hectares (74,900 acres) of peatland, including 15,560 hectares (38,400 acres) of protected lands, had been converted as of March; 15,643 hectares (38,700 acres) of known Bornean orangutan habitat were cleared between 2016 and 2022.
  • Conservationists are calling on the Ministry of Environment and Forestry to revoke the company’s permits.

JAKARTA — Indonesia’s largest deforesting company has continued to clear peatland despite an order by the government for the firm to stop clearing rainforests.

The company in question is pulpwood producer PT Mayawana Persada.

Since 2016, the company has cleared more than 35,000 hectares (86,500 acres) of forests to establish monoculture pulpwood plantations — an area half the size of Singapore — in its concession in West Kalimantan province, sized at 136,710 hectares (337,800 acres).

Activists noted that these clearances happened on critical orangutan habitat and carbon-rich peatlands.

Some 30,296 hectares (74,900 acres) of peatland, with 15,560 hectares (38,400 acres) of them being protected, had been converted as of March 2024, according to an analysis by a coalition of NGOs.

Map of peatland conversion in PT Mayawana Persada’s concession in West Kalimantan as of March 2024.

The analysis also found clearance of 15,643 hectares (38,700 acres) of known habitat for the critically endangered Bornean orangutans (Pongo pygmaeus) from 2016-22.

The case has attracted a public spotlight due to the sheer scale of the deforestation and the importance of the ecosystems in the concession for climate change and the survival of endangered wildlife.

A recent report, which investigated Mayawana Persada’s activities, described it as “one of Indonesia’s biggest ongoing cases of deforestation” and linked the company to Singapore-based paper and palm oil conglomerate Royal Golden Eagle (RGE). RGE has denied any affiliation with Mayawana Persada, despite findings of shared key personnel, operational management connections and supply chain links.

Numerous media and NGO reports have prompted the Ministry of Environment and Forestry to evaluate Mayawana Persada’s operation and issue an order for the company to stop clearing degraded forests in its concession.

In a letter dated March 28, 2024, the ministry ordered the company to stop all logging activities in logged-over areas, to focus its operation on empty degraded lands and also to restore what it has destroyed.

Mayawana Persada should stop clearing rainforest because its operation is not in line with the government’s climate goals of Indonesia’s forests absorbing more carbon than they releases, i.e., acting as a carbon sink by 2030, the ministry argues. The goal is known as Indonesia’s FOLU net sink 2030.

To achieve this goal, areas that have high conservation value (HCV), such as deep peatland and wildlife habitat, have to be protected, among other forest protection and restoration efforts.

Meanwhile, Mayawana Persada’s concession overlaps with large areas with high conservation values, the ministry pointed out. Therefore, the company has to protect 79,773 hectares (197,100 acres) of HCV areas within its concession to align with the FOLU net sink 2030 target, the ministry said in the letter.

U.S.-based advocacy group Mighty Earth senior director for Asia and Africa, Amanda Hurowitz, calls the ministry’s letter “an example on how government can act.”

“So we see the government stepping in and taking action in order to actually meet the climate commitments,” she said. “It is actually quite welcomed.”

But despite the ministry’s order, Mayawana Persada continues to clear peat forests in the 79,773 hectares of HCV areas, with 434.33 hectares (1,072 acres) cleared from April 1-24, according to the NGO coalition’s analysis.

A map that shows peatland clearance in High Conservation Value (HCV) area in PT Mayawana Persada’s concession in West Kalimantan from April 1 to 24, 2024.

This is a blatant disregard of the ministry’s order and a clear violation of the government’s peat protection rules, said Sayyidatiihayaa Afra G. Raseukiy, a policy researcher at Indonesian environmental and human rights advocacy group Satya Bumi.

During a meeting with four environment ministry officials on April 30, Sayyidatiihayaa and other members of the NGO coalition informed the ministry about the ongoing peat clearance.

The officials were surprised when they heard about it, she said. This indicates that the ministry hasn’t been able to properly monitor Mayawana Persada and that merely ordering the company to stop clearing is not enough, Sayyidatiihayaa said.

Mongabay has reached out to the ministry for comment, but hasn’t received a reply as of the publication of this story.

Land clearing operations in PT Mayawana Persada’s concession in preparation for industrial-scale pulpwood plantation development, July 2023. Image courtesy of Auriga Nusantara.

Call for action

On the back of the ongoing deforestation, the NGO coalition has a clear message to the government: revoke Mayawana Persada’s licenses.

“Based on the findings of unbridled activities by pulpwood company PT Mayawana Persada, we hope that the Indonesian minister of environment and forestry takes a stern action with her authority to revoke the concession’s permits,” said Hendrikus Adam, the director of the West Kalimantan chapter of WALHI, the Indonesian Forum for the Environment.

And there’s enough evidence for the environment ministry to do so, Sayyidatiihayaa said.

Revoking Mayawana Persada’s licenses is crucial to making sure the 51,547 hectares (127,400 acres) of remaining forest in the concession are protected, she said.

The revocation is particularly necessary, as it appears that Mayawana Persada is gearing up to clear more rainforest.

Analysis by the research consultancy AidEnvironment has found that in its clearing activities, Mayawana Persada has developed stacking lines across 6,268 hectares (15,489 acres) of its concession that’s covered in primary peat forest. These lines of stacked woods likely indicate the area is set to be developed into pulpwood plantations in the near future.

If these 6,268 hectares are cleared, the resulting emissions will amount to 344,740 metric tons of CO2 equivalent.

The clearance of these areas might also mean the disappearance of orangutan habitat, as the coalition of NGOs found 31 orangutan nests along the stacking lines.

“It’s obvious that these areas have to be protected due to the presence of the orangutan nests,” Sayyidatiihayaa said.

Unfortunately, the meeting didn’t result in any commitment from the ministry to look at the potential of revoking Mayawana Persada’s licenses, she said.

Instead, the ministry suggested the coalition of NGOs to file a lawsuit at the state administrative court to seek for the revocation of the permits, Sayyidatiihayaa said.

“We argued that if we could solve the matter here, why should we go to the court? So we invite the ministry to work together with us and to go to the field [to obtain evidence of forest clearance and law violation],” she said.

Indigenous Dayak Benua Kualan Hilir people protest the destruction of their sacred forest with a “mandoh” ritual space to block the heavy machinery and to insist that PT Mayawana Persada leave their ancestral lands. Image courtesy of Auriga Nusantara. Location: 0°39’28.53”S – 110° 9’57.00”E.


The meeting with the ministry was also attended by members of the Indigenous Dayak community of Kualan Hili, which have been embroiled in conflict with Mayawana Persada as their ancestral territory overlaps with the company’s concession.

However, the environment ministry officials said resolving conflicts is not the authority of the department that issues licenses to Mayawana Persada, Sayyidatiihayaa said.

“Which is weird, because the department should’ve made sure that there’s no conflict with Indigenous peoples in the first place [before issuing the licenses],” she said.

Besides reporting the conflict to the environment ministry, the coalition of NGOs and the Indigenous Dayak people also filed a report to the national rights commission, Komnas HAM, on April 26.

In the report, the Dayak community said their lands had been grabbed and their huts and rice fields had been burned due to the conflict.

Furthermore, one community member was charged and some were questioned by police for protesting against Mayawana Persada.

One of them is Tarsisius Fendi Susepi.

He said he had been summoned 19 times by the police.

“Here we’re facing intimidations from the company through law enforcers,” Fendi said. “Indeed, we see that the law is harsh for ordinary people and lenient for the elite.”


Banner image: A Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus) hangs from the trees. Fewer than 100,000 orangutans remain on Borneo. Image by Rhett A. Butler/Mongabay.


FEEDBACK: Use this form to send a message to the author of this post. If you want to post a public comment, you can do that at the bottom of the page.