Indonesian firefighters battle a forest fire in Kampar, Riau September 9, 2019. — AFP pic
Indonesian firefighters battle a forest fire in Kampar, Riau September 9, 2019. — AFP pic

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 13 — Two major Malaysian palm oil plantation firms today rebutted the Indonesian government’s reported announcement of the sealing of their Indonesian subsidiaries’ land over alleged fires amid a regional haze problem.

IOI Corporation Berhad (IOI) clarified that its Indonesian subsidiary PT Sukses Karya Sawit (PT SKS) had not been told by the Indonesian government that its land had been sealed off due to forest fires.

“To date, PT SKS has not received any official notification on the matter,” IOI said in a statement on its website.

IOI also spoke of how its Indonesian subsidiary PT SKS has been on “high alert” and had put in place measures to deal with the dry weather and the risk of fire breaking out.

“We were able to quickly extinguish several small fires that have occurred over the last couple of months and have assisted other companies and villagers to respond to fires on our neighbouring lands.

“PT SKS has dedicated substantial resources, including equipment and personnel, for surveillance, fire-prevention and fire-fighting purposes,” the company said.

“In all these efforts, we continuously work closely with the local authorities, involving them in joint exercises and reporting fire incidences to them promptly,” it added.

In a statement on its website, Sime Darby Plantation Berhad (SDP) clarified that as of 4pm today, Indonesian authorities had not taken “any action” to seal off the operations of PT Sime Indo Agro (PT SIA) due to fire occurrence. (The Indonesian company is part of SDP’s Indonesian subsidiary Minamas Group).

SDP said that it continuously monitors all its operation sites throughout the year with the assistance of its Indonesian subsidiary, adding a recent fire in Indonesia was outside of its plantation operation zone.

“SDP would like to further clarify that the recent fire incident which occurred on 3 September 2019 outside of the operational area of PT SIA was in fact located in lands occupied by local communities.

“This however had been contained and the incident was clarified to the visiting authorities from the Indonesian Ministry of Environment and Forestry,” SDP said.

SDP also spoke of its extensive efforts to prevent and address the problem of land burning, pointing out that it strictly applies its Zero Burning policy in its global business operations.

SDP noted that it had pioneered the Zero-Burning Replanting Technique that was commercialised in 1985, before receiving recognition in 1992 by the United Nations Environment Programme and which is now the palm oil industry’s gold standard practice in oil palm replanting.

“Besides maintaining fully equipped firefighting teams at all our estates, SDP also extends our Zero-burning policy to our neighbours that are within 5km radius of our estates’ boundaries to help them monitor and put out any occurrence of fire,” it added.

SDP said it had also helped neighbouring local communities in Indonesia to set up their own fire monitoring and prevention initiative known as ‘Masyarakat Peduli Api’ (MPA), besides also encouraging Indonesian local communities to adopt the zero-burning initiative and the “Sustainable Community-based Fire Prevention Programme”.

“This programme was implemented in partnership with local universities to educate local communities in fire-prone villages around our operations about sustainable agricultural practices,” it said, adding that this programme has covered 19 villages or about 40,000 hectares of land surrounding their plantation operations in Sumatra and South Kalimantan.

“Any hotspots or fire occurrences in SDP’s area of operations are also being monitored constantly using satellite monitoring system,” it said, adding that such info is publicly available via the online Hotspot Dashboard on SDP’s website: www.simedarbyplantation.com

IOI and SDP’s statement comes after news wire Reuters today reported the Indonesian government as saying four Malaysian-owned companies were sealed off due to fires.

The four companies were named by Indonesia’s Environment and Forestry Minister Siti Nurbaya Bakar as Kuala Lumpur Kepong (KLK) Berhad’s PT Adei Plantation and Industry, SDP’s unit Sime Indo Agro based in West Kalimantan; IOI Corporation’s unit Sukses Karya Sawit; and TDM Berhad unit Rafi Kamajaya Abadi.

Forest fires and burning of land in Indonesia’s Sumatra and Kalimantan have been pinpointed by Malaysia as the source of haze plaguing the latter, with Malaysia forced to enforce school closure due to “very unhealthy” air pollution levels that surpassed the 200 mark on its air pollutant index — one category below “hazardous”.

Sumatra is separated from peninsula Malaysia by the Straits of Malacca, while Kalimantan shares land borders with Sarawak and Sabah.