URGENT: Please help us save Kinipan forest!

Clearing in Kinipan forest – indigenous people next to tree trunks Cutting down ancient trees is a crime against nature. (© Mahendra Safrudin) Indigenous Dayak Tomun in Kinipan forest Kinipan’s indigenous people want the loggers out. (© Mahendra Safrudin)

In Borneo’s Kinipan – a lush peat forest and orangutan habitat – the Dayak Tomun are struggling to save their ancestral forest. SML, the company sending in the loggers, wants the indigenous people’s land for a palm oil plantation.

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To: the President of Indonesia Joko Widodo, the Minister of Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya Bakar, Komnas HAM, the Governor of Central Kalimantan, the CEOs of RSPO and ISPO, the CEOs of SML and SSMS, the CEOs of Wilmar, GAR and Apical

“Save Kinipan forest – stop the destruction by PT Sawit Mandiri Lestari!”

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“We’re resisting the palm oil industry,” says Effendi Buhing, the traditional leader of the Dayak Tomun people. “Kinipan forest is our life. We lodged a formal complaint, took legal action and protested peacefully. And yet a palm oil company is destroying our forest.”

Several hundred indigenous people are standing up to our addiction to palm oil, ruthless corporations and political indifference: In Kinipan on Borneo, they are staunchly defending their ancestral rainforest. PT Sawit Mandiri Lestari (SML), a plantation company, has been clearing the forest in Central Kalimantan for several months now. The cleared land is then immediately planted with oil palm seedlings.

The boat trip from the district capital to the remote village of the Dayak Tomun takes twelve hours. Occasionally, travelers make the journey to experience Borneo’s richly biodiverse forest with its clouded leopards, orangutans and other wildlife.

But now chainsaws and heavy diesel engines reverberate through the forest, burying the hopes of the Dayak people. SML is destroying one of the last rainforests in the heart of Borneo.

SML is affiliated with Sawit Sumbermas Sarana (SSMS), a company belonging to a businessman and local politician who made his fortune in tropical timber. He is the wealthiest and most powerful man in the province.

His palm oil companies already claim more than 100,000 hectares in Central Kalimantan. Their most important customers are Golden Agri Resources, Apical and Wilmar International, whose palm oil in turn reaches us in the form of biodiesel, processed food and cosmetic products. That makes us consumers jointly responsible for the loss of rainforests, human rights violations and the slow extinction of orangutans.


Palm oil – a risky business

Kinipan is a small village in Borneo with a population of just under 1,000. In April 2018, the village applied for the recognition of its traditional rights over its forest (hutan adat). The villagers were involved hands-on in charting their land. The people make their livelihoods in rice, rubber, rattan and the fruits of the forest.

In Kinipan, the palm oil company PT Sawit Mandiri Lestari (SML) has a land concession of 26,995.46 hectares and a logging concession of 19,240 hectares. Three quarters of the area is forest and habitat for orangutans and clouded leopards, as well as many other endangered wildlife species and rare tropical trees. It is directly adjacent to the Belantikan Conservation Programme and the Lamandau Nature Reserve. A plantation would pose a direct threat to endangered species and isolate the protected areas from each other.

The land is partly peat forest and should therefore be protected under Indonesian law. The forest has partly been declared a production forest, i.e. individual trees may be felled, but clear cutting is not permitted.

Since 2012, SML has been trying to obtain the local people’s approval for the plantation. But the inhabitants of Kinipan have always lodged formal, written rejections of the planned project. They not only fear for the forest and their future, but are also concerned about the potential for landslides and floods.

SML is associated with Sawit Sumbermas Sarana (SSMS), a medium-sized corporate group that was heavily involved in the timber business during the Suharto era. It was one of the main drivers behind the destruction of the rainforest on Borneo and stands accused of laying waste to large parts of Tanjung Puting National Park.

In 2014, the Environmental Investigation Agency filed a complaint against SSMS with the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). It asserted that SML/SSMS had broken with the RSPO’s following principles: 1. there were no consultations; 2. the steps to protect forests with high biodiversity were inadequate; 3. the principle of free, prior and informed consent was not respected; 4. the environmental impact assessment did not comply with the legal requirements; and 5. SML did not have all necessary permits. The complaint was upheld and for a time, SSMS lost 80% of its palm oil buyers.

One risk analysis from 2015 classifies SSMS as a highly risky business and warns explicitly against investing in its palm oil activities.

Prior to the scandal, SSMS palm oil was purchased by the Wilmar Group, the world’s largest palm oil trader, and the most important Indonesian palm oil trader, the Apical Group of the Raja Garuda Mas conglomerate, which also includes the notorious pulp company APRIL, as well as Golden Agri Resources of the Sinar Mas Group, which in turn is the parent organization of the APP pulp group.

Since then, both SML and SSMS have been serving the palm oil leakage market. In this way, conflict palm oil from rainforest destruction and illegal activities is laundered to meet the demand of large corporations such as Unilever, which cannot be satisfied by “sustainable” palm oil.

The risk-laden plantation company changed hands in 2016, but the people behind it remained. All the more aggressive, SSMS has been pursuing its expansion policy ever since. Over the past three years, SSMS has expanded its land holdings from 60,000 to more than 100,000 hectares. The clear-cutting of another 50,000 hectares is in the planning stage.

Resistance to palm oil

In order to stop the plantation, the village of Kinipan applied for recognition of its traditional land rights to the forest (hutan adat). In April 2018, they submitted all of the necessary documentation, including the required participatory mapping.

But as early as February 2018, SML began clearing the land. “They felled the jungle giants, ironwood, meranti and wild rubber.” The inhabitants of Kinipan did not dare to actively resist this crime against nature, as the clear-cutting operation was under military protection. Instead, they contacted the company three times in writing. They demanded a stop to deforestation and negotiations and sentenced the perpetrators to reparations according to their traditional law. They never received a reply. Instead, they found that parts of their land had been stripped of its formal status as forest. On paper, this means that no forest will be destroyed for the new oil palm plantation!

They petitioned the provincial government, which initially did not respond. Finally, in June, nine villagers traveled to Jakarta and made their case at the office of the President, the Ministry of Forestry, the Peat Authority and the Human Rights Commission. While the authorities were more concerned about the legal aspects of the clear-cutting operation, they promised to deal with the conflict. We need to bring as much international pressure as possible to bear at this stage.

Peaceful protests have been underway since October 2018. The inhabitants of Kinipan are demanding that SML immediately stop planting oil palm seedlings and leave the forest. This is extremely urgent – half of the forest is already gone!


To: the President of Indonesia Joko Widodo, the Minister of Environment and Forestry Siti Nurbaya Bakar, Komnas HAM, the Governor of Central Kalimantan, the CEOs of RSPO and ISPO, the CEOs of SML and SSMS, the CEOs of Wilmar, GAR and Apical

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In Kinipan, Lamandau district, Central Kalimantan province, PT Sawit Mandiri Lestari (SML) has been logging the forest for months. This is a disaster for biodiversity, the global climate and indigenous peoples. We call on you to stop the deforestation immediately and to take appropriate action against SML.

The Indonesian government has taken numerous steps to protect the existing rainforest, including a moratorium on new oil palm plantations and a ban on planting oil palms on peat soils and burnt areas.

It is therefore surprising that SML can destroy the forest with complete impunity. The company has already clear-cut more than 10,000 hectares. Further deforestation must be prevented without delay.

The company's actions are a crass violation of the standards of sustainability, non-deforestation and the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) to which it is bound as a member of the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO), and as a holder of an RSPO certificate,

SML has clearly violated these standards. One issue here is that SML is no longer on the radar of the RSPO and ISPO. Such brutal large-scale deforestation must not be permitted under any circumstances. It is precisely for this reason that resistance against deforestation by SML must become much more pronounced.

The inhabitants of Kinipan have repeatedly stated that they are against deforestation and the establishment of an oil palm plantation. They have made this known in written form and through peaceful protests. SML, however, has not shied away from intimidation and violence.

Mr. President, Madame Minister, we call on you to revoke SML's permits and impose sanctions against the company for its clear-cutting in the Kinipan area.

Kinipan forest is still about three quarters intact. It lies partly on deep peat soils, is orangutan habitat and must be protected under national and international law.

Yours faithfully,


The issue – rainforest on our dinner tables and in our fuel tanks


At 66 million tons annually, palm oil is the most commonly produced vegetable oil. Its low world market price and properties that lend themselves to processed foods have led the food industry to use it in half of all supermarket products. Palm oil can be found in frozen pizzas, biscuits and margarine, as well as body creams, soaps, makeup, candles and detergents.

Few people realize that almost half of the palm oil imported into the EU is used as biofuel. Since 2009, the mandatory blending of biofuels into motor vehicle fuels has been a major cause of deforestation.

Oil palm plantations currently cover more than 27 million hectares of the Earth’s surface. Forests and human settlements have been destroyed and replaced by “green deserts” containing virtually no biodiversity on an area the size of New Zealand.

The impact – suffering and death in producer countries, climate havoc

The warm, humid climate of the tropics offers perfect growth conditions for oil palms. Day after day, huge tracts of rainforest in Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa are being bulldozed or torched to make room for more plantations, releasing vast amounts of carbon into the atmosphere. As a consequence, Indonesia – the world’s largest producer of palm oil – temporarily surpassed the United States in terms of greenhouse gas emissions in 2015. With their CO2 and methane emissions, palm oil-based biofuels actually have three times the climate impact of traditional fossil fuels.

Palm oil is not only bad for the climate: As their forest habitat is cleared, endangered species such as the orangutan, Borneo elephant and Sumatran tiger are being pushed closer to extinction. Smallholders and indigenous people who have inhabited and protected the forest for generations are often brutally driven from their land. In Indonesia, more than 700 land conflicts are related to the palm oil industry. Human rights violations are everyday occurrences, even on supposedly “sustainable” and “organic” plantations.

As consumers, we are largely unaware of these broader issues, yet our daily palm oil consumption also impacts our health: refined palm oil contains large amounts of harmful fatty acid esters that are known to damage DNA and cause cancer.

The solution – a revolution on our dinner tables and in our fuel tanks

Only 70,000 orangutans still roam the forests of Southeast Asia, yet the EU’s biofuels policy is pushing them to the brink of extinction. Every new plantation on Borneo is destroying a further piece of their habitat. Stepping up the pressure on policymakers is a must if we want to save our tree-dwelling kin. Apart from that, however, there is still a lot we can do in day-to-day life.

Follow these simple tips to recognize, avoid and combat palm oil:

  1. Enjoy a home-cooked meal: Use your imagination: why not try almond-coconut-pear biscuits? Or pizza with potato and rosemary? A meal cooked from fresh ingredients beats processed foods containing palm oil every time. Oils such as sunflower, olive, rapeseed or flaxseed are ideal for cooking and baking.
  2. Read labels: As of December 2014, labeling regulations in the EU require food products to clearly indicate that they contain palm oil. However, in the case of non-food items such as cosmetics and cleaning products, a wide range of chemical names may still be used to hide the use of palm oil. A quick check of your favorite search engine will turn up palm oil-free alternatives, however.
  3. Remember that the customer is king: Ask your retailers for palm oil-free products. Write product manufacturers and ask them why they aren’t using domestic oils. Companies can be quite sensitive to issues that give their products a bad name, so inquiring with sales staff and contacting manufacturers can make a real difference. Public pressure and increased awareness of the problem have already prompted some producers to stop using palm oil.
  4. Sign petitions and write your elected representatives: Online campaigns put pressure on policymakers responsible for biofuels and palm oil imports. Have you already signed all of Rainforest Rescue’s petitions?
  5. Speak out: Protest marches and creative action on the street raise public and media awareness of the issue, which in turn steps up the pressure on policymakers.
  6. Leave your car at home: Whenever you can, walk, ride a bicycle or use public transport.
  7. Be informed and inform others: Big Business and governments would like us to believe that biofuels are good for the climate and that oil palm plantations are sustainable. Spread the word – share this information with your family and friends and encourage them to rethink their consumption habits. It’s in our hands!
News and updates

Success · Jan 17, 2023

Kinipan village chief acquitted

Protest by the citizens of Kinipan in front of the court in Palangkaraya, 2022

Indonesia's Supreme Court has rejected the trumped-up charges against the village chief of Kinipan – Willem Hengki is free at last! This is a milestone for the defense of the mountain forests of Borneo.


From our partners · Jun 14, 2022

Borneo: Freedom for Willem Hengki – an open letter to the court

The villagers of Kinipan on Borneo have been resisting the clearing of their forests for palm oil for years. Since January 2022, village chief Willem Hengki has been in jail on a trumped-up embezzlement charge. 72 organizations are calling for his release in an open letter to the court.


News · Feb 2, 2022

Defenders of Kinipan Forest in Borneo taken to court

The village of Kinipan in the mountains of Borneo has become a symbol of the dispute over forest rights. The indigenous Dayak Tomun are defending their forest against a palm oil company that is rapidly cutting it down. Now their village chief is on trial.


Success · Jun 30, 2021

Indonesia: Kinipan's rainforest defenders honored

A special honor was bestowed on the villagers of Kinipan: the award of the Indonesian cultural institute Akademi Jakarta on June 28, 2021 for “consistently and persistently defending the tropical rainforest against conversion into oil palm plantations, for the benefit of humanity and in responsibility toward future generations.”


News · Dec 2, 2020

Petition delivered – will Kinipan forest on Borneo be saved?

Our partner organization Save our Borneo has delivered our petition to Effendi Buhing, the leader of the indigenous Dayak Tomun people of Kinipan, who will personally present it to Indonesian policymakers and business representatives.


News · Sep 3, 2020

Indigenous people behind bars, smooth sailing for palm oil industry

In Kinipan, Borneo, the police arrested six indigenous men for protesting against land grabbing and deforestation, including Effendi Buhing, traditional leader of the Dayak Tomun people, who was detained on August 26, 2020.


News · May 9, 2019

Indonesian police protects oil palms with guns drawn

Indonesian police is “protecting” oil palms with their weapons drawn, taking brutal action against the inhabitants of Sembuluh who want to preserve their Batu Gadur forest. So much for “sustainability”.


Success · Apr 15, 2019

Sabah chief minister renounces deforestation for highways

A ray of hope for nature in Sabah: the chief minister of the Malaysian state has called on construction companies to expand existing roads and avoid fragmenting forests for the Pan Borneo Highway.


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