Rates of oil palm deforestation in Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea in 2020 were at their lowest level for three years, according to a new report by Chain Reaction Research (CRR) published on 9 February.

CRR detected approximately 38,000ha of deforestation on oil palm concessions in the region in 2020. This compared to 90,000 ha in 2019.

The reduction of deforestation for palm oil cultivation had been visible from the first half of 2020, according to CRR, and reasons for the decline had included Indonesia’s economic contraction and travel restrictions due to COVID-19.

Continued restrictions due to the pandemic in Indonesia and key export markets could explain the continued slow pace of deforestation in the third and fourth quarters of 2020, CRR said, although domestic demand and rallying palm oil prices could result in a rise in land development this year.

In its research, CRR found that approximately 22,000ha (58%) of deforestation could be attributed to 10 palm oil companies in Indonesia, with the remainder distributed between 112 other companies. Most of the 10 companies (Sulaidy, Ciliandy Anky Abadi, Bengalon Jaya Lestari, Mulia Sawit Agro Lestari (MSAL) Group, PT Permata Sawit Mandiri, IndoGunta, Jhonlin Group, Shanghai Xinjiu Chemical Co, Citra Borneo Indah (CBI) Group and Indonusa) were also listed in CRR’s 2019 and 2018 lists, CRR said.

CRR conducts free sustainability risk analysis for financial analysts, credit analysts, commercial bankers, institutional investors, corporations and other stakeholders. Its analysis on oil palm deforestation was coordinated by Aidenenvironment and its partner organisation Earth Equalizer.