, Volume 33, Issue 4, pp 679–690 | Cite as

Oil Palm Plantations and Transboundary Haze: Patronage Networks and Land Licensing in Indonesia’s Peatlands

  • Helena Varkkey


Peatlands in Indonesia are protected by regulations that forbid the conversion of these lands into plantations. However, peat fires here have been found to be a major source of smoke that travels across national boundaries creating regional haze. Despite these regulations, more than a quarter of all Indonesian oil palm plantations are on peat. This paper argues that patronage networks within the Indonesian oil palm sector have been a major factor in the unsustainable use of peatlands there. Rampant patronage politics have made it easy for well-connected companies to skirt regulations to obtain licenses for these lands. Decentralization has further encouraged this practice at the regional level, as regional elites are eager to reap the benefits of local investments. In addition, clients are able to exert their influence over state decision-making to ensure that any changes to the licensing process does not jeopardize their access to these lands. These converted lands are highly fire-prone. Furthermore, some companies have been found to use fire as a cheap way to clear the land for planting. Hence, this paper argues that transboundary haze in Southeast Asia can be traced back to the ongoing oil palm boom in Indonesia, bolstered by patronage networks.


Indonesia Peatlands Fire and haze Oil palm plantations Patronage politics Decentralization 



The author would like to thank interviewees from the media, government and civil society in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore who willingly shared information and insight for this paper. The author would like to also thank the University of Malaya and the University of Sydney for a scholarship and travel grant, respectively for the completion of this research paper.


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Copyright information

© Society of Wetland Scientists 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of International and Strategic StudiesUniversity of MalayaKuala LumpurMalaysia

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