Saturday, 10 May 2008

RI forest conversions alarming: Greenomics

RI forest conversions alarming: Greenomics

Adianto P. Simamora, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta May 9

Forest conversion has reached an alarming level in Indonesia with more than 10 million hectares of protected forest converted for business use since the inception of regional autonomy in 2000, a study says.

The study, conducted by the Greenomics Indonesia environmental group, found most regional spatial plans do not aim to protect forests.

"In fact, some existing spatial planning ... expedites forest conversions," Greenomics executive director Elfian Effendi told The Jakarta Post on Thursday.

"The area of converted forest now exceeds 158 times the size of Singapore."
Indonesia is the world's third-largest forestry country, with over 120 million hectares of rainforest.

The government has set aside about 40 million hectares for both protected and conservation forests, where plantation, agriculture or logging activities are not allowed.

"However, as forest conversion remains common practice, only 30 million hectares of protected forest are now left. They will disappear in the short term unless the government takes actions to stop forest conversion," Elfian said.

The issue of forest conversion made the headlines when the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) arrested lawmaker Al Amin Nasution for allegedly accepting a bribe to facilitate the approval for forest to be converted on Bintan Island, Riau, last month.

The Bintan administration requested the government's permit through the House of Representatives to convert around 200 hectares of a 7,300-hectare protected forest for an office complex project.

The Greenomics study found that in the last two years alone, there were at least 40 cases where forest land was converted into plantations and agricultural land, covering about 195,000 hectares of protected forest.

Greenomics found some 327,000 hectares of its protected forest has been converted under forest concessions in North Sumatra, while in Aceh about 160,000 hectares of protected forest was turned into plantation and agricultural areas.

According to the study, about 143,000 hectares of protected forest has illegally been converted for plantations and agricultural land in Riau province.

The Greenomics also said the West Kalimantan administration had failed to save its protected forests.

"About 286,000 hectares of protected forest there has been converted into agricultural estates," he said.

In Central Kalimantan, about 225,000 hectares of protected forest has been converted into plantations.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono should put an end to forest conversion by setting up a national team to determine whether regional spatial planning undermines or sustains protected and conservation forests, Greenomics said.

"We learned that only about 40 percent of spatial planning is aimed at saving protected forest in the country," he said.

"But, the forestry ministry seem powerless to handle the problem."

The Greenomics also supports ongoing moves by the KPK to resolve forest corruption cases.
Law enforcement against forest conversion practices should be simple because any business activity in the protected forests is illegal, he said.

"The KPK and police should find it easy to investigate forest conversion cases since perpetrators can't obtain a license to convert protected forests," he said.