Tuesday, 18 November 2008

(Palm oil) Industry faces fresh calls to stop forest conversion

Industry faces fresh calls to stop forest conversion

Astrid Wijaya, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta 18th November

Palm oil companies are facing increasing pressure from green groups who fear the conversion of forests into plantations could cost the country its rich biodiversity.

The Center for Orangutan Protection (COP) said Monday that in Kalimantan alone, at least 236 plant species and 51 animal species were facing extinction due to the massive conversion of forests into oil palm plantations.

These comments came just a day before the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) holds its sixth annual meeting in Bali. Oil palm growers, processors, traders, consumer goods manufacturers, retailers, investors and Environmental and developmental NGOs will meet to discuss the various issues affecting the palm oil industry during the Nov. 18-20 meeting.

Some issues include the role of small-scale palm oil growers, the RSPO and the government, market standards and biofuels.

"The ignorance and questionable morality of the oil palm industry and the government have put Kalimantan forests in danger. They already know the impacts of forest conversion, but do not consider the long-term effects they may have," COP executive director Hardi Baktiantoro said.

Indonesia allegedly has 1,170 native species facing extinction, the highest number of any country in the world. Environmental damage in Kalimantan largely stems from the activities of the palm oil industry.

The land conversion, Hardi said, was worse than illegal logging, because palm plantations destroy the original natural landscape.

One of a few remaining Dayak ethnobotanists -- people who benefit from plants for food, medicine, dyes, raw materials and cultural rituals -- in Central Kalimantan, Christopel Sahabu, joined the outcry.

He said land conversion in his village, Tumbang Koling, had reduced the forest coverage from 10,000 hectares to 6,000 hectares.

"This massive destruction of our trees has extinguished many original plants and herbs. Those herbs are important to support our lives," he said.
COP Habitat Program Manager Novi Hardianto said he signed an agreement with local governments to curb forest exploitation, but the outcomes were far from adequate.

Indonesian Palm Oil Producers Association (GAPKI) executive Derom Bangun declined to comment on the COP allegations, saying he was busy preparing for the roundtable meeting in Bali.

The palm oil industry has opposed any moratorium on forest and peat land conversion, saying it would slow the country's economy, cause further job losses and increase poverty.

GAPKI strongly rejects any forest conversion moratorium due to the allegedly inevitable impacts on the country's economy. http://old.thejakartapost.com/detailnational.asp?fileid=20081118.H05&irec=4