Thursday, 19 February 2009

Indonesia to end freeze on peatlands for plantations

Mon Feb 16, 2009

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia will open up peatland forests for plantation crops such as palm oil after freezing new permits for more than a year, an agriculture ministry official said on Monday, in a move that has alarmed green groups.

Achmad Mangga Barani, director general for plantations at the ministry, said that the government was lifting the moratorium brought in December, 2007, after a study in order to boost the welfare of local people.

"In principle, we will allow the use of peatlands for plantations under a stricter criteria and a very limited scale," he said.

Green groups had urged the government to maintain a freeze of oil palm plantations in peatlands to combat climate change.

Indonesia's remaining peatland forests are one of the world's largest stores of carbon, holding around 37.8 billion metric tons, according to Greenpeace.

A report sponsored by the World Bank and Britain's Department for International Development says up to 84 percent of Indonesia's carbon emissions come from deforestation, forest fires and peatland degradation.

Barani said the government had discussed the new decree with environmental groups.

"We think it is a crazy proposal," Martin Baker, communications manager at Greenpeace International in Asia, said.

Bustar Maitar, forest campaigner for Greenpeace, said the decree appeared to be setting stricter criteria after the study, but he said the results had not been shared with the group.

"We understand that there was a study and the government promised to discuss with us the result of the study but we have never seen the result," said Maitar.

Barani said details of the new ministerial decree were due to be released on Tuesday.

Indonesia, the world's biggest producer of crude palm oil, expects palm oil output to rise about 5 percent to 19.7 million metric tons this year, against 18.7 million metric tons in 2008.

(Reporting by Aloysius Bhui; Editing by Ed Davies)