Adianto P. Simamora , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Wed, 02/17/2010
Environmental activists have condemned the government’s plan to classify oil palm plantations as forests, calling it a ploy to legalize forest conversions.
Activists from Forest Watch Indonesia (FWI), Telapak Indonesia and the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) called on the Forestry Ministry to rescind the plan if the government was serious in efforts to safeguard the country’s already threatened forests.
FWI executive director Wirendro Sumargo said the plan would increase the threat to forests because it would allow local authorities to easily reallocate forest use to increase their budgets.
“It would not be surprising that under the new decree, natural forests can be easily converted for business uses,” Wirendro told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.
“It also seems the plan is aimed at legalizing illegal oil palm plantations currently operating in forests.”
He insisted the ministry take legal action against illegal oil palm companies operating in forests not allocated for business use.
With the decree, the Forestry Ministry is aping several countries such as Malaysia. Coincidentally, Indonesia and Malaysia are the world’s largest producers of palm oil.
The ministry claims the decree would not lead to massive forest conversions.
The program coordinator at Bogor-based Telapak Indonesia, Hap-soro, accused the ministry of not committing to protect forests.
“The concept of calling an oil palm plantation a forest has no basis in fact. It is merely a cover to allow investors to convert forests,” he told the Post.
“Even without the decree, the government has failed to control the growth of illegal oil palm plantations.”
Currently, oil palm plantations cover 7 million hectares of land, with 3 million hectares belonging to individuals, another 3 million to private companies and 1 million to state-owned plantation company PTPN.
Environmentalists claim some plantations were developed in forests not designated for agriculture.
National Forestry Council member Hariadi Kartodiharjo said development of the palm oil industry should be focused on idle forest land.
“I don’t believe the decree will be used to convert natural forests,” he said.
He said that in the past, Indonesia had rejected proposals by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to link oil palm plantations to forests. These proposals were eventually implemented in Malaysia.
“Oil palm plantations would seriously threaten biodiversity,” he said.
Walhi climate campaigner Teguh Surya said the decree would not only accelerate forest damage, but would legalize deforestation across the archipelago.
“Don’t expect the next generation to still have forests in the future. The decree will also kill the nation’s character,” he said.
He said President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono should intervene or else the government would never meet its pledged emission target cut of 26 percent by 2020.