Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Indonesian Greens Push Plantation Moratorium

April 06, 2010

Fidelis E Satriastanti Jakarta Globe

Indonesian Greens Push Plantation Moratorium

InMajor Indonesian green groups on Tuesday stepped up calls for a moratorium on converting forests into palm oil plantations.

They were responding to a call from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for more cooperation with civil groups on forestry-related issues.

“A moratorium is the key, it’s very urgent” in the battle to save remaining forests, said Bustar Maitar, the team leader of Greenpeace Southeast Asia’s forest campaign.

Bustar said a moratorium would not stop production but would stop the expansion of palm oil plantations.

Environmental groups have welcomed Yudhoyono’s call for government institutions, including law enforcers, to fight illegal logging, but have pointed out that the expansion of palm oil plantations was the main culprit of deforestation in the country.

“The concept of [regional autonomy] is actually good. However, most district heads have been using this opportunity to issue permits to convert more forest to palm oil plantations as their regional spatial plans are not yet completed,” Bustar said.

He said that the government should instead intensify existing plantations.

Teguh Surya, head of advocacy at the Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi), said efforts to halt deforestation would rely heavily on Yudhoyono’s own commitment to stopping forest conversions.

“We have been pushing the moratorium issue for many years and we keep on reminding the government about this because almost every policy that is made and implemented favors forest conversions into palm oil plantations,” Teguh said.

He said the plantations caused environmental degradation, especially concerning water resources, but this was often ignored by the government.

Bustar said there was no proof that people, especially farmers, received any direct benefits from the conversions.

“Most palm oil is for export, not our domestic needs,” he said. “So the question is, what economic benefits are we talking about, who is benefitting?”

Gindo Nadapdap, from North Sumatra’s labor alliance, or Kelompok Pelita Sejahtera, said the expansion of palm oil plantations did not necessarily mean farmers’ welfare was improving.

“Based on cases in North Sumatra, these farmers receive very low pay compared with the regional minimum wage, which is set at Rp 700,000 to Rp 800,000,” Gindo said.

He said private plantation companies not only paid low wages, but also required workers to do a lot more.

On private plantations, about 22 farmers work 100 hectares, meaning about five hectares for every farmer, he said.

“Meanwhile, on the average plantation owned by farmers, four to six people work two hectares. So you can figure out how efficient these companies are,” he said.

National Development Planning Board (Bappenas) research has revealed that palm oil plantations on peatland, which cover about 840,000 hectares, contribute 0.85 percent to gross domestic product and have created about three million jobs.

According to the nongovernmental organization Sawit Watch, the palm oil industry contributed 12 percent, or Rp 720 trillion ($75.8 billion), to the state budget in 2008. But this was at the expense of as much as 100,000 hectares of peatland and 300,000 hectares of natural forests being converted to palm oil plantations every year.

Jefri Saragih, head of advocacy and public education at Sawit Watch, said there were seven million hectares of degraded land across the country that could be used for plantations, rather than opening up forests, but this fact had been ignored.