The NGO Riau Forest Rescue Working Network (Jikalahari) is urging the central government to reform forestry policies and end land disputes to slow the pace of deforestation in the province.
"Deforestation in Riau is due to the paper industry and oil palm plantations' conversion activities," Susanto Kurniawan, the organization's coordinator, said Thursday at a seminar on the logging moratorium to help save the Semenanjung Kampar area.
"The most jaw-dropping fact is that *the area stipulated in* land use permits issued by the government for those two *business* sectors have actually exceeded Riau's total area. This means that many licenses are overlapping each other, and this can be settled only by a moratorium."
He said deforestation was the main cause of the increasingly intense floods, landslides and hazes that occurred in Riau every year.
According to Susanto, deforestation has destroyed 3.7 million hectares of the province's forests in the past 20 years (or on average 160,000 hectares per year), leaving only 2.45 million hectares or 22 percent of total forest areas in the province.
He said the 682,511-hectare Semenanjung Kampar area, straddling the two regencies of Siak and Pelalawan, was one of Riau's forest blocks that needed an immediate moratorium.
That area is seriously threatened with extinction as the Forestry Ministry has issued forest concessions that total 284,880 hectares in industrial forestry areas (HTI) and 245,120 hectares in natural forest concession areas (HPH) for three firms.
"Semenanjung Kampar is a peat marsh forest with more than 10-meter-deep peat soil and has the largest potential amount of carbon in Indonesia. Those carbon *compounds* will be released if the peat forest is converted," Susanto said.
A 1999 presidential decree on the management of protected areas categorizes peat lands are more than 3 meters deep as protected areas.
With increased deforestation, the Riau administration also shared the losses on "ecological disasters that have rubbed down around 70 percent of its budget".
Riau Islamic University rector Hasan Basri Djumin added deforestation had also damaged biodiversity.
"*Deforestation* has also *indirectly* affected communities. Now farmers are finding it hard to predict the planting season because of climate change, which is *partly* due to the destruction of the forest."
The campaigner of another environmental NGO, Greenpeace for Southeast Asia, Zulfahmi, and a board member of the Riau Community Leader Communication Forum, Edyanus Herman Halim, also said a moratorium was the only way to help mitigate the climate change caused by global warming.
"Global warming will worsen if the carbon contained in Semenanjung Kampar and other peat lands is released due to land conversion."
Edyanus added the Riau provincial administration had been unable to carry out a moratorium because it was trapped in a circle of interests that prioritized economic aspects, instead of environmental ones, while environmental policies "should have been based on a holistic perspective".